How VRChat can be Therapy for Social Anxiety

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How VRChat can be Therapy for Social Anxiety
---E--PHIA-Phia Master Assets Folder-Thumbnails-TVRS010.jpg
TVRS Episode 10's Thumbnail
Date May 25, 2020
Duration 6:42
Link YouTube


How VRChat can be Therapy for Social Anxiety is the tenth episode of The Virtual Reality Show. It discusses how virtual reality can be used for exposure therapy to treat social anxiety.

Video

Description

Welcome to Episode 10 of TVRS! Finally made it to the double digits, can you believe it? In this episode, I talk about how VRChat (and Rec Room!) can be used as therapy for those suffering from social anxiety. It’s something I have personally dealt with since I was a child, and after having an epiphany about while in VR myself, I felt it was important to make a video covering this topic. I am not a mental health professional, and those suffering from serious mental health issues should consult with their doctor. With that said, I hope you find this video helpful and interesting! Feel free to share your story in the comments if you have anxiety and if VR has helped you :)


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Transcript

PHIA: Hey guys, and welcome back to The Virtual Reality Show where we talk about any and all things related to virtual reality inside...virtual reality! (laughs) I'm your host, PHIA. Social anxiety is something a good portion of us deal with, have dealt with, or will deal with in the future. An estimated 7% of the general population deals with this disorder, meaning it's likely that many of you watching have experienced it, or at least, are close to someone who has.

The effects can feel debilitating, getting a flushed red face, your heart rate speeding up, and an overwhelming sense of fear as you enter a social setting. There's a lot of reasons someone might have social anxiety and it affects each person differently. But what remains is that social anxiety IS a problem. Irrational fears are just that - irrational, but that doesn’t stop someone from feeling it. Learning how to feel comfortable in social events of all kinds, big or small, can lead to a lot less general discontent. No one should have to feel an overwhelming nervousness or insecurity that halts them from being able to just breathe normally when surrounded with others.

We're all familiar with the concept of therapy, and therapy is pretty awesome. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common method of treating anxiety. It comes down to identifying the thought patterns of the individual and replacing their negative thoughts with more realistic, positive ones. But there's also something called exposure therapy, where the individual is slowly exposed to their phobia over time. If you're terrified of killer clowns and your therapist suggested hiring a clown for your birthday party as treatment, you'd probably say hell-to-the-no. Despite being known to be the most effective method of treatment, exposure therapy is beyond intimidating for people with a legitimate phobia. But what if you could get exposure therapy for social engagement, without any of the negative consequences?

VRChat is a social platform for users all over the world. Anyone can go into the game and pick out an avatar to represent themselves with. It doesn't matter how you identify or what you look like. No one sees behind the headset. Imagine a place where you don't have to be insecure about what you look like. Your weight doesn't matter. Your nose shape doesn't matter. No one cares about your misplaced birthmark. You get the chance to interact with people solely on the basis of who they are, not their appearance.

If you start a conversation with someone new, you don't have to worry about embarrassing yourself and having to live with those consequence. It's a great way to practice conversation and conquer fear. If a conversation goes bad or you say something wrong, all you have to do is hop into another world and you never have to see that person again. There's zero consequence, which makes it incredible practice in learning how to talk to other people or engage in groups without feeling like you're gonna die.

Practice makes perfect. And I think in real life, it's hard to get genuine practice engaging with others or entering conversations, because there's a lot of risk involved in it, and I think that high risk is what makes social anxiety just so common. You could get rejected, your reputation can get tarnished, and people may not like you. But learning how to interact through VR can build your self-confidence as you realize that other people’s opinions about you are on them, not you.

I've struggled a lot with social anxiety myself, especially as a child since I was home-schooled, and I really didn’t get a lot of interaction with other people my age. A lot of those leftover insecurities still tend to haunt me in social situations, especially when it comes to athletics. It's really hard for me to engage in physical activity for sports games such as dodgeball, and it was hard to explain to my friends in my teen years why I had so much anxiety about doing athletics in public, and how my body just shut down and I'd rather run away and sit out than embarrass myself in front of everyone.

But recently, I started playing Rec Room with Protostar, and it got me thinking about all of this. We joined a virtual gym to play dodgeball, and all of a sudden I felt like I was gonna die. My social anxiety came back even though I was in a simulated environment. I took a second to really evaluate this moment. I was feeling nervous just like I would in real life, but I told myself- this is a great chance to retrain my brain into no longer feeling these irrational fears. I wasn’t going to fall flat on my face, and no one could see me awkwardly scrambling around with my terrifically bad hand-eye coordination skills. But by playing the game and feeling comfortable in this simulated situation, it allowed me to actually enjoy dodgeball and have fun. By the end of playing, I even thought to myself, "Wow I think I'm ready to do this in real life."

Dealing with an anxiety disorder is not easy or fun, but there are ways to overcome it. Being told to just, suck it up buttercup, doesn’t really do much, because those suffering tend to know that their fear is irrational. VR provides users with the perfect opportunity to get real, effective exposure therapy with practically no drawbacks. VRChat is free, and even if you don’t have a VR headset, there is a desktop user option. You might be nervous at first, but take a deep breath, and remind yourself that this is practice. And like I said earlier, practice makes perfect. If you know someone struggling with social anxiety, then send them this video, and maybe it will help them out learning how to combat their fear through VR. It doesn't matter if you feel a little anxiety or a lot of anxiety. Learning to take action is the important part, and sometimes the solution is literally right in front of your eyes.

If you want to continue this discussion of how virtual reality can be used as therapy, or just any other topics relating to VR, make sure to join my Discord - link the description. This video marks the tenth episode of The Virtual Reality Show, and I'm thrilled with how many diverse topics we've been able to explore thus far in the show. So if you enjoyed this video, give it a big thumbs up and subscribe to The Virtual Reality Show channel for a new video every week.

And with that, I've been your host, PHIA, and I’ll see you on next week’s episode. Bye!~

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