Using VR to Treat Anxiety | Sarah Hill at Healium

As a television reporter, Sarah Hill covered a great deal of trauma—soldiers returning from war, violent crimes, and the aftermath of natural disasters. After time, all this exposure to tragedy took a toll, and she found herself suffering from anxiety.

Her solution was to found Healium, a company that delivers VR and AR stories and immersive spaces to help manage stress and treat anxiety. Healium takes it to the next level by powering the entire experience with your actual “brainwaves and heart rate via an EEG headband or Apple Watch”.

It’s yet another example of how virtual reality is evolving beyond an entertainment platform and into a tool that can improve people’s lives.

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Sarah Hill is the CEO of Healium, a virtual and augmented reality tool for the self-management of stress powered by the user’s own brainwaves and heart rate. After 20 years as a TV reporter covering trauma, her media diet of reporting the day’s headlines ultimately made her sick. Hill developed Healium for herself as well as the 41 million others who struggle with anxiety.

Healium is a digiceutical for people to detox from what they’re consuming digitally. Healium is the world’s first biometrically-powered VR/AR immersive media channel controlled by the user’s brainwaves and heart rate via consumer wearables. Hill’s XR experiences are clinically validated in 3 peer-reviewed journals and have been viewed more than 7 million times. She is also a former interactive TV news journalist for the NBC, ABC, & CBS affiliates in Missouri.

A national Edward R. Murrow, NAB Service to America, National Sigma Delta Chi, and 12-time mid-America Emmy award-winning TV reporter, Hill has 25 years of experience building unique media franchises. She spent decades reporting about the world’s negativity and trauma in Sri Lanka, Zambia, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Congo. Healium’s roots are in virtual travel for Veterans. In 2015, Hill’s team built a program called “Honor Everywhere”, that uses virtual and augmented reality to allow aging Veterans the opportunity to see their WWII, Vietnam, Korea, & Women’s Memorials.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Sarah Hill 0:00
Just as my media diet made me sick, a media a good media diet can do the opposite. And it can actually slow the fast activity in the brain. It can increase feelings of positivity, and it can allow you uniquely to feel somewhere else.

Alexander Ferguson 0:23
As a television reporter, Sarah hill covered a great deal of trauma, soldiers returning from war, violent crimes in the aftermath of natural disasters. After time, all this exposure to tragedy took a toll. And she found herself suffering from anxiety. Her solution was to found healium, a company that’s delivering VR and AR stories and immersive spaces to help manage stress and treat anxiety. Helium takes it to the next level by powering the entire experience with your actual brainwaves and heart rate by an EEG headband or Apple Watch. It’s yet another example of how virtual reality is evolving beyond an entertainment platform, and into a tool that can improve people’s lives. Sarah, I’m excited to be with you and hear more about helium and this fascinating new new opportunity for storytelling to begin, can you describe your company in in five seconds? Very brief, what is it? What’s the purpose? Why does it exist?

Sarah Hill 1:21
We allow people to unlock the healing powers inside themselves.

Alexander Ferguson 1:25
Wow, to unlock the healing powers within. So last five years, this has been about five years since it started this concept where did it originate? What was the problem that you initially saw, he said, we need to solve this.

Sarah Hill 1:39
So I was a television journalist covering the veterans beat. I also covered a lot of trauma as most you know, local television, journalists, do rapes, murders, homicides. We actually covered the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, in Indonesia, and saw a lot of sadness in the world. And at the time, you know, the word compassion fatigue. And, you know, secondary trauma wasn’t even in in our vocabulary. But to make a long story short, one day out of the blue, I started suffering panic attacks. And for no apparent reason, everything I thought, you know, what was stable in my world, but the media diet, the things that I was consuming in in the day to day with all the negativity and the sadness and interviewing parents who had lost children, ultimately made me sick. And so I created helium for me, as well as the 41 million people out there who struggle with anxiety,

Alexander Ferguson 2:43
starting with yourself and realizing there are others experiencing the same problem. What led you then to explore using augmented reality virtual reality to solve this?

