There have been several research papers done to establish that virtual reality (VR) can be successfully used in the treatment of anxiety disorders including phobias and PTSD.
Virtual Reality Distraction effect on pain and anxiety for Children
One study looked at the effect of virtual reality distraction on pain and anxiety during dental treatment in 5 to 10 year old children. The results showed a significant reduction in pain perception and state anxiety in children using VR distraction ( p<0.001, p=0.002). The decrease in salivary cortisol levels was significantly greater in children using VR distraction. (p<001).
A 2018 study was done using a nature-based mindfulness VR experience to a resting control on anxious participants.
Self-reported anxiety symptoms and resting-state EEG activity were recorded across intervals containing quiet rest or the VR intervention. Results demonstrated that both a quiet rest control and VR meditation significantly reduced subjective reports of anxiety and increased Alpha power. VR intervention uniquely resulted in shifting proportional power from higher Beta frequencies into lower Beta frequencies and significantly reduced broadband Beta activity in the anterior cingulate cortex which is consistent with a physiological reduction in anxiety.
The University of California, Los Angeles, psychiatry researcher Michelle Craske and her colleagues are testing whether virtual reality can curb anhedonia, a symptom of depression and other serious mental health conditions that’s marked by a lack of interest or ability to feel pleasure. This virtual reality experience puts patients into pleasant settings such as the beach or forest with music playing while the practitioner coaches the patients to focus on the positive parts of the experience.
The Hypnagogic Effect (Light Flicker)
In the early 19th century, a Czech anatomist Jan Purkyně was the first to document a hypnagogic effect, during which various pattern appear at different rates of flicker. This hypnagogic effect occurs when we transition between being awake and asleep, and is a form of trance or hypnosis. In the trance state, our mental defences are lowered, and we are open to a greater awareness than our typical controlling egoic state. The hypnagogic state “is considered by many to be a ‘genius’ state, without any boundaries or any limitations. When we are hypnagogic, we have access to all our resources and none of our self-imposed restrictions.” (Brian Weiss, M.D., Through Time into Healing, 1992)
There has been an interest in this effect for generating a meditative effect, as each of the four brainwave patterns (alpha-alert, beta-relaxed, delta-meditative and theta-sleep) are stimulated by specific flicker frequencies.
It is known that exposure to light flicker (in particular at frequencies between 3 Hz and 55 Hz) can cause photosensitive epileptic seizures in various forms, depending on the individual and the user’s visual pathology, the contrast, the wavelength and the viewing angle or distance. This sitting is not suitable for users who have epilepsy.
Meditation can be described as training your mind to focus on one thing or training your attention to achieve a mental state of calm concentration and positive emotions.
Research results suggest that meditation may be associated with structural changes in the areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. The data also suggests that meditation may impact age-related declines in cortical structure.
Previous studies show the general role of neural synchrony, in particular in the gamma-band frequencies (25-70Hz), in mental processes such as attention, working-memory, learning, or conscious perception.
Regular practice of meditation is reported to product changes in mental state and resting electroencephalogram patterns that persist beyond the time period of active practice.
Meditation & Mindfulness
This trial showed that short guided mindfulness meditations and practiced multiple times per week for 8 weeks reported significant improvement in well-being, distress, job strain, and perceptions of workplace social support compared to the control group. In addition, the intervention group had a marginally significant decrease in systolic blood pressure.
Bostock, S., Crosswell, A. D., Prather, A. A., & Steptoe, A. (2018). Mindfulness on-the-go: Effects of a mindfulness meditation app on work stress and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. doi:10.1037/ocp0000118.
The results suggest that mindfulness meditation may mildly improve some sleep parameters in patients with insomnia. MM can serve as an auxiliary treatment to medication for sleep complaints.
Research found hypnosis, guided imagery & relaxation can alter a person’s immune function in ways that offset stress and reduce susceptibility to viral infections.
After four to six months, those undergoing CBT+hypnosis dropped more than 20 pounds, while those who just did CBT lost about half that amount. The hypnosis group also maintained that weight loss during an 18-month follow-up period, while the CBT-only group tended to regain some weight.
