Mind, Body, Mass Effect? Gaming and Stress

Think that video games are just mindless entertainment? Think again. There are many benefits to playing video games, including improved decision-making skills, enhanced vision, and more. But did you know that playing your favorite role playing game could actually relieve stress?

Everyone suffers from stress on one level or another, and although we’re oftentimes told to “just get over it,” that is often easier said than done. Stress can cause mental and physical harm and even hamper our success at work. But there are ways to manage stress, and video games might be the answer for you.

Studies around the world are identifying the effects of gaming on those with workplace stress, mental fatigue, and even PTSD, and the results are quite fascinating.



Understanding Stress

Most people deal with stress on one level or another, whether it be from pressures at work and school or everyday issues at home. The trick is not to let stress get to you, as it can have a major impact on your body and mind. Enough stress can cause you to break out in fits of anger, leading to headaches and chronic fatigue.

If your job is taking a toll, then your irritability and lack of concentration might lead to poor performance at work which could result in the loss of a job. Stress can even cause physical harm. The American Psychological Association has found that 51 percent of women and 43 percent of men experience negative side effects associated with stress, with symptoms as frightening as chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

There are many ways that we can fight stress, including giving up bad habits like excessive drinking and smoking, getting support from family members or anxiety disorder support groups, and exercising regularly. Sometimes just starting your day on the right foot can put you in a better mood. When you wake up in the morning, pass up the cell phone for some morning stretches. Then, enjoy your favorite music on the way to work and set daily goals so you can have a feeling of accomplishment.

Further Reading | Anxiety ASMR: Resident Evil 2 as Relaxation.

Setting some time aside each day to do something you truly enjoy can help you de-stress as well, which leads us to video games.

Studies on Stress and Games

According to a new study, researchers in the U.K. interviewed 1,000 video game enthusiasts between the ages of 18 and 30 and asked them why they play. Of the varied reasons:

  • 55 percent of them said the games help them to “unwind and relieve stress”
  • 47 percent stated that the games helped them see their lives in a more positive light
  • 37 percent said gaming improved their confidence
  • 27 percent said that gaming helped them solve a mental health issue or concern

The participants revealed this information after playing games from a variety of different genres, from action and adventure to puzzle games.

In another study, it was discovered that taking short breaks during work could reduce stress and lead to better performance at work. The study, completed by doctoral student Michael Rupp of the University of Central Florida, had 66 participants sit down and engage in a mundane computer-based task while the researchers watched their stress levels and cognitive performance. In the middle of this task, they were given a five-minute break where they had the choice to sit quietly, participate in a guided relaxation activity, or play a video game supplied to them.

The results of the stress tests and post-study interviews revealed that after the break, the participants who sat quietly felt less engaged when they returned to the task and this feeling caused them stress. Those that participated in the relaxation activity felt a bit of a stress reduction. However, the participants who played the video game revealed that they felt better after the break and could complete the rest of the task without worry.

Rupp believes that people who try to power through their day without breaks become more stressed and less productive as the day goes on and that short breaks can help us to feel less worried and more productive. This study is a good indicator this may be the truth.

Games as a Tool to Learn Stress Management

The benefits of games for stress management are two-fold. As the research above indicates, they can provide a good distraction, helping players de-stress. However, as anyone who has seen a compilation of “gamer rage” moments on YouTube (typically NSFW) can attest, they can also serve as a major source of stress.

How is this a benefit? Games are simulations that carry no risk, allowing individuals to build on their ability to manage stress in real-world scenarios. Facing adversity, recognizing the source of your negative feelings, then practicing proper stress management techniques is a natural component of progressing in games.

To use a tabletop analog to video games, consider how card players overcome stress. As noted in Gaming Today:

Recognizing such stresses are bound to occur, the wise player takes appropriate precautions. Patiently, he waits for decent starting-hands, plays at stakes he can well afford – hoping to survive the expected ups-and-downs, and overcome the cost-to-play to go home a winner. Because of his acquired skills, he has self-confidence. He is relaxed.

As you can see, becoming adept at a game requires learning and putting stress management techniques into play. Breathing exercises, shifting your focus, thinking about your source of stress, and simply taking breaks can all help you achieve your gaming goals. Further, learning these tips can even help those suffering from mental illness in day-to-day life.

Fighting Mental Health Issues

Taking breaks to do what you enjoy can help you power through the most stressful of days. But that’s not all of it. It has also been found that video games can help the 8.3 million people who suffer from deeper mental health issues. In one study, video games helped veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two similar research studies were completed in Israel and at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD. During the tests, veterans played a video game where they were asked to press a button to point a target at one of two images — one that was threatening and another that was neutral. The default position of the target always began by the neutral picture in an attempt to train their focus on the less-threatening selection.

The point of this study was to help veterans and people with general anxiety who are likely to be easily triggered by threatening images and actions. After the four-week study, it was found that the participants experienced a noticeable reduction in PTSD symptoms, and additional research can further hone these potential remedies. In another study, researchers found that video games could at least begin to reverse the mental decline that comes with aging when played by seniors. The results there also showed that the subjects displayed improvements in cognitive abilities.

If you suffer from stress in any of its many forms, video games may just be the answer. Take breaks during rough days and enjoy a game that you love. The result could be a peaceful frame of mind.


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