Sarah Hill 2:55
Yeah, so I mentioned that that trends were was was my beat, it was the group of individuals that I covered. And we had gone on something called an Honor Flight, which are physical flights for veterans to go on airplanes to see their memorials in Washington, DC. But sadly, you know, these individuals are 90, sometimes more than 100 years old, and they’re on too much oxygen. They’re not able to physically travel back, some of their doctors tell them if they go on the flights, they’re worried that they might pass away. So we started getting phone calls, that turns veterans families. I helped start along with some great volunteers who were continuing to lead that organization, the Honor Flight hub in central Missouri. And these veterans would call and say they weren’t able to physically travel and it breaks your heart, they were so looking forward to these trips. And, you know, their bodies just couldn’t physically take it anymore. And so, you know, journalists naturally current curious person thinking, what do we have in our skill set as far as technology can that can allow them to feel like they’re at the memorials, even though they’re not physically there that’s easier on the body. So we started using augmented reality. Back in the days of Google Glass, I would on glass, others would done glass or just with their, their, their mobile device. They would walk through the memorials, they would be the arms and the legs of the veterans and they would livestream those images that were coming from, you know, those glasses back to the veterans laptop and VA homes all around the nation. Well, obviously, that was labor intensive, and that you needed to live volunteer every time to do it. And we had more veterans on our waiting list than we could handle. Google pulled the glass program, as we all know, and so we had no way to get these live tours to the veterans. So turns to VR. Didn’t did my first VR film. And it was at the World War Two Memorial and we took it to the to the veterans We’ve since done a half a dozen the World War Two Vietnam Korea women’s Memorial, the USS Nimitz, we’re continuing to create content for that free program. But in giving these tours these VR tours to these veterans of their memorials, we noticed that VR appear to be affecting their physiology. They weren’t just watching these tours they were they were feeling them. So I reached out to a friend of mine, Dr. Tarrant, he had seen some of our social media posts about it, and said what you’re doing is fascinating. I would love to do you know to play with you. We had what we call it our shopping nerdy play date, where a Neurofeedback specialist gets together with a storyteller and a VR technologist. To see what we can create a first we needed to see and determine how are these what is happening to the user’s body when they’re watching VR? And AR? Does it have a therapeutic impact? And can we amplify that impact? And the answers to all of those questions were Yes, we did. You know, lots of we still do lots of biometric testing on on the pieces of content that we create a 19 sensor, you know, EEG cap on an S Loretta scale, that’s mapping these areas of the brain and looking at how your physiology is changing when you’re watching media, just as my media diet made me sick, a media a good media diet can do the opposite. And it can actually slow the fast activity in the brain, it can increase feelings of positivity, and it can allow you uniquely to feel somewhere else. So we did one test another and another and for over the course of a year and a half, study these experiences to try to see, you know what was happening to the brain, we eventually had one study published than another than another, we have another coming out this year. And that will be for peer reviewed journals, showing that helium Hga Liu M is spelled like healing, not only quickly down shifts the nervous system, but it significantly reduces anxiety by a third in as little as four minutes. So that’s a very long story to how this came to be. But it started with the desire.

Alexander Ferguson 7:24
What What would you say has changed that over the last now five years that that helium has existed and has continued to evolve? What has changed now in your direction, and what you are looking to keep growing?

