In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, today’s post is about mental health and gaming. Whether you play video games, text-based games, or TTRPGs, it’s important to make sure your gaming habits are a positive facet of your life. They should bring you joy, not stress!
To that end, I’ve invited Bre, an addiction recovery coach, to share her 10 tips for maintaining mental health as a gamer. I met Bre through the Ko-fi community Discord while discussing the topic of accessibility in gaming.
The month of May might be nearing its end, but staying healthy requires regular effort throughout the year. I hope the advice in today’s post is useful to you no matter what time of year you happen to read it.
Meet Bre, a mom and mental health coach
To kick things off, I asked Bre to introduce herself and talk a little bit about how she became interested in the topic of mental health and gaming.
“My name is Bre, and I’m an addiction recovery coach. As I finish school, I’m working to create an online community for those in recovery so they can have the support they need when they need it most,” she said.
While Bre admitted that she’s not a huge gamer herself, she’s quite passionate about mental health and addiction recovery. She saw her son struggle with gaming addiction as a youth, which helped fuel her desire to become an addiction recovery coach.
Why you should take mental health and gaming seriously
Knowing that mental illness stigma is a real problem, I asked Bre why she thinks people should take gaming addiction seriously. I wanted to know more about her approach and her thoughts on how to be supportive and inclusive.
“I’ve seen people who were actively involved in addiction turn their lives around for the better,” Bre said. “I’ve enjoyed working with these people, so I’ve chosen to attend school to become a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach. I feel that it’s important to see addiction as a disease, one that they need help with just like you’d need help with any other disease.
Treatment is possible. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of affordable help out there, which is why I’ve chosen to create an online community for those in recovery.”
With that in mind, let’s look at some things gamers can do to stay healthy.
Mental health and gaming tips
There’s more to mental health and gaming than addiction. Below are Bre’s tips for maintaining mental health and overall well-being.
If you have kids, you can apply these tips to their day-to-day routines to make sure they get all the social and cognitive benefits of gaming without the drawbacks.
10 Ways to maintain your mental health as a gamer
“While it may come as a surprise to some, studies show that gaming and good mental health are connected,” said Bre. “However, you need to take some time to do small things each day to maintain good gamer mental health. Here’s a list of 10 things to help you get started.”
1. Surround yourself with a positive community
“Everyone needs companionship, so make sure you surround yourself with a positive community. For instance, you can find people who enjoy playing the same video game as you then game together,” Bre explains. “Research shows that doing so is a great way to improve relationships.”
If you’re an internet gamer, it’s important to recognize toxic behavior, such as harassment, racism, and sexism. A study by Unity showed that 72% of gamers have witnessed toxic behavior toward others while playing multiplayer video games, with 68% of players having experienced it themselves.
No matter what style of game you play, be sure to surround yourself with people who support you, not drag you down. Report toxic behavior when you see it; most multiplayer games typically have a process in place for this.
2. Make time for stress relief
When it comes to mental health, games can provide stress relief, but they can also cause stress, too. It’s important to recognize the signs and make time for stress relief.
“After a stressful event in your game, put your gaming gear down, step away from the screen, and practice deep breathing so your body can relax again,” suggests Bre. “This is also something you should do when you’re feeling changes in your body, such as mood and breathing, that indicate you’re experiencing stress.”
Deep breathing is a useful exercise that can help you relax, feel less stressed, and sleep better.
3. Put down the games
“Unplug. Yes, it’s important to step away from the game sometimes so you can take care of your mental and physical needs,” says Bre. “You can’t simply ignore your responsibilities. It’s important to remember that many successful people are gamers. They’ve simply learned the importance of getting their work done first.”
Make gaming the reward you give yourself for doing your chores and tackling other tasks on your to-do list. You’ll find that you enjoy gaming even more when you feel like you’ve earned it.
4. Get up and get moving
One way to unplug is to go for a walk or a bike ride. If it’s unsafe to do so, you can also do jumping jacks or run in place.
“Get up and get moving so your body can release some endorphins – those feel-good chemicals in your brain,” Bre says. “Make sure that your fitness routine also includes some exercises for your fingers, especially your thumbs and wrists. These things are important even though researchers are discovering that gaming can burn a lot of calories.”
