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An Introduction to How Immersive VR Can Improve the Treatment of Anxiety

Everyone feels anxious now and then. It’s a normal emotion. Many people feel nervous when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. Anxiety disorders are different, though. They can cause such distress that it interferes with your ability to lead a normal life. These types of psychological and emotional problems are common. There is a growing body of research that shows virtual reality can be used effectively to treat depression without medication, treat PTSD and phobias, and reduce persecutory delusions. 25% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and nearly 50% of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. Between 30% and 80% of people with mental health concerns never receive treatment. In 2011, 59% of adults with a mental health problem did not receive any mental health treatment. Those numbers are only for serious mental health issues. Acute anxiety can be a serious mental illness. For people who have one, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be disabling. But with treatment, many people can manage those feelings and get back to a fulfilling life.

There are many types of anxiety disorders including the following: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and specific phobias which are intense fears of a specific object or situation. Symptoms of anxiety disorders can be feelings of panic, fear or uneasiness, problems sleeping, cold or sweaty hands or feet, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dry mouth, nausea, and dizziness. The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown, but anxiety disorders — like other forms of mental illness — are not the result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing. As scientists continue their research on mental illness, it is becoming clear that many of these disorders are caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the brain and environmental stress which can cause maladapted behavior.

Anxiety is generally treated with medications and/or psychotherapy. The growth of technology in medical treatment has expanded over the past several years and virtual reality (VR), a newer technology, has shown promise in its effectiveness in treating mental disorders, particularly when it is combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). VR is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors...

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