A randomized trial at San Francisco Veterns Affiars Medical Center with 286 smokers found 20% people who received hypnosis managed to quit versus 14% of those receiving standard behavioural counselling.
Research by Len Milling, a clinical psychologist and professor or psychologist at the University of Hartford shows that hypnosis could help reduce kid’s post-surgical pain.
Microsoft are measuring brainwaves on their programmers to indicate when they need a break from programming to reduce errors.
Electroencephalography (EEG) means measuring, analysing and visualising EEG n an electric brain graph. Some oscillations of brainwave that occur at more than 30 cycles per second are called frequencies and they are measured in hertz.
Different brainwaves correspond to different states of thought or experience and neurofeedback involves dividing brain oscillations into five categories.
Specialised regions of the brain correspond to different sensations, thoughts and processes and particular oscillations can reflect specific regions and brain networks communicating with one another.
Gamma – < 25Hz
Gamma Brainwaves are the fastest measurable EEG brainwaves and they are associated with heightened perception when there is simultaneous processing of information from different parts of the brain. Gamma brainwaves have been found to be more prevalent and stronger in long term meditators.
Beta Brainwaves – 13-25 Hz
Beta brainwaves are in the active thinking state, alert and in normal consciousness or focusing on a task.
Alpha Brainwaves – 8-12 Hz
Alpha brainwaves are found in a state of mental and physical relaxation. These brainwaves tend to be present in a creative state and just before falling asleep.
Theta Brainwaves – 4-7Hz
Theta brainwaves are most strongly detected when we are dreaming in our sleep. They are present when there is reduced consciousness and in deep meditation and studies indicate Theta brainwaves occur more frequently with experienced meditators.
The changes in the rhythm of the heart between heartbeats is known as heart rate variability. An increase in variation between the number of milliseconds between heart rate beats is high heart rate variability and more constant intervals between beats are referred to as low hear rate variability. These variations reflect your heart’s ability to respond to different situations and it is a good indicator for measuring stress levels, fitness, recovery and overall health and well-being.
- High heart rate variability is associated with rest and recovery and good fitness. You may aim for a gradual increase in HRV when you’re aiming to take gradual steps to increase your fitness.
- Low heart rate variability is associated with the stress reaction illness and overtraining. You may watch for downward trends to see when it is time to rest.
- Heart rate Variability Balance is a longer-term comparison of your current heart rate variability trend to your personal baseline. The trend in your heart rate variability reflects how the stressors, or training and rest of the previous days are effecting your current state and recovery (measured as HRV Balance on Oura).
You are ideally looking for heart rate variability that recovers after a spike or dip.
Optimal-HRV is on par or better than your average which is a sign of good recovery.
Good- HRV I slightly different from your average but still indicates a good level.
Pay Attention- Your recent HRV trend is below your average which can be an indicator that your body and/or mind is under prolonged stress.
When measuring your heart rate variability in the day, you are measuring your body’s response to different stressors. Measuring heart rate variability at night is a more consistent state so it is the best time to measure heart rate variability to understand your chronic physiological state.
Heart rate variability is linked to the autonomic nervous system and the balance between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. Heart rate variability is the most effective way of estimating your autonomic nervous system balance as it directly impacts your heart’s activity.
Your Sinoatrial Node keeps your heart beating at a regular interval and the autonomic nervous system gives input for each beat with sympathetic nervous system telling your heart to speed up which limits the room for heart rate variability (lower HRV) and the parasympathetic nervous system directing your heart to slow down making room for higher heart rate variability.
Heart rate variability is relative for each person and so it is important to establish a baseline over a few weeks in a controlled setting such as sleep. This can vary from 20 to over 200 milliseconds.
There are several heart rate variability measures that are useful tools to consider and they can be lead indicators on making lifestyle choices for your next day. It can help to identify if you’re rebounding from taxing days and longer term trends can indicate responses to major lifestyle changes.
Heart rate variability will tend to be low when exercising as the sympathetic nervous system is dominating to enable you to get your heart rate up for exercise.
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