MIAMI (CBSMiami) – April is recognized as Stress Awareness Month and we all know the high stress healthcare workers have endured the past two years during the pandemic. Now research shows virtual reality can help in a real way.

To try to combat the stress, anxiety, depression and burnout healthcare workers have been facing, researchers at Ohio University created and tested a tranquil virtual reality experience, immersing employees in nature.

The three-minute, 360-degree experience takes them into a lush, green forest, birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind.

“It’s a moment of respite in a very chaotic, overwhelming situation. It gives you an opportunity to get away, to escape into nature. And we know the health benefits of being in nature,” said Dr. Elizabeth Beverly, an associate professor in primary care at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Dr. Beverly led the study.

“This is a brief, accessible intervention. It’s very low cost. It works for anyone who’s on the unit. And we were able to reduce stress. We also found that this difference was a big difference,” she said.

Chris Miller is an ER nurse at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. He said the pandemic created extremely tough obstacles, surge after surge.

“It’s just really difficult because historically you would come to work and you knew that you signed up for a stressful job, but you could kind of leave that at work. And now with the pandemic, it’s, it’s everywhere,” he said.

The VR experience was very impactful for Miller. “You really get that opportunity to quiet your mind and get your thoughts to really focus on something, something beautiful,” he said.

He said he also tries to manage his stress at home and be as present as he can with his family.

“When I go home, I really try to leave work at work, even though it’s difficult,” Miller said.

Getting his mind to focus on other things helps him cope.

Researchers are looking at possible long lasting stress benefits to the virtual reality experience and they’re introducing other scenes including beaches and snow falling, since some people may prefer different scenes to relax.

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