A new, free virtual reality app aims to help those struggling with pandemic-related stress to get their symptoms under control. VRScout reports:
There’s no question about it. The current COVID-19 pandemic has us going through a roller coaster of feelings right now. Not only have we been cut off from normal social gatherings such as family gatherings, concerts and after work hangouts, but it’s preventing us from traveling, putting a damper on many holiday travel plans.
Thankfully, we have now have access to an extensive array of VR technology that allows us to escape our dreary reality. A recently published research paper shows that using VR to hang out with friends through socialVR platforms, go to concerts, play games, or “visit” other parts of the world actually has a positive impact on your level of happiness.
Italian researchers worked with 400 participants over a three month period as part of this in depth study. Users were encouraged to view 360 photos and videos of other countries, visit virtual gardens and beaches, spend time with other VR users in platforms such as VRChat or Mozilla Hubs, and isolate themselves in a virtual location referred to as the “Secret Garden” to reflect privately.
To help our readers to discover the well-being potential of VR, we suggest the use of a freely available VR tool: ‘‘The Secret Garden.’’ It is a 10-minute 3D 360-degree video (4K resolution supported) that can be found here (https://www.covidfeelgood.com/), designed to combat stress and counter the disappearance of places and communities generated by the coronavirus.
Recently developed in Lombardy, the Italian region at the center of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak by a group of Italian psychologists (https://become-hub.com/en/), it has been designed keeping in mind that providing psychological relief to so many (Lombardy population is >8 million inhabitants) over such a large geographical area would be complex. In fact, to experience it, any smartphone or tablet/PC will work. However, to fully experience the psychological benefits of being in a digital place, a cardboard headset is also necessary, including those sold for 15–30 USD in different digital marketplaces.
Here’s a three-minute YouTube that outlines the process and the app:
The app is unfortunately only available via cellphone-based VR, not the Oculus Quest or any other VR headsets. For further information, please refer to the COVID Feel Good website.
This project is yet another example of how virtual reality can be used as a way to treat people who are struggling with mental health issues. an area where more and more research is being conducted every day at universities around the world. If you are interested in Dr. Riva’s work, he has also written the following research article:
As regular readers of my blog well know by now, I have a tendency to go off on tangents. Today is most definitely a tangent, but it is a topical one in this time of pandemic, so I hope you will indulge me.
Today is officially Day 205 of my working from home in self-isolation for my university library system. This morning, in my biweekly telephone chat with my psychiatrist (we suspended face-to-face sessions at the start of the pandemic), she mentioned a podcast that she had listened to, and a word which I had never heard before: acedia (pronounced ‘uh-see-dee-uh’ in English, sometimes “uh-kee-dee-uh”).
Father Harrison Ayre, a priest in the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, who was interviewed in a recent article from the Catholic Saskatoon News, says that acedia “manifests itself specifically in listlessness, distraction, and wanting to avoid the task at hand…Paradoxically, it could look either like sitting around and doing nothing, or busying oneself with anything and everything but the task at hand.” Sure sounds a lot like me, trying to be productive while working from home!
Etymologically, acedia joins the negative prefix a- to the Greek noun kēdos, which means “care, concern, or grief”. It sounds like apathy, but Cassian’s description shows that acedia is much more daunting and complex than that.
Cassian and other early Christians called acedia “the noonday demon”, and sometimes described it as a “train of thought”. But they did not think it affected city-dwellers or even monks in communities.
Rather, acedia arose directly out the spatial and social constrictions that a solitary monastic life necessitates. These conditions generate a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate. Together these make up the paradoxical emotion of acedia.
“Spatial and social constrictions” are also a rather apt and concise description of governmental and societal responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing limits physical contact, and quarantines and lockdowns constrict physical space and movement. Working from home day after day, and rarely leaving that home, means a distinct lack of external stimulation. In other words, the 21st-century coronavirus pandemic conditions we face ironically approximate those of 5th-century solitary desert monks. The article goes on to state:
Reviving the language of acedia is important to our experience in two ways. First, it distinguishes the complex of emotions brought on by enforced isolation, constant uncertainty and the barrage of bad news from clinical terms like “depression” or “anxiety”…
Learning to express new or previously unrecognized constellations of feelings, sensations, and thoughts, builds an emotional repertoire, which assists in emotional regulation. Naming and expressing experiences allows us to claim some agency in dealing with them.
As we, like Cassian’s desert monks, struggle through our own “long, dark teatime of the soul”, we can name this experience, which is now part of our emotional repertoire.
So I did a little librarian sleuthing (something I’m quite good at), and eventually, I found the podcast which my psychiatrist had mentioned this morning.
What are those original 8 deadly vices? The list Cassian translated into Latin from Evagrius was: Gluttony, Lust, Avarice or Greed, Superbia or Pride, Despair or Sadness, Anger or Wrath, Vainglory, and Acedia.
These 8 deadly terrible thoughts became the 7 deadly sins in the 6th century, when Pope Gregory the Great wanted to consolidate and develop the list in order to respond to the spiritual needs and pathologies of Christians at that time. So, vainglory and superbia are combined into pride. Envy is added to the list. But we want to hone in on just one that was removed and forgotten: Acedia. Despair or sadness and Acedia were often confused, thought irrelevant to life outside the monastery, and used interchangeably; so they were combined and renamed as Sloth.