When it comes to mental health and gaming, it’s all about maintaining a balance.
5. Don’t skimp on sleep
“Practice good sleep habits by getting away from the game at least an hour before bedtime so your body has a chance to relax,” says Bre.
“Good sleep helps reduce stress levels. So, instead of staying up all night playing a game, put it down and unwind. Getting some sleep will also give you a new set of eyes to look at the game from a different angle so you’re more likely to make progress the next time you play.”
6. Learn which games are good for you
Be aware of how games can affect you, especially if you’re dealing with anxiety or depression.
For example, if mental illness is a central theme of the game and playing makes you feel worse, it’s probably not a good fit for you at this time.
“Instead, try playing a game like Animal Crossing, Grand Theft Auto, or The Sims,” suggests Bre. “Each of these games is known to help people in a different way.”
In my interview with TBQ on gaming and chronic illness, we learned that people experience games differently. What might be great fun for one person might not be so great for you. Part of the process is figuring out which games are better for your well-being.
7. Write down your thoughts
“Take time to journal so you have a place to release your feelings and think through what’s going on in your life,” says Bre. “You can also write down your goals and things you’re grateful for. If journaling doesn’t sound like fun, try adding some color to your journal or having a word or phrase of the day.”
Online journals are available for free and can help you notice patterns in your daily habits. You can use a journal to track your progress on getting regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and eating well.
8. Eat smart
Speaking of eating well… “Make sure you’re maintaining good nutrition. Eating too much junk food can cause you to become depressed. If you need to eat while gaming, there are some healthy options available,” Bre says. “Try things like nuts, trail mix, peanut butter, guacamole, or beef jerky.”
Fruit, string cheese, and veggie slices are also good options, depending on your dietary restrictions. These foods will provide the fuel you need without too many added sugars.
9. Take more breaks
“If you feel yourself getting irritable or frustrated while gaming, take a break,” suggests Bre. “Get up and go do something else for a while.
Not only is this healthy for your body (e.g., it allows your eyes to refocus), but it may also help you find a new perspective on the game that’ll help you through this challenging part. This doesn’t have to be a long break either. Anywhere from 5 – 30 minutes should do the trick.”
10. Be mindful of gaming addiction
Finally, Bre does recommend being aware of gaming addiction so that you can seek treatment.
“Gaming addiction is a real thing,” she says. “Some of the signs and symptoms include:
- Spending most of your thinking about gaming
- Feeling depressed or irritable when you can’t play
- Spending more time gaming so you can feel good
- Being unable to quit or play less
- Shirking your real-life responsibilities in order to keep playing
If you feel that you have a gaming addiction, don’t be afraid to get help. Addiction is addiction regardless of what you’re addicted to.”
Bre’s bottom line: don’t ignore your mental health
“Unfortunately, gamer mental health frequently gets ignored,” says Bre. “It shouldn’t be this way. There are a lot of little things one can do to improve on it. This doesn’t mean that a person has to quit gaming, but it does mean they need to take time to take care of themselves properly.”
Mental health and gaming among family and friends
Given the above, I asked Bre what someone should do if they suspect a friend or family member has a gaming problem.
“If you suspect someone has a gaming addiction, you can talk to them and share your concern,” Bre answered.
“However, until they’re ready to recognize that they have a problem, there isn’t much more that you can do. Trying to force recovery on someone for any addiction doesn’t work. It’ll only make them dislike you because they’ll feel you’re meddling.
Until they’re ready, they won’t get the help they need to truly change their life.”
In other words, it’s important to have patience. Share your concerns and remind your loved one that you care, but don’t try to force the issue. For more tips, especially if you’re a parent, see this WebMD guide.
Bre’s recommended resources
Finally, I asked Bre if she had any additional mental health and gaming resources that readers might find useful.
“There are a lot of online resources available for various types of addiction,” she said. “Personally, I’d like to invite you to check out my community at Addicted 2 Recovery.”
On her website, Bre has quite a few articles available on different aspects of addiction and recovery that you might find useful. If you’re a parent, VideoGames.org.au has resources that can help your family develop good habits around gaming.
Thank you so much to Bre for taking the time to offer her resources and advice on mental health and gaming. You can find links to her social profiles on her Ko-fi page.