Healium AR’s use of neurofeedback technology could revolutionize anxiety management.
After nearly 20 years of hard reporting, television journalist Sarah Hill was at the end of her rope. She had, up until that point, spent a majority of her journalistic career reporting one violent event after the other, and the depressing subject matter of her coverage was beginning to take its toll on the Missouri native.
“I lived by a police scanner,” said Hill according to Apple. “Ultimately, consuming that much negativity made me sick.”
After reaching out to licensed psychologist Dr. Jeff Tarrant in search of assistance with a series of ongoing panic attacks, Hill was hooked up to an electroencephalogram machine in order to track the electrical activity of her brain. While attached to the machine, Hill participated in a demo program designed by Dr. Tarrant that tasked the journalist with maintaining a calm mental state in order to keep an animated airplane air-born at certain altitude.
“Anxiety is basically holding a thought or a feeling for too long and repeating it over and over again,” says Tarrant. “So the ACC gets overheated because people are hyper-focused on certain thoughts and feelings and they can’t let them go. And so we wanted to see, can we quiet this down?”
The success of the program would lead Hill to abandon her career in journalism in order to work alongside a veteran organization that offered physically-disabled vets the chance to visit D.C. war memorials in VR. After seeing how calm each vet was after stepping into VR, Hill reached back out to Tarrant to see if there was a way of combining immersive technology with his electroencephalogram research. After discovering the potential benefits VR and AR could have on a user’s mood and mental well-being, Hill created the StoryUP XR studio and soon after, Healium AR was born.
Recently relaunched on iOS, Healium AR is a neurofeedback smart app that monitors your brain activity and creates a real-time visualization of your current mental state. To do this, the app pairs with an Apple Watch which, in turn, uses its built-in heart rate tracker to monitor your levels. These metrics are then used to generate a variety of narrative games and interactive challenges in which your success is predicated entirely on your ability to give off positive vibes. One augmented experience has you controlling your breathing in order to hatch butterflies from a chrysalis, while another tasks you with lowering your heart rate to illuminate a massive planet.
“That same concept of using neurofeedback is what we built into Healium, combining [Tarrant’s] brain-based principles with our stories and game design,” says Hill. “But we stripped away all of the barriers to entry and made it easier to understand and more accessible, simply with an Apple Watch and your heart rate.”
So far the app has proven immensely useful for veterans suffering from trauma and PTSD as a result of active combat. Steve Mills, a commander in the US Navy, uses the app 3-4 times a week at his favorite spot near the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, using his Apple Watch to track his heart rate as he attempts to illuminate an AR solar system via his breathing.
“Sometimes I walk down to the riverfront here and sit on a bench and look at the water,” says Mills. “And using this [Healium AR] just puts me in a really good state of mind. It’s cumulative, it builds up over time but you learn how to deal with it. I have several outlets. Healium AR is one of them. I’m not afraid of the memories. But I have to control them.”
“It’s emotional for me to hear it has such an impact,” adds Hills. “What greater gift than to provide something for someone who is sacrificing everything to ensure our safety. It’s our honor to do this for our veterans.”
The new-and-improved Healium AR app is currently available for $4.99 on compatible iOS devices. In order to monitor your heart rate, pair the app with an Apple Watch or a compatible Muse brain-sensing headband.
Feature Image Credit: Apple