Gaming and Stress Relief

Stress Awareness Month

April marks Stress Awareness Month that has been held annually since 1992 created to raise awareness to causes and treatments for our modern day epidemic. In doing so, it aims to break the stigma around an issue that affects millions around the world, create conversations among family and friends and show compassion to others. As a society, we often disregard stress as an inevitable part of modern day-to-day life and a by-product of demanding jobs, money problems and exhausting lifestyles. It is vital that we change this mindset and take more action to protect our mental health.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.” Stress is often triggered by unfamiliar or unexpected experiences. Stress can provoke or prompt the course of numerous medical conditions such as physiological conditions including anxiety and depression. Physical problems can incur such as high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. Just as stress is diverse, so is our ability to cope with it. This can depend on factors such as genetics, personality, social and economic factors.

The last two years have proven to be some of our most challenging times as a society and services have been overwhelmed by the rapid increase of people seeking support. Social isolation has had detrimental effects on mental health and sense of community. It has become important more now than ever to look after ourselves and one another


Gaming to Relieve Stress

For many, gaming is a mechanism for relieving stress due to their engaging and enjoyable nature. Video games provide users with both a challenge and reward resulting in feelings of competence. This instant gratification of gaming rewards can often distract from the long-term challenges faced in life and this flow state is likened to other relaxing practices such as meditation.

Studios have been creating games with the sole purpose of providing users with avenues for stress relief. Personal Zen is a mobile gaming app, created by leading neuroscientists and mobile developers, clinically proven to combat painful emotions and train the brain for improved wellness. Champions of the Shengha is an immersive game in which players wear a sensor and become more powerful within the game through remaining calm during gameplay which in turn facilitates mindfulness practice. There is a market for mindfulness within games and apps. In the first quarter of 2021, the mindfulness app Headspace had 3.4 million downloads as the coronavirus pandemic signified the worsening of anxiety and stress symptoms.

A 2019 study explored whether a prescribed regimen of casual video game Plant vs Zombies would be more effective in reducing treatment-resistant depression symptoms than antidepressants. Plant vs Zombies was prescribed four times per week for 30–45 minutes over 4 weeks and self-reported data was collected at four different times using a questionnaire. Results found that those who played Plant vs Zombies symptoms improved significantly beyond the control group. Additionally, a single 30-minute game session of Plant vs Zombies was significantly more effective in acutely reducing treatment-resistant depression symptoms when compared with the group that surfed the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website. The study illustrates the potential of gaming as an acute and chronic intervention for reducing treatment-resistant depression symptoms and how healthcare practitioners such as physicians and recreational therapists can consider recommending a regimen of games such as Plant vs Zombies for clients who self-select this option.

Furthermore, gaming has been used to address mental health issues. Combat Stress created the #GamingForVeterans challenge where participants hold gaming fundraisers to raise money and awareness for veteran’s mental health. This can be done by sponsored gaming tournaments, marathons or relays through streaming or homeplay. The money raised provides veterans with support from a special clinical team and self-help resources day and night. Find out more about how you can get involved here.


The Future of Gaming within Mental Health

The exploration of how video games affect humans is an ongoing and complex field of study but scientists, studios and researchers are discovering new gaming possibilities and benefits everyday. Data portrays how video games can help those dealing with mental health issues through their relaxing nature and ability to keep us connected with others. With mounting scientific evidence supporting their efficiency, it is perhaps time to incorporate more gameplay into our busy lives. There are many genres and styles of games to try to relieve stress. Explore different games for different situations and always remember to pace yourself and maintain a healthy balance of digital fun and real life.

Helpful Resources and Links:

Mental Health

Combat Stress


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