Sarah Hill 7:39
Yeah, so we pivot and iterate as a small young company. Probably every 60 days, we have a new piece of tech that we’re either testing or a new biometric input that they’re integrating a new wearable, we also create a new piece of content every 60 days on our platform, so it never gets old for the user. We do a lot of research on how these experiences impact the brain to ensure that what we’re doing is having a positive impact. Another way that we have are constantly iterating on our product is augmented reality, not everyone is able to afford a virtual reality headset. And so on our apps, our apps are free download on iOS and Android, you’ll see something called AR portals that even without a virtual reality headset, you have the ability to open up a magic portal in your living room, walk inside or teleport inside if you don’t have the ability to have mobility through there and be inside a virtual reality experience. So you know, one of the ways that we are combining augmented reality with a virtual reality and the ways that those two areas are converging into one space that we call XR, and our shop XR just means solve for x Extended reality whether it’s augmented, mixed or or virtual reality. But, you know, AR for us is a tool, an on ramp to get people into VR. VR is obviously the most therapeutic because it completely takes people somewhere else. But not everyone has $150 You know, for for an Oculus go. And, you know, we want to be cognizant of that and reduce those barriers to entry that that people can consume our product. So AR has been a great resource for us. And as a quick on the go mindfulness, maybe you’re in a car in a parking lot. You’re about ready, you know to go into a meeting. You can in a drugless way, downshift your nervous system, you know much like taking a power bar, you know before You you you take a test this is mental fitness, and a reminder that our thoughts have power to control things not only in the virtual world but in the real world as well.

Alexander Ferguson 10:10
How does your business model work, though, going forward? And you’re probably I think you mentioned earlier about going after or working with larger health care systems. Can you explain more about how your business model works?

Sarah Hill 10:23
Yeah, so helium is used in areas, enterprises, large government contractors around the world, in areas of acute situational or confined stress, anything that sucks that you have to go through from a blood draw, the American Red Cross has used helium before blood donations to allow people to be somewhere else, it was being used on the frontlines. Most recently, for healthcare workers to try to combat compassion fatigue, it’s used in schools to help students develop a mind body connection and by teachers who just need some virtual piece, helium horizontally marketed. So because stress is such a huge problem, it’s a $300 billion profit and people killer, this is not a niche market. And specifically, in the wake of what we’re seeing with the pandemic, this is the stress Olympics, and not everyone is trained for it. So you know, the ability to have something that quickly downshifts the nervous system in a drugless way that you don’t have to go through a long, you know, training about meditation or mindfulness has value as a fire extinguisher in a way, when you get those in that situation where you feel like you don’t have control.

Alexander Ferguson 11:44
What Where do you see kind of the future direction of the expansion of technology, adoption? And with maybe like the Oculus quest, what’s your both near term focus, and what you’re working on? And then in the long term, the next five or 10 years? What are you guys working on?

Sarah Hill 12:01
Yeah, so we’ll be on Oculus quest in q3 of this year, we’re working on that build right now. expanding to more headsets, we want to be on Steam on PlayStation on vive. On HPs, new headset, all of the the headsets that come out and also on everyone’s mobile device. So later this year, in the next 60 days, we’ll release an all in one app that allows you to toggle between VR and AR, in AR experiences. And so, you know, we’re converging those into one. hardware companies are converging those into one, you’re seeing that with quest, you have that pass through camera, you know, we all know that that’s probably strategic, to, you know, to allow people to toggle between augmented reality and virtual reality experiences. We don’t know what Apple is building with, you know, a, quote, Apple glasses, augmented reality glasses, hoping that, you know, there’s, there’s a similar thing where you can toggle between virtual and augmented reality, because, you know, our company is already building for both platforms, and most are, you know, doing what’s called, you know, extended reality. So, additional wearables on the market sensors are being baked into fabrics into underwear into women’s bras. So, you know, the days where we have been tracking 2d data on a data dashboard, a flat dashboard that has like, you know, bars and graphs, you know, we’re gonna very soon look at that and think, remember, the days when we used to track our data on a dashboard. And, you know, with helium, it doesn’t just allow you to track that data, it allows you to interact with that data, have a relationship, have a story, that that that goes with it that you’re actually powering. So I’m excited to see that data that’s been sequestered on our wearables either via a headband or a smartwatch. Release set out into this a spatial computing environment and you know, you can walk through it you can control you know, augmented virtual reality worlds, by the the healing powers that are that are inside all of us.

Alexander Ferguson 14:27
Be sure to check out part two of my conversation with Sarah, in which he discusses how she overcame a classic conundrum in business, needing investment to build a product and needing the product to secure the investment



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