Regular exposure to nature is an integral component of good mental health. The sun, the greenery, the wind, are all elements that contribute to a good psychological balance and a better quality of life. However, certain unforeseen events in life sometimes prevent us from taking full advantage of these benefits. Here we highlight an alternative solution to enable as many people as possible to enjoy nature: virtual nature.

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    1. WHAT IS VIRTUAL NATURE ?

    Virtual nature is the use of digital environments that mimic nature through visuals and sounds to immerse a person in an experience close to reality. This virtual nature can be very realistic, using 360° photos or videos, or more fantastical, using computer-generated images and 3D models, which allow for greater creative freedom and offer experiences otherwise impossible to live. Autumn forests, underwater diving, or even a space journey, virtual reality provides access to a wide range of enriching experiences on cognitive and emotional levels. The environments can be static or offer movement within the environment, adapting to the needs and limitations of each patient.

    2. HOW DOES VIRTUAL REALITY RELAXATION WORK?

    When exposed to virtual reality environments, the limbic system, responsible for the emotional interpretation of the environment, activates more quickly than the more evolutionarily recent parts. This allows for an emotional impact close to or equal to reality. Thanks to this phenomenon, it is possible to use this tool to create experiences that can be valuable for regulating an individual’s emotional state. Thus, virtual nature presents the same positive effects as real nature. It helps bring about a state of relaxation, reduces anxiety symptoms, better manages stress, reduces agitation, and increases the perception of well-being.

    3. WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM VIRTUAL NATURE?

    Virtual nature can benefit everyone, but it may be particularly recommended for certain groups:

    People in urban areas, who often have fast-paced, stressful lives and limited access to nature despite increasing vegetation in these spaces. Virtual nature allows for the regular enjoyment of nature’s benefits to relieve everyday stress.

    Immobile individuals who cannot access real nature. Virtual reality can provide the benefits of nature and also work on exploration and enjoyment, combating depressive symptoms that may accompany prolonged immobility.

    People with neurodegenerative disorders, especially those with behavioral issues, agitation, or wandering. These symptoms are alleviated by exposure to nature and travel, and virtual nature offers a simple solution for both home and specialized facilities.

    Those suffering from chronic anxiety and depression, conditions for which exposure to nature has been extremely beneficial. However, these disorders significantly impact psychomotor function, making access to treatment and helpful elements difficult. Virtual reality offers an easier initial access to nature, helping to reduce anxiety symptoms, anhedonia, and can contribute to behavioral activation necessary for treatment.

    – Virtual nature is also beneficial in palliative care. It helps relieve anxiety, pain from illness, and offers experiences of exploration and wonder in a difficult context.

    – In the context of workplace quality of life, virtual nature can help reduce stress by providing moments of pause and relaxation. Besides promoting good mental health for employees, this practice can increase productivity and well-being at work.

    And many other situations. Virtual nature and virtual reality relaxation are versatile solutions that can easily apply to numerous situations with high acceptability and very few contraindications.

    4. AND WHAT ABOUT REAL NATURE?

    It is obvious that regular access to real natural environments remains the ideal solution and should be part of everyone’s lifestyle. However, as we have seen, this access is not always easy or possible. This tool does not aim to replace nature with screens, a rather dystopian and frightening scenario. The goal is to facilitate access to a valuable mental health resource for people who face many barriers to fully enjoying it.

    The recent COVID crisis highlighted potential difficulties related to confinement and the lack of contact with nature. Virtual nature opens up possibilities for supporting well-being and mental health in a broader range of challenging conditions.

      Do you need help ? A psychologist calls you