Gaming with Anxiety

By: Noah Thompson

For many, playing a video game serves as a form of relaxation. Whether you are into competitive shooters and MOBAs or find peace on your nice, quiet island or town, we all have a preference of the types of games (and game modes) we choose to play. But what happens when your preference is what causes you to break that relaxation, slowly turning what started out as an enjoyable experience into a fit of frustration? What could one do to overcome anxiety and/or frustration when playing video games?

Since anxiety is different for everyone, I must disclaim that these points are only opinions and may not be best for everyone. There are many reasons to play video games; the countless types of games, playstyles, and game modes can help determine a reason behind a person’s preference. A person might play a competitive mode for several reasons: to challenge themselves, to compete with friends, to play the game in a more serious sense, or even to wind down in the longer game durations. Whatever our reason is to play competitively, the frustration is familiar across all games. Perhaps you have dealt with poor sportsmanship, toxicity, or a difference in skill level with other players that has made the experience vastly unenjoyable, but what may be worse to some is the frustration with yourself. When gaming with anxiety, or more commonly gaming anxiety, tense muscles, palpitations, sweaty palms, focusing issues, or other effects signify stress. Whether this is due to the competitive nature of most games or general frustration even with casual gaming, anxiety and its effects are familiar to everyone, however, some can control theirs more reliably with practice.

It is easy for some to get overwhelmed when looking at competitive gaming, even when treated as a minor hobby. Because we have the luxury of gaming from