How can VR make an impact on wellbeing?

A blog of my personal journey to wellbeing by Irene:

Like many people, 2020 took its toll on me. In December 2020 I found myself in my Doctor’s office admitting it had all become too much. I had nothing left in the tank. Wellbeing was certainly not a priority.

As I liked to describe it, my starter motor just wouldn’t turn over.

The first thing I feel the need to clarify is that my journey to burnout was not all a result of work-related pressure.

So often when I hear people discussing burnout, it seems like it’s always “work’s fault”. Had work and my personal drive (resulting in 60+ hour work weeks) contributed? Without a doubt.

However, there had been equally, if not more, scenarios in my personal life throughout the 18 months prior that had been involved in getting me to that point as well.

Ok, so it’s burnout. Now what?

I have to admit that one of the most disheartening things about being diagnosed with burnout was that it was immediately followed by receiving a “green prescription” from my doctor.

  • Work less.
  • Eat better.
  • Exercise more.

Right… easier said than done.

Especially when you’re driving forward a rapidly growing business.

Followed almost immediately by three other thoughts:

“Bleh, wellbeing.”

It seemed almost impossible!

“Great. More things I have to achieve!”

I can almost hear my eyes rolling from here.

“But one of my characteristics I really like about myself is my drive. To get better, I have to turn that off.”

And that was something I really didn’t want to do.

A pathway forward

Six weeks later I was in a slightly better position to be able to contemplate my journey out of burnout.

Deep down I knew that I had an awful lot I wanted to achieve. More importantly, I knew there was no way I could achieve any of those things if I wasn’t operating at my best.

Fortunately, it was about this time that Rich began investigating emerging technologies like VR and how they could be used in mentokc.

Without either of us knowing it at the time, I quickly became Rich’s first test case in virtual reality for wellbeing.

My journey with VR begins

Years before we had hired a Playstation VR headset for a weekend and I’d enjoyed playing a couple of horror/adventure games.

One of my first experiences, when our Oculus Quest 2 arrived, was along these lines.

I found the world of ‘jump scare’ videos.

There’s nothing quite like some ghoul suddenly moving from one side of the room to directly in front of your face screaming for an adrenaline hit. For the first time in months, I was feeling more than apathetic. I felt fear. I felt excitement. And it was amazing!

I was sold on VR and ready to dive deeper. mentokc-irene-vr-experience-wellbeing-nz

Full immersion is the key to wellbeing

There was something about the way VR shut my senses down from anything outside of it that gave me the escape I needed.

When I was in VR, not only was I not thinking about work or any of the other things I had to ruminate on. I was having fun. And more importantly, I was retraining my brain on how to “switch off”. A vital skill I had lost at some point along the way.

What did some of those experiences look like?

For those of you that haven’t yet tried VR – these are some of the ways I had time out:

Exploring the world through YouTube 360 tours.

I particularly enjoyed Cairo and Egypt. Especially as they were holiday destinations I was meant to visit during 2020, but like all travel plans had been scuppered by the pandemic.

The Plank

There’s nothing quite like innocently riding an elevator to 80 stories high, to have the doors open to a two-metre-long plank you have to walk out onto.

I am still blown away by the realism of the experience the first time you do it. Every part of my “lizard brain” was screaming in objection to me engaging in such a dangerous activity. Despite the fact that I knew without a doubt I was safe in my own lounge.

It turns out lizard brain trumps logic when it comes to VR.

Guided meditation

One of the biggest issues I had was my inability to “switch off”. I have to admit, that even the first few times I tried guided meditation in VR it was hard.

Over time, however, the visual and audio stimulation, while being shut off from everything else, got me there.

Through deep intentional breathing, while floating among the stars, I learnt to calm my mind again.

Mini golf

Aside from the initial adrenaline rushes from the jump scares. This has to have been one of my favourite experiences in VR to date.

Both wearing headsets, Rich and I were able to play mini-golf on some of the most amazing courses around.

I’ve always been a huge mini golf fan. So the ability to engage in an activity I loved without using the energy required at that point to leave the house was a huge bonus.

Not only that, but Rich and I were able to have fun together. This positive interaction was priceless in my journey to recovery.

I also personally loved the ability to engage in cavalier shots. Especially when much to Rich’s disgust they resulted in me achieving better results on certain holes.

Beat Saber

The VR classic game.

Beat Saber got me moving. In fact, you could even say it tricked me into exercising.

It also effectively tapped into my inner competitor. Using one of those characteristics that had worn me down to build me back up.

I would be puffed and have sweat dripping off me without even thinking about it.

I would even have fun doing it and want to do more. Unheard of when it comes to exercise.

Good sounds. Amazing beats. It was like I was dancing in a club and having the time of my life.

Feeling angry about something? I’d be remiss to not mention how effective swinging the sabres around in the air is for working out those feelings.

Top tip though: make sure the dog is not in your field because this doesn’t lead to very positive outcomes at all.

My VR wellbeing outcomes

I’m pleased to say that 9-or-so months on, my VR experience has played a massive part in my recovery from burnout.

If for no other reason than by finding a way to switch off and retrain my brain, those “green prescription” items my doctor originally mentioned no longer seem so difficult.

I work less. In fact, these days I’m hard-pressed to work more than a 40-hour week. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worked on weekends this year.

I exercise more. Gryff (my dog) is overjoyed to be out and about on more walks. Beat Saber also sees me regularly for exercise sessions that aren’t really exercise sessions (in my mind anyway).

On the subject of work:

If you’re someone that is struggling to shut off from this – one mantra I embraced this year that you may find useful is “slow down to speed up”.

I used to always be thinking about all of the things I needed to get done. The truth is, however, I’m much more effective at doing those things when I am rested. I make better decisions.

Speaking from experience, I didn’t realise how pixelated my view had become. The big picture is now in high definition – leading to those better decisions.

If you know you’re pushing yourself too hard and you’re struggling to ease off on the accelerator as I did. There is honestly no better reason than the clarity you will gain as a result.

My VR journey continues

VR has contributed greatly to my recovery from burnout. It is a fantastic tool that hasn’t really been realised yet for its potential for significant wellbeing outcomes.

I’m also now exploring additional opportunities to implement VR in other areas of my life and business.

There’s a huge amount of potential for my global team to be using VR to enhance our daily interactions.

More than anything, I will forever be grateful to Rich for his passion for this space. If you’re looking for someone to walk alongside you to find the best way to implement emerging technologies in your life or organisation. He’s your guy and I’d highly recommend getting in touch.