Gaming is often promoted as a fun way to connect and relax from life. But can playing video games actually relieve stress?
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The answer is not so clear cut. Some studies have found video games reduce stress, while others may induce stress such as competitive games where you play to win, and if you lose you experience negative consequences.
In this article we look at how video games can provide stress relief, why they can cause stress, and suggest effective ways to reduce stress that don’t involve gaming.
Gaming out of control? Get immediate help for you or your loved one’s gaming problem. Book a free Gameplan call now to learn if our program is the right fit for you.
The negative effects of stress
The impact of stress on our physical and mental well-being is significant. It has been shown to cause or exacerbate several illness and diseases including muscle tension, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
Stress can also increase the risk of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and sleep issues. Are video games a way to reduce stress and the risk of physical and mental illness or do they make it worse?
How can video games reduce stress?
Let’s look at some of the advantages of playing video games and how they can relieve stress:
Video games are relaxing
After a long and stressful day at work or school, picking up the controller and playing a few rounds of your favorite video game, can be a great way to relax and unwind.
Video games offer escapism
Getting immersed in a video game can be a diversion from real-life issues and unwanted thoughts that are causing you stress. Gaming can be an escape into a different world, a psychological detachment that can reduce stress.
Video games build resilience
Video games with a strong social element, particularly multiplayer games that require cooperation, will enable you form to meaningful connections. Having a support network can feel empowering and help you build resilience to stress.
Video games are fun
Most video games are fun and engaging. Gaming produces a release of dopamine (the happy hormone) which will make you feel good and help you cope with the stresses of everyday life.
Dive Deeper: How Dopamine Impacts Gaming
Video games are rewarding
Many video games present a challenge – when levels are completed or awards are earned – and give you instant rewards for overcoming it. This provides a sense of achievement which can have stress relieving benefits.
Video games create a flow state
Gaming is an immersive activity that can get you into a flow state, similar to meditation. You are completely present in what you are doing and nothing else matters. This state of mind can be a great stress reliever.
Video games build skills
Video games can enhance problem-solving skills and logic. These tools can be used to resolve issues and overcome obstacles in your daily life which can help relieve stressful situations.
Video games are a creative outlet
Gaming can be an outlet for self-expression and creativity which can help relieve stress. Video games like Minecraft allow you to think outside the box and design whatever you want – the sky’s the limit.
Find out more about the positive effects of video games in our article.
5 online games to relieve stress
If you, or someone you know, is looking for the best games to relieve stress, here are five recommendations:
- Personal Zen – a relaxing game designed to break the cycle of stress and anxiety.
- SuperBetter – take on challenges to build resilience and improve mental health.
- Bejeweled – a casual puzzle game to reduce anxiety and boost your mood.
- Stardew Valley – involves a daily routine that is calming and cathartic.
- Flower – a journey through nature with restful music and calming visuals.
How can video games cause stress?
Although video games can be an effective form of stress relief, there are several ways that gameplay can increase stress levels:
Gaming communities can be toxic environments
While many gaming communities are friendly and supportive, there is a dark side to gaming. Players can be exposed to online gambling, toxicity, discrimination and harassment which can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Find out more about toxicity in gaming and how to stand up to it.
Dive Deeper: Toxicity, Hate and Harassment in Gaming
Excessive play can lead to gaming disorder
Playing video games in moderation can be a good stress buster but there are risks from excessive play. An increasing number of people – around 3% of the world’s 3.2 billion gamers – are suffering from gaming disorder, a behavioral addiction that is recognized by the World Health Organization.
Research has found a higher level of chronic and everyday stress reported among young males with gaming disorder. Check out our screen time guidelines to help keep your gameplay in the healthy zone.
In-game purchases can cause gambling problems
The lines are increasingly blurred between gaming and gambling, with video games containing many gambling-like features. Games labeled as ‘free-to-play’ are designed to get players to spend as much money as possible. This can lead to gambling problems, financial issues, family conflict and stress.
Highly competitive play can be stressful
Many video games are highly competitive, which (as mentioned above) can provide a sense of achievement when you are performing well. However, it can also be demotivating and cause stress when you are performing badly.
Escapism is not a long-term solution
Although gaming may take your mind off the stress in your life for a brief time, as soon as the game ends your problems are still there. Stress is something you need to learn to manage in healthy ways, instead of escaping from it with video games. See our tips below.
7 ways to manage stress without gaming
Although video games can help relieve stress if played in moderation, they don’t provide solutions. There are other ways to manage stress, so you feel happier and more fulfilled:
- Exercise – Physical activity is proven to be a stress reliever and it is highly accessible. Find an exercise you enjoy – go to the gym, join a group class, walk your pet or just get out in nature – and make it part of your regular routine.
- Practice gratitude – Being grateful for what you have will help shift your perspective from negative to positive. Practicing gratitude is proven to have stress-busting benefits and it is easy to do. Recognize a couple of things you are grateful for, including those you might take for granted, particularly the aspects of your life you can control.
- Help others – Volunteering can help you move away from seeing the world through your own lens. By supporting other people, you will realize that you’re not the only one dealing with challenges. It can help you feel better and reduce the stress you are experiencing.
- Journaling – Writing down what is going on in your head can enable you to process your thoughts and experiences. It will also help you explore different viewpoints and solutions so you can focus on what you can control and let go of the things you can’t.
- Call a friend – The old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is still very relevant today. Find someone (or several people) you can rely on to provide a listening ear and provide perspective when you are feeling stressed.
- Find a creative hobby – Take part in a creative activity (like learning a language, playing an instrument or painting) that will give you a break from stress but won’t numb it altogether. Afterwards you will come back recharged and refreshed ready to deal with the challenges in your life head on.
- Meditation – Taking time to meditate and focus on your breathing will help your body relax and improve your emotional well-being. It will help quieten the stream of thoughts that may be crowding your head and causing stress by channelling your attention onto something more calming.
Need help to control gaming?
Are you concerned that you may be addicted to video games? Is your excessive gameplay having negative repercussions, including stress? If so, take our short online video addiction test for gamers.
We also have a video game addiction test for parents and a video game addiction test for spouses and partners.
Plus, we offer specialist courses and coaching programs for gamers, parents and clinicians to reduce gaming problems.
Or you can book a Gameplan strategy call to discuss your situation. Limited spots are available.