Front-line workers find stress relief viewing nature in VR headsets

Watching 3-minute video lowered stress levels regardless of age or gender

Plenty of studies have concluded nature is good for stress relief, whether it’s a walk in the woods or living near water. People experience lower heart rates and blood pressure and reductions in the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, when exposed to nature.

But finding time to enjoy the outdoors can be tough for front-line workers, who are sometimes on the job 12 hours or more each day.

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A team of researchers from Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, OhioHealth Healthcare Organization and Ohio University might have found a solution for that.

The researchers wondered if simulated nature settings could have the same effect. More specifically, they wondered if nature simulations might reduce the stress of people working in medical facilities during the pandemic.

For their study, the researchers recruited 102 front-line workers from three hospital COVID units. Each wore a VR headset and watched a three-minute video of a lush, green nature setting.

The participants could turn their heads to see trees, flowers or flowing water all around them — and to hear the sounds of birds, the breeze or water rippling.

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Before and after using the VR headset, the participants were asked about their stress levels. The scientists found that, on average, the volunteers rated their stress 5.5 on a 1-10 scale before watching the video. That number dropped to 3.3 after watching the nature scene.

They also noted the percentage who said their stress was 6.8 or higher prior to watching the video fell from 32.4% to just 3.9% after watching the video. The researchers also found the stress reduction was reported regardless of gender, age or experience with virtual reality systems.

You can read the full report in the open-access journal Plos One.

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