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This new trend is one to look at if you’re not a fan of flying

Do you avoid booking summer holidays that involves flying to your destination? Then, you need to be aware of a new therapy approach that can have you winging your way to faraway places in no time. You can don a virtual reality headset and with the guidance of a trained counsellor and learn to tackle your biggest fears.

A fear of flying can be different for each person. For one person, it’s the fear of crashing, whereas for someone else it could be about being in a closed space or having a panic attack on the plane.  People tend to cope with this fear through:

  • Avoiding air travel, which can impact both on leisure options and business travel;
  • Turning down promotions that involve increased travel; and
  • Using alcohol or sedatives during the flight.

If that sounds like you, then you should consider Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT). VRT isn’t as simple as downloading an app or using your gaming VR headset at home. It’s used by trained counsellors in combination with guided relaxation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to treat a variety of fears and phobias from spiders, to heights and public speaking.

VR therapy targets the subconscious mind, which cannot tell the difference between the virtual and the real environment. Biometric sensors allow the therapist to monitor your anxiety levels as you are gradually introduced to anxiety-provoking situations – the taxi ride to the airport; waiting at the boarding gate; getting ready for take-off; or experiencing bad weather and turbulence.

Fears and phobias respond very well to exposure therapy. The more times a sufferer is exposed to the stressful situation, it appears less threatening and the more desensitized they will become which will ease their symptoms.

The advantage of using VR is that unlike a real airplane or airport, the therapist is in control all the time, carefully managing the environment and reminding you of the relaxation techniques you have been taught.  The therapist teaches you skills to manage both the physical symptoms of anxiety as well as to change the thoughts that cause anxiety. You can then practice these skills in the VR environment.

Successful treatment of fears relies on a gradual, regular, repeated and sustained exposure to the trigger. Prior to VR the therapist would have had to rely on visualization techniques, but clients could easily use avoidance defense mechanisms when they became stressed. Also, they would have to travel to airports and possibly even take a flight together. VR provides a far more controlled and (depending on the fear) affordable, step between the safe environment of the therapist’s office and the real world.

If you want to find out if VR Therapy might work for you, contact us for a free initial consultation.

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What every ADHD parent should know about test anxiety

The weather is getting warmer and summer holidays are around the corner, but for many parents of students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), they first must get over the hurdle of the final school exam period. Tests and exams can provide many challenges for students with ADHD. Not only can the stress of time pressure and information overload cause students to freeze in the exam, but thinking about and preparing for tests can also cause anxiety.

This anxiety can cause a lot of family conflict in the lead up to the exam period and you might find yourself arguing with your child about:

  • Procrastination;
  • Spending time on low-importance tasks rather than exam preparation;
  • Negative self-talk;
  • Poor motivation.

Test anxiety exacerbates the symptoms of ADHD and the student can find it difficult to understand and follow test directions. They might freeze when it comes to retrieving the facts they have learned and struggle to organize their thoughts and answers. Unfortunately, many students with ADHD also suffer from test anxiety, making it hard for them to do well even when they have studied.

The good news is test anxiety can be reduced! It is a learned response to a stressful situation and can therefore be unlearned. The typical approach to treating test anxiety is through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Therapy. There have also been a number of studies that have looked at the effectiveness of using Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) as part of the treatment for test anxiety.  The advantage of using VRT is that it provides a therapist with the ability to gradually expose the student to the stressful situation, monitoring their anxiety at each step and preparing them to deal with it. The therapist is there with the patient in the situation, which is not always possible in real life. Using VRT as part of the therapy process allows the anxious person to confront the feared situation repeatedly until it no longer causes anxiety. For exposure therapy to be effective it must be gradual, regular, repeated and sustained in the sense that the student should not be able to avoid the situation.

For students with ADHD, test taking can be challenging at the best of times, but having to deal with test anxiety on top of that can cause them to stumble even when they are well prepared.

To discuss how you can support your child suffering from test anxiety, please contact us for a free initial consultation.

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The 21st Century skill that instils fear in most of us

Coding seems to be the flavour of the month, but when it comes to 21st Century skills, communication and specifically presentation skills are the foundation of success. This is not just for individuals but also for organisations – if you can’t communicate your ideas to your client, your team or your manager; you have a problem.

