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PLoS One. 2022 Feb 9;17(2):e0262703. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262703. eCollection 2022.
OBJECTIVE: The novel coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) has wreaked immense physical, social and emotional devastation on frontline healthcare workers. Research has documented higher levels of anxiety, depression and burnout among healthcare workers during the pandemic. Thus, creative interventions are needed more than ever to provide brief and accessible support to frontline workers. Virtual reality is a growing technology with potential psychological applications. In this study, we piloted a three-minute Tranquil Cinematic-VR simulation of a nature scene to reduce subjective stress among frontline healthcare workers in COVID-19 treatment units. We chose to film a nature scene because of the vast empirical literature documenting the benefits of nature exposure and health.
METHODS: A convenience sample of frontline healthcare workers, including direct care providers, indirect care providers, and support or administrative services, was recruited from three COVID-19 units located in the United States . Inclusion criteria for participation included adults aged 18 and over who could read and speak English and who were currently employed by the healthcare system. Participants viewed a 360-degree video capture of a lush, verdant nature reserve on an Oculus Go or Pico G2 4K head-mounted display. Prior to viewing the simulation, participants completed a brief demographic questionnaire and the visual analog scale to rate their subjective stress on a 10-point scale, from 1 = “Not at all stressed” to 10 = “Extremely stressed”. We performed paired t-tests to examine changes in subjective stress before and after the simulation, as well as Kruskal-Wallis tests and Mann-Whitney U-tests to examine differences across demographic variables. All analyzes were performed in SPSS version 28.0 statistical software. We defined statistical significance as a p-value less than 0.05.
RESULTS: A total of 102 people consented to participate in the study. Eighty-four (82.4%) participants reported providing direct patient care, 73 (71.6%) identified as female, 49 (48.0%) were 25-34 years old, and 35 ( 34.3%) had previous experience with VR. The mean pre-simulation stress score was 5.5 ± 2.2, with a range of 1 to 10. Thirty-three (32.4%) participants met the threshold of 6.8 for the pre-simulation of high stress. Pre-simulation stress scores did not differ on any demographic variable. After the simulation, we observed a significant reduction in subjective stress scores from pre- to post-simulation (mean change = -2.2 ± 1.7, t = 12.749, p
CONCLUSIONS: The results of this pilot study suggest that the application of this Tranquil Cinematic-VR simulation was effective in reducing subjective stress in short-term frontline healthcare workers. Further research is needed to compare the Tranquil Cinematic-VR simulation to a control condition and assess subjective and objective measures of stress over time.