Author – Madhu Vazirani
It is ironic that entertainment causes depression. Post-Avatar Depression Syndrome or PADS is a term given for fans feeling the blues after watching the movie Avatar: The Way of Water.
Nearly 10-20% of people using Avatar fan forums report experiencing it, according to the Guardian. Their depression stems from return to regular life after spending 3+ hours in the movie’s idyllic Pandora world where natives live in harmony with each other and the stunning natural ecosystem.
In cinemas, immersive experience is provided with special effects that result in three-dimensional (3D) and four-dimensional (4D) spaces which engage nearly all our senses. Metaverse is also the immersive virtual world that is facilitated using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets in education, healthcare, gaming, and other fields.
While these virtual worlds are unreal, their emotion elicitation is very real. Research is increasingly proving this connection. The more time we spend in virtual reality, the more our brain struggles to distinguish emotions in physical reality. With technological developments, the quality of virtual reality will only advance. The more immersive the experience, the higher may be our emotional distortion.
Instead of shunning the virtual world, the key question is – how can you use it to your advantage? Scientists have begun exploring ways to develop virtual reality environments to evoke happy memories, foster positive moods, enhance empathy, and improve visualization.
In parallel, you can ensure that you…
1. Carefully choose the content. You are what you consume. More importantly, you are what you feel from experiences whether lived or imaginary. This is what prompted the pioneer of visualization techniques, namely Neville Goddard, to emphasize moving into the feeling state of our visions to draw them into reality. But if you choose virtual content such as war-games, you are inviting emotions of agitation and fear. When unregulated, they manifest as discord and depression in real life since the fight-flight mode of your brain was stimulated.
2. Mindfully switch from the real to virtual, and back. Take a 2-minute mindful pause to watch your breath and make your brain aware of virtuality both before and after each experience. This state of present-moment awareness can help separate the two worlds better, and notably, to create the mind space for releasing unpleasant emotions as they arise.
3. Consciously evaluate and regulate emotions. Watch yourself for the emotions that arise from virtual stimuli. Allow the feel-good to energize and inspire you in real life. Let go of difficult emotions, and if relevant, use them as self-awareness triggers to reflect on what needs to change in your real life.
Personally, I love to recall the immersive experience of swimming underwater in Avatar 3D which evoked happy memories of my scuba dives in Andaman Islands! Instead of the depression syndrome, what if Avatar’s Pandora could inspire humanity to work together to create similar utopia on earth? Of caring communities and flourishing biodiversity around the world. How promising!
Metaverse can be magical, just be aware of how you integrate the experience in real life. Metaverse calls for meta level mindfulness.