Unfortunately, speaking in public is also at the top of our list of fears. An article in Psychology Today[1] points to 3 out of every 4 people having a fear of public speaking. Communication skills are vital for getting your ideas across. Not addressing this fear can seriously impact your career prospects.

At the core of this anxiety is the fear of being judged and rejected.  Knowing what sits at the heart of this fear makes it relatively straightforward to address. It’s not the act of practising a speech until its perfect that makes you feel more confident, rather it’s being exposed to the anxiety provoking situation through something called ‘Exposure Therapy’.

If you have a relatively mild case of the jitters, then doing something each week to take you out of your comfort zone will usually do the trick.

“Join Toastmasters; a community acting group or do a presentation skills workshop,” says Anna Pino from LHInnovation who delivers Presentation Skills workshops for start-ups and not-for-profits looking for funding.

“Done on a regular basis, this can improve your confidence and reduce your anxiety.

“If your fear is much more debilitating, then consider seeing a behavioural counsellor. They will use Exposure Therapy to gradually expose you to the stressful situation over time,” says Anna.

Therapists such as Mae van Rensburg from Brand New Mindset are using Virtual Reality (VR) very effectively as part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The benefit of using VR is that the therapist can gradually desensitise you to situations that cause anxiety, monitoring your stress levels through biofeedback sensors and challenging avoiding behaviour.  Unlike the real world where the opportunity to address a 5,000 strong audience might not easily arise; VR allows the therapist to easily introduce increasingly stressful environments. This allows you to tackle your fear hierarchy in a controlled way.

Instead of addressing their fear of public speaking, most people just find ways of avoiding anxiety provoking situations. However, this is a fear that can be effectively addressed.


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Heading into Christmas party season, VR helps you to beat the bulge

Soon we will be heading into the ‘silly season’ with office Christmas parties, end-of-year functions and family get-togethers. They are both something to look forward to, but also a minefield for anyone trying to follow a healthy eating plan.

Whether it’s a restaurant, family dinner or a buffet on vacation; you’re likely to be faced with lots of tempting choices.  You may also be eating at different hours, with new people and in new settings. These can all contribute to the little voice in your head that says:

“It’s a special occasion; I’ll get back on track tomorrow.”

“I deserve it; I’ve worked hard all year.”

“I don’t want to appear ungrateful.”

“This holiday cost a fortune; I’m going to get my money’s worth.”

The problem with this mindset is that one special occasion blends into another and the next thing you know it’s been a month of overindulgence.

“Everyone is unique and your downfall might be the bread basket, whereas for someone else it’s the dessert menu. It can be especially hard in a business setting where you have to contend with high calorie drinks and canapés or set menus with limited flexibility,” says Mae van Rensburg from Brand New Mindset, a behavioural counselling practice that specialises in weight loss therapy.

“Trying to rely on willpower alone to get you through the holiday season isn’t enough; you need to know how to change your thinking.”

According to Mae, it’s important to identify your personal stumbling blocks, for example:

  • You see the food as the treat, not the special occasion
  • You lose track of how much you’ve eaten because you eat everything family-style
  • You travel for work and have limited choices
  • The office kitchen is filled with holiday treats and chocolate fundraisers
  • You see holidays as exempt from the normal rules
  • You have so many inflexible food rules, that they become too hard to follow in the busy Christmas entertaining season
  • You don’t want to stand out or appear ungrateful when everyone else is celebrating

Once you have a good understanding of your personal stumbling blocks, then you can look at developing strategies to deal with each challenge.

Mae says problem-solving skills as well as tools like clinical hypnotherapy for relaxation can be very useful, especially for the emotional overeaters. There have also been new developments in using technology as part of cognitive-behavioural therapy in treating overweight or obese patients. Here, Virtual Reality Therapy helps unlock the negative body memory. This allows you to develop a more positive feeling of body satisfaction. This in turn makes cognitive behavioural therapy more effective and keeps the weight off in the long term.

“A big factor in people regaining weight is that their body image is locked into a negative perception and the person can’t see their amazing transformation,” says Mae.

“You can imagine how disheartening it would be if after months of dieting, even though the scales say something different, your head doesn’t!

“Virtual Reality allows patients to interact with an avatar of themself, seeing themself as fit and living a healthy lifestyle, thereby improving their satisfaction with their bodies”, says Mae.

Numerous outcome studies[1] have demonstrated the effectiveness of these therapies and with the costs of the technology coming down they are an affordable tool in clinical practice.