Virtual reality relaxation for the general population: a systematic review

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2021 Oct;56(10):1707-1727. doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02110-z. Epub 2021 Jun 13.


Purpose: Relaxation has significant restorative properties and implications for public health. However, modern, busy lives leave limiting time for relaxation. Virtual reality (VR) experiences of pleasant and calming virtual environments, accessed with a head-mounted display (HMD), appear to promote relaxation. This study aimed to provide a systematic review of feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of studies that use VR to promote relaxation in the general population (PROSPERO 195,804).

Methods: Web of Science, PsycINFO, Embase, and MEDLINE were searched until 29th June 2020. Studies were included in the review if they used HMD technology to present virtual environments that aimed to promote or measure relaxation, or relaxation-related variables. The Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) quality assessment tool was used to assess methodological quality of studies.

Results: 6403 articles were identified through database searching. Nineteen studies published between 2007 and 2020, with 1278 participants, were included in the review. Of these, thirteen were controlled studies. Studies predominantly used natural audio-visual stimuli to promote relaxation. Findings indicate feasibility, acceptability, and short-term effectiveness of VR to increase relaxation and reduce stress. Six studies received an EPHPP rating of 'strong', seven were 'moderate', and six were 'weak'.

Conclusions: VR may be a useful tool to promote relaxation in the general population, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when stress is increasing worldwide. However, methodological limitations, such as limited randomised controlled trials and longer-term evidence, mean that these conclusions should be drawn with caution. More robust studies are needed to support this promising area of VR relaxation.

Keywords: COVID-19; Relaxation technique; Restoration; Stress management; Virtual environment; Wellbeing.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Research Design
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virtual Reality*