Do Video Games Reduce Stress
Most of us turn to video games to relieve stress. After a long, hard dayâs work, it is incredibly appealing to pick up the controller or turn on your computer and play a few rounds of your favorite game. However, sometimes video games can be more tiring than rejuvenating. Why is that? Do video games actually reduce stress?
Video games reduce stress in the following ways:
- Video games are engaging and enjoyable, which reduces stress.
- Gaming results in dopamine secretion, which makes you feel good.
- Video games present a challenge and reward you for overcoming it, which leads to feelings of competence.
- Gaming can create a flow state, which is similar to meditation.
- Video games give you instant rewards, which help to reduce the stress of achieving long term goals.
- Gaming can be an avenue for creativity and art, which can help to decompress.
- Video games can result in meaningful social connections, which is a great way to unwind after a long day.
If you or someone you know is suffering from video game addiction, we designed this quiz to help you find a tailored strategy that can help you overcome it:
Letâs explore how video games reduce stress in more detail. Letâs also look at the risks of relying on video games to unwind.
How Can Violent Video Games Reduce Stress
Most people tend to view high-adrenaline, fast-paced games as stress-inducing. That seems like a perfectly logical conclusion â after all, how can something that is so fast-paced and violent be relaxing?
The type of games a person plays depends on their personality. Some people prefer fast-paced activities because that is the only way their brain stays engaged. They enter the flow state by engaging their brain to such a degree that other thoughts donât arise, and they can relax by playing the game.
Even though research shows that adrenaline spikes during some violent video games, it quickly returns to baseline about five minutes after the player stops gaming. Moreover, the players report higher positive emotion ratings after playing a violent video game such as Mortal Kombat compared to the puzzle game, Tetris.
This observation contradicts previous research, which shows that puzzle games induce positive emotions such as relaxation, while fighting/shooting games induce negative emotions such as anger, hostility, or fear. The researchers believe that concepts within the self-determination theory could explain their findings. They believe that gamers are motivated to play video games that satisfy the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Competence is the need for challenge and feeling competent during a task, and lower perceived competence correlates to more negative emotions such as frustration after gameplay.
Gaming To Cope With Anxiety
As part of the anxiety epidemic, we should be concerned with how people choose to cope with their anxiety. People may externalise and distract from their anxiety in several ways, including leg shaking, skin picking or nail biting . However, methods of coping with anxiety can become dangerous as people may choose to deliberately self-harm to manage their anxiety . The Experiential Avoidance Model argues that self-harm may be maintained as a coping mechanism as it helps translate emotional pain into physical pain, something which may be easier to manage .
To stop someone from self-harming, we must take their harmful coping behaviour and replace it with something healthier. If someone were to search online for help on how to stop self-harming, they may be told to do things such as take a bath or watch a movie . However, these may not be entirely effective for something as serious as self-harm for two reasons.
Firstly, we have previously seen how someone who was left alone in the hospital was brooding and feeling sorry for themselves . Leaving a highly-anxious individual in the bathtub alone with their thoughts may not be the best way to calm them down.
Secondly, when we experience periods of anxiety, our body produces the stress hormone cortisol which is involved in our fight-or-flight response . This anxiety-induced energy encourages our body to do something physical in response, with physical behaviours such as nail biting and skin picking reducing our cortisol levels .
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Anxiety Relief Games: 11 Games That Will Relax You
Gaming can be a relaxing hobby that you can turn to when youre beginning to feel the stresses of life and responsibilities. While most people play games to be entertained, games are also great for anxiety relief.
While this list wont contain games designed to relieve anxiety, we still think these are the best games to play to find some anxiety relief. They dont use anxiety relief as a marketing gimmick. Instead, theyre genuinely relaxing and enjoyable games that you can play when youre experiencing an intense bout of anxiety or need a small break from the stresses of real life.
The Relationship Between Video Games And Anxiety Isnt Set In Stone
You can weaken the relationship between video games and anxiety whether your anxiety comes from personality traits or an anxiety disorder like social anxiety. People often use games to escape their uncomfortable anxiety symptoms, so treating anxiety and the factors that contribute to it can be beneficial .
Try these tips for dealing with gaming and anxiety:
- Reality Breaks. When gaming, set your timer to take reality breaks. Pause and interact with someone in your real world. Spend some time talking to a family member, meet up with a friend for a bit, or even take a trip to a storejust something
- Become Grounded. Plant yourself in your physical world. Become fully connected to it. One way to do this is by taking a mindful walk outside or through your house. Go barefoot if youre comfortable doing so. Feel the ground, the air on your skin. Breathe deeply and notice smells. Take in sights. This quiets and soothes a brain that is overstimulated from both video games and anxiety.