Dante Alighieri thought of each of these deadly sins as corruptions or deprivations or negations of love. Four of them deal explicitly with the corruption of the mind—vainglory, sorrow, pride, and acedia—which is perhaps what makes it possible to see these exercises as psychology, which exists, at least in part, to heal corruptions of the mind, or mental illness.
So what’s the point of this listing of vices and the examination of temptations? Evagrius himself was worried about too much theorizing about temptation and sin, because of the way it can introduce bad thoughts to otherwise innocent minds. I’m sure there are many reasons, and I won’t list them all, but giving temptations and vices a name has a way of helping us respond. The 8 vices are presented as spirits or “demons” in Cassian’s Institutes. There is a meaning found in naming the enemy or attacker, or diagnosing an illness. Until you know what plagues you, it can be hard to formulate a resistance or treatment plan…
When Gregory the Great consolidated the list, it was seen as a good thing—it allowed Christians of that time to focus on the most problematic of temptations and try to root them out. But as a result, Acedia was taken off the list and hidden away. It didn’t seem to apply beyond the solitary, individual lives of monks, who were constantly tempted to abandon their cell, abandon their monastery and simply give up on the life they were called to.
In this podcast, Evan Rosa interviews theological author Kathleen Norris, who wrote a 2008 book titled Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, and who makes a distinction between depression (a concept which we are familiar with) and acedia (which has become a all-but-forgotten concept in modern society):
The Greek word acedia just means not caring. It’s come to mean as seriously not caring to the extent that you no longer care that you care. I described it as a spiritual morphing. If you really give in to it, it becomes this numbing effect on your life.
Just knowing the name of what it is, it’s not depression, it’s not just sadness. It’s not just boredom and restlessness, but all those things are part of it. Just knowing the name of it, and when it strikes it, seems to come out of nowhere.
If I’m depressed I usually know why. That something really bad has happened. Of course, I’m a little bit depressed. I’ll work through that. If someone has died, or a bad thing has happened, with acedia it can come out of nowhere. At least now I recognize it and I say, “Oh, you again. OK, well, I’m not going to give in.”
Depression is an illness, whereas acedia is a temptation. Because it’s a temptation, it can be resisted. You can struggle against it and win, whereas, if you’re seriously depressed, you probably need medication. You need a psychiatrist, or a psychologist to work with you on it.
With acedia, it is a temptation. You can resist it, once you know what it is, and you recognize it.
So how do hundreds of millions of newly minted, if reluctant, “monks” cope with the experience?
…it helps to establish a daily routine. Monastic living is established with a routine, for a good reason. Times are set aside for morning prayer, mealtimes, afternoon prayer and work. It’s like a scaffolding, akin to the way buildings are kept together, much like our spiritual and emotional lives, she said.
Her other bits of advice: Take a shower and wash your hair every day. Little items of grooming, when neglected, can create a “feeling of ‘Why bother?’ ” Take a walk, keeping in mind social distance concerns. There’s nothing wrong with simple pleasures as well. “I provide myself with enough chocolate to keep going,” said Norris.
Researching and writing this blogpost has helped me feel better today, and I hope what I have learned helps you too. (Makes mental note to add chocolate to my next Walmart grocery pickup.)
Although it might seem like it at first glance, Second Life is not all fun and games (and fashionista/club/relationship-related intrigue, backstabbing, gossip, and drama, although there is certainly no shortage of that!).
Here’s the SLURL to the festival, where you can also find an upcoming events calendar posted near the main stage, as well as some background information about the Survivors of Suicide group in SL.
A poster in the display states:
Survivors of Suicide was established in December of 2008 as a peer support group for suicide survivors and their families, and to both help educate people on suicide prevention and fight to end the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health.
We have grown considerably in the past 11 years, and have branched out to encompass all sorts of mental health issues, not just those relating directly to suicide. This growth, along with our longevity, has Survivors of Suicide become both the largest—and the longest running—mental health peer support group in Second Life.
With a pool of trained peer mentors, several weekly peer support group meetings, various activities, and a very active group chat, you can be sure to find someone to talk to at Survivors of Suicide when you are going through a rough time. We are not doctors or mental health professionals, but peers with a really wide and diverse set of skills and experiences, who are always happy to listen to you and to offer emotional support and practical advice based on our own experiences.
There are two levels, an Event Level, which has the main stage located at one end, and contains a pavilion lined with information posters about various aspects of mental health, for you to peruse:
A teleporter sign takes you down to the Main Level, where the Survivors of Suicide House is located:
Inside the house is an extensive library or resources, as well as a cozy area for group discussions:
When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers:
“Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”
A similar service is called The Haven, another Discord channel for people who need someone to talk to. Both Kind Voice and The Haven are free, volunteer-run services.
Join us for a special Endgame episode in VRChat on Saturday: we’ll facilitate a support group to discuss how we can cope with COVID-19. It’s stressful to be isolated, but we can come together in social VR to navigate this pandemic. Saturday 3/21 at 11:00 a.m. PST @PsychNoah
PsychNoah is, of course, Noah Robinson (a.k.a. Psych; Twitter; LinkedIn), a clinical psychology doctoral student at Vanderbilt University and the founder and CEO of Very Real Help, and one of the three regular hosts of the Endgame talk show in VRChat, along with Nomono and Poplopo.
Given how I have been struggling with both anxiety and depression during the coronavirus pandemic, I do intend to be in the studio audience for what promises to be a fascinating, wide-ranging, and educational discussion. Although users are urged to ask questions, you can also just sit back, watch, and listen, and enjoy something that is becoming ever rarer in the real world—being part of a crowd!