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Here's How VR Can Reduce Stress

Kelsey Davis, Manager, Digital Media, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

The World Health Organization calls stress the health epidemic of the 21st century. StoryUP (a Consumer Technology Association [CTA] member) has set out to alleviate this issue with technology. StoryUP develops virtual reality (VR) content that affects brain wave patterns to help people relax and destress.

We had a chance to speak with Sarah Hill, CEO and Chief Storyteller of StoryUP, about the company and their mission.

How was StoryUP first started?

StoryUP VR began as a volunteer project trying to find a solution for a group of terminally ill World War II veterans who were not physically able to travel to see the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. We created our first immersive experience and noted that VR appeared to be affecting the user's physiology. It was as if they weren't just watching the video, they were feeling it.

We decided to study how virtual reality affects brain wave patterns. As a former TV journalist for more than 20 years, I covered a lot of trauma, from the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami to triple homicides and parents who've lost children. I've seen the negative consequences of stress not only in myself but also in my coworkers. We started StoryUP as a way for people to take a virtual break, develop a more open heart for others, and train their brains to feel what it's like to be relaxed.  

What problem are you trying to solve?

The World Health Organization calls stress the 21st century epidemic. Stress costs companies $300B each year in lost productivity, turnover and absenteeism. Stressed employees sell 37 percent less, are less creative and make poor management decisions.

What we've created is something called the Story Spa library, crafted by a psychologist at the Neuromeditation Institute, where you can check out experiences to give your brain a well-deserved break. Our VR libraries are used not only in breakrooms but also in assisted living centers, with athletic teams and in pain-control clinics. 

What is the mission of StoryUP?

We use immersive storytelling to try to impact emotion, mood, physiology and empathy. It's not just storytelling. We use biometric inputs to enable the user to control these stories, affirmations and meditations. In that sense, it's "storyliving." 

In addition, we operate a free program called Honor Everywhere for aging veterans. We ship VR headsets preloaded with virtual tours of the WWII, Vietnam, Korean and Women’s memorials.

Tell us a little about how VR technology can impact moods and physiology and can be used in therapy.

For every piece of VR content StoryUP creates, we study how it impacts brain wave patterns. So we've learned quite a lot about how to tailor VR content to try to quiet stress reactions in the brain. We have a provisional patent on the methodology of tailoring these immersive experiences to output specific brain wave patterns.

The use of VR in therapy is not new. Pioneers like Dr. Skip Rizzo have been using it for decades with exposure therapy to treat PTSD in the military, and others are using it for pain control. StoryUP's apps are not medical products, but are health and wellness tools for people who need a quick lift. 

What is next for StoryUP?

Our app "Positivity" will launch in the next couple weeks. It measures your left frontal gamma activity and allows you to use your brainwaves to glide up the side of a beautiful waterfall.

We just released a couple of immersive documentaries from eastern Congo and the Amazon. Each month, we publish a new piece of content to our VR library and push it out to our customers. We'll be creating additional content using the Muse meditation headband and other biometric input devices.

Learn more about StoryUP and the Mind Spa VR library.

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