A walk along a trail through pristine nature. Exploring a tropical beach. Floating down an easy-flowing river. These experiences are ideal for unwinding from the stresses of everyday life and experiencing transformative levels of serenity. The trouble is, you have to get to those tranquility-inducing places. But what if there were a way to visit these spots virtually, enjoying similar levels of relaxation with immersive experiences at your fingertips? That’s the driving question behind the creation of VRelax, a virtual reality app aimed at relieving stress and improving mental health. 

The VRelax app offers virtual trips to more than 60 natural environments and has interactive exercises designed to help relax the mind. Its makers say the app reduces anxiety and depression and helps with burnout. And that their controlled trial found that users experienced a 40% stress reduction in just 10 minutes. They also say VRelax helps distract from pain and discomfort during medical procedures. According to the company, over 230 hospitals, companies, and mental health institutions work with VRelax, and around 171 million VR users will be able to get VRelax through the app stores Meta and PICO.

So how does VRelax work? Just put on VR glasses and choose from a menu of virtual environments, including a safari adventure, an undersea exploration, and a walk in a winter wonderland. Or select from a menu of relaxation exercises. When connected to the VRelax GRIP app, friends, family, and healthcare providers can join the virtual journeys with a second pair of VR glasses or watch on a mobile device. With the addition of a heart rate variability (HRV) sensor, the GRIP app records biofeedback and shows stress and other metrics on a dashboard.

The app meets a significant need in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that close to 12% of Americans 18 and over have mental health issues, including anxiety, nervousness, or regular feelings of worry. According to the CDC, around 5% of people 18 and over have regular feelings of depression. That’s about 10 million Americans. And suicide is a leading cause of death in America, with the CDC estimating that each year over 12 million adults seriously contemplate suicide, and over 1 million people attempt suicide. One app won’t change all that, but digital therapeutics are valuable tools that can make a difference.