- Therapy. Seeing a therapist can help both social anxiety and gaming addiction. Studies show that even treating one with therapy will improve both .
The connection between video games and anxiety is strong. Anxious personality traits and anxiety disorders, like social anxiety, team up to cause problems for people. You can take measures to weaken and even break the relationship between anxiety and video games.
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What This Means For You
Have you been playing a lot of video games during the pandemic? That might be time well spent, according to a new report, which found that gaming can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. These games help foster feelings of social connectedness, a sense of achievement, and emotional regulation skills, among other benefits.
However, playing video games for mental health benefits should not be considered a replacement for traditional therapy, experts say. While costly, conventional mental health services offer support you may not be able to get through a game. Instead, experts say we need to find ways to make traditional therapy more affordable and accessible so more people can get the care they need.
Video Games And Depression
Video games are correlated with increased depression and anxiety. However, correlation does not necessarily imply causation â people who are unhappy or depressed are drawn to video games because they help to suppress negative emotions. They develop a gaming habit that causes them to get stuck in life. Naturally, they end up being unhappy.
There is a difference between clinical depression and feeling unhappy. Someone can be content in life, but still have underlying feelings of sadness â that is clinical depression. However, if you are stuck in life and are not moving towards your goals, then you will most likely be unhappy. Sometimes, you can have both, and it becomes hard to distinguish one from the other. If you think you are depressed, it is best to get the opinion of a licensed mental health professional.
Dr. K explains the difference between clinical depression and unhappiness in this video:
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The Relationship Between Video Games And Anxiety Is Associated With Personality Traits
Most psychologists and other mental health professionals believe that there are five primary personality traits . One of these traits is neuroticism, and it refers to nervousness and being prone to anxiety. Neuroticism is often referred to as an anxious personality.
Dr. Brent Conrad, a clinical psychologist who writes for Tech Addiction, explains in an article that higher levels of trait anxiety, aggressive behavior, and neuroticism are at a higher risk for video game addiction.
This does not mean that everyone with anxious personality traits is a gamer, nor does it mean that every gamer is high in the trait neuroticism. It does mean that theres a relationship between having character traits that tend to be nervous and anxious that can make people gravitate toward video games.
Many find that video games help with anxiety by providing a different focus for thoughts thanks to a need for total concentration on a game. Video games distract from daily troubles by providing an engaging escape.
Escape is a big part of the allure of gaming. Video games often relieve stress and anxiety. This holds true for not just trait anxiety but a specific type of anxiety disorder as well: social anxiety or social phobia.
What Does The Research Say About Gaming To Reduce Stress
A study conducted by Porter and Goolkasian in 2019 compared the stress responses of two groups, one that playedthe fighting game, Mortal Kombat, and another group that played the puzzle game, Tetris. The researchers found that the Mortal Kombat group experienced a cardiovascular stress response while Tetris players did not.
The study also found that video games reduced negative emotions, such as frustration in stressed individuals. The participants reported playing video games for stress relief purposes.
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health took a large sample of 1254 children from two American states. It found that many children play video games to manage their feelings, such as anger and stress. Moreover, children who played violent video games were more likely to get their anger out.
Ona the contrary, some research shows that violent video games increase physiological responses, such as:
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Research On The Connection Between Gaming And Stress
Most gamers report that playing video gameseven violent gamesis a way to relieve stress and enjoy playing with friends.
However, much of the research conducted on video games comes with the presumption that games are stressful or even psychologically harmful. While this isnt the whole story, there is some evidence to support this assumption.
Some studies show that a stressful in-game situation leads players to experience a stress reaction in real life. Other studies have found that when people play violent games, they are more likely to act aggressively in laboratory-based scenarios. For instance, players who played violent games for 20 minutes were more likely to blast a loud noise at another subject when given the chance, which was considered an indication of aggression.
Another study found that teens who played violent games experienced minimal increases in feelings of aggression, though the increases were barely detectable teen girls experienced a slight increase in stress.
Video Games Proven To Reduce Anxiety
Many of us turn to video games in times when we need to unwind from a stressful situation or when we simply want to have a relaxing, care-free day. In my case, after a long work week, my Saturdays often involve a morning cup of coffee, a cozy blanket, and plopping down in front of my console for two or eight hours. Gaming is one of my favorite ways to relax. Sometimes, video games can even help me in moments where Im feeling extra anxious. Engaging gameplay usually takes my mind off whatever is causing my anxiety.
