Whilst visiting some friends this weekend I was encouraged to try out a PS4 virtual reality game. Don’t worry I am not venturing into a gaming review blog, I don’t even know how to switch on a PS4! However this surreal experience really got me thinking about perception and the amazing capabilities of the human brain.
Feeling somewhat self conscious I donned the fetching head gear and was submersed into a virtual reality. To ease me into the experience they chose a deep sea diving adventure. I hate the sea, it scares the bejesus out of me, so I wasn’t convinced this was the best start.
I was surrounded by the bars of a diving cage and the vastness of the deep blue beyond. My feet were on carpet, my limbs were dry and free moving yet my brain began to convince me I was submersed in the ocean. I felt my lungs contract and my breath get heavy as I took in my surroundings. Even talking to those around me could not bring my brain back to the reality of the situation. I resorted to holding on to my other halves shaved head to remind myself where I was but was soon banned from “cheating”.
The adventure continued as my cage was lowered deeper into the depths. Fish swam all around me and as I looked up I could see the daylight disappearing out of view. Below me was just darkness and my heart rate began to elevate. I fidget on the spot as my shoulders tense, why does this feel so real?!! For some reason I decided holding onto the head set would somehow comfort me but the resemblance to a diving mask simply made the experience more authentic. I try to catch my breath.
From the darkness I see a shipwreck begin to emerge, is there anything scarier than the site of a decomposing burial site frozen in time? I’ve reached my limit as the level of discomfort rises, instinctively I pull the headset from my eyes. I scan the room to observe my reassuring reality and reach for my glass of wine! On the TV screen is the footage I was presented with, in it’s 2D mundanity I can’t fathom why I was so scared.
It’s fascinating that no matter how many reality checks you have surrounding you (soft carpet, warm dry skin, the chatter of nearby friends) your brain will convince you that what you are presented with is real.Your fight or flight ready to kick in as your anxiety levels rise.
It got me thinking about what other realities are in fact virtual. When you smile at someone and they appear to snub you, your brain can convince you it’s because they don’t like you and you’re not good enough. But what is the reality? Your partner misses off the “xx” from the end of a text, you begin to believe it’s because they have gone off you and now you come to think about it they have been acting differently lately. But what is the reality? You’re unsuccessful when applying for a new job, it must be because you’re a failure and not driven enough to succeed. But what it the reality?
We are often our own worst enemy and if you look at all the evidence you will find your reality is virtual. The difficulty is that we are not always able to find out the facts and when something is unknown we default to negative opinions. Suffering from anxiety is like wearing a virtual reality headset 24/7, the brain presents “what if’s” and “maybe’s” as reality, distorting your vision of a perfectly normal situation.
Your brain isn’t always on your side so don’t let it trick you into thinking the worst. Take off your socks, feel the carpet beneath your toes, ground yourself and remove the headset – reality is not as scary as you think.