How Can VR Help With Treating Social Anxiety?

It might be happening to you: whenever you find yourself in a social situation, especially if it involves people you’ve never met before, you start feeling anxious. Your palms sweat, your heart races, your throat becomes dry, and you can’t think of a single coherent sentence to add to the conversation.

If this happens more or less regularly, you are likely suffering from some form of social anxiety.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Statistics from the United States confirm that approximately 15 million adult Americans deal with this condition on a regular basis, making it the third most common mental disorder in this country.

You getting tongue-tied in the middle of your company’s office party is such a common issue, that there are likely at least a couple of more people fighting the same issue at that same party.

Definition of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder, or SAD, is a mental condition in which a person experiences specific symptoms in interactions where they can be judged or socially evaluated, such as when meeting new people, speaking in public, during regular conversations, and similar.

These symptoms may include:

  • Sweating
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach problems
  • Blushing
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attacks, and more.

As a result of this, those suffering from SAD may feel the urge to avoid social interactions. This can be a simple decline to attend certain events or it can go as far as dropping out of school or quitting work.

However, while you may feel that this relates to you, it is imperative that, before you self-diagnose with a form of SAD, you seek the advice of a medical professional.

VR to the Rescue

Now that we’ve established the definition of social anxiety, the question of this post is: how, exactly, can virtual reality (VR) help in the treatment of this condition? Isn’t VR just for games? For learning? How can it help with this very specific disorder?

It is true that VR is for games and for learning, and for a host of other things at the same time. But VR can also provide relief to those suffering from SAD, either in a home-based, more relaxed setting, or through advanced medical treatment.

VR Social Communities

In a new technology such as VR, social networks are only just starting out. The main difference between these and the standard social networks you’re used to, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and similar, is that in VR, you are able to use your voice to communicate with others.

VR social communities, such as VRChat, for example, offer you the opportunity to roam a social space, to meet new people and interact with them as you would in the real world, without actually revealing much of yourself.

Indeed, in virtual reality, you can be whoever you want to be. You can assume a different appearance – you can even be an alien! – a different voice, even a nickname rather than your real name.

Countless VR users testified to how these simple changes, accompanied by the fact that they are more or less anonymous, helped them overcome their social anxiety and verbally interact with others more freely.

What Medical Research Says

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to others in a VR social network, that still doesn’t mean this technology can’t help you. VR is rapidly becoming the go-to solution for those suffering from social anxiety even in a controlled, medical setting, with medical professionals present.

According to recent studies, VR has proved to be a benefit in treating SAD in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the traditional treatment most often prescribed for this condition.

VR does this by effortlessly generating a vast number of social environments for patients to participate in. The therapists and doctors conducting these treatments can control the environment and tailor it to each patient’s specific needs.

If you’re afraid of public speaking, VR might put you in front of an auditorium of people. If you’re afraid of talking to strangers, VR can generate any number of new people for you to interact with and practice your small talk. Of course, it stands to reason that all of this is done under strict supervision from the medical staff in charge of helping you get better.

The results of these studies are promising. Even though VR is still a developing technology, it is showing effects that match or even supersede those achieved by traditional therapy methods. We can only wait and see what more wonders this versatile tech delivers in the future.

-Written by M.K. Cook

This blog post was developed with assistance ARVRtech (https://arvrtech.eu/).