Some games are simply enough to act as a distraction from the million thoughts running through an anxious persons mind, while others are specifically designed to reduce anxiety and promote mindfulness. Everyones anxiety is different, so its important to respond to an anxiety attack in a way that you know works for you. However, if youre someone who benefits from a good distraction or a quick mindfulness session, these five video games are definitely worth having in your library. Most of them are even mobile games, so you can access them anywhere!
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Playing For Your Well
Playing video games has been linked to improved moods and mental health benefits. It might seem natural to think that violent video games like first-person shooters arenât good for your mental health. However, all video games can be beneficial for different reasons.
Try strategic video games. Role-playing and other strategic games can help strengthen problem-solving skills. Thereâs little research that says violent video games are bad for your mental health. Almost any game that encourages decision-making and critical thinking is beneficial for your mental health.
Set limits. Though video games themselves arenât bad for your mental health, becoming addicted to them can be. Spending too much time gaming can lead to isolation. You may also not want to be around people in the real world. When you start to feel yourself using video games as an escape, you might need to slow down.
If you canât stop playing video games on your own, you can contact a mental health professional.
Play with friends. Make game time fun by playing with friends. There are online communities you can join for your favorite games. Moderate gaming time with friends can help with socialization, relaxation, and managing stress.
How Do Video Games Reduce Stress
To understand the effect of playing video games on our stress levels, we need to understand how video games affect our minds.
Engagement and Enjoyment
Think of the last time you enjoyed doing something. It could be watching an entertaining TV show, having a great conversation with someone, or playing a video game. How did you feel at the moment? Were you thinking about something other than what you were doing?
Most likely not. You were fully engaged in the activity at hand, and your mind was not focusing on anything else. Engagement and enjoyment are some of the best ways to relieve stress. Next time, try to do something enjoyable and observe its effects on your stress levels. There will be a marked difference.
One of the reasons we enjoy playing video games is that gaming induces pleasure in our brains. When we play a video game and enjoy it, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, the brainâs pleasure center. When this dopamine release happens, we feel good and euphoric. The pleasure and enjoyment we receive from gaming helps us cope with the stresses of the day.
Video games provide instant gratification, which means that we have to put in a minimal amount of time to receive a reward or accomplish something. That can be a powerful thing since the world outside video games often works on the opposite principle: delayed gratification.
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How We Can Use Video Games For Better Stress Relief
Video games can provide us with a safe and fun outlet for developing our emotional awareness and coping skills.
One study from the Behavioral Science Institute in The Netherlands studied proficient gamers who were playing Starcraft 2 to determine if their in-game coping mechanisms were related to their overall stress levels. What they found was that several players who became upset during gameplay found useful coping strategies to handle their negative emotions.
The most useful strategies were those that either sought a resolution to the negative feelings or ones that sound out social support from other players.
One key difference between those who coped well and those who were less effective copers was the ability to monitor their own feelings and internal stateswhat is known as interoceptive awarenessand then take steps to maintain a healthy balance, either by making beneficial decisions to change their situation for the better, or by seeking support. In fact, most games reward players for being able to manage their emotions and work toward solutions in the face of stress.
Another study also showed that action-based video games not only reduce stress but can sharpen cognitive abilities such as reaction speed. This can help gamers think more quickly on their feet and likely be more proficient in problem-solving, which can reduce stress in other ways as well.
Try Hobbies And Meditation
One of the most important ways to manage or reduce your anxiety is to keep yourself grounded.
This means that you should stay more connected with the world around you. The more present you are in the current moment, the better youll be able to manage your thoughts and feelings.
Meditation can be incredibly helpful, especially mindfulness meditation. However, you can also try other relaxing hobbies instead of gaming as your go-to method of relieving your anxiety.
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Video Games Can Help When You Feel Anxious
When youre in the grips of serious anxiety, you may want to address your anxiety in a holistic way that will help you move forward and heal. More immediately, you probably just want it to stop. The physiological effects of anxiety can make it difficult to work on long-term solutions getting past them can be a good first step.
Writing for Huffington Post, Dr. Meghan Walker proposes a solution that many of us probably reach for naturally during times of anxiety: video games.
For me, it helps to find a game thats active enough to be distracting while not being so active that it feeds into any feelings of stress. Puzzle games are my preference. If Im in a situation where having shiny flashy things on my screen would be a problem, I read romance novels instead. Knowing the characters will get their happily ever afters eventually makes me less worried about the outcome. What matters is finding something that works.
Do you play games to cope with anxiety? Wed love to hear what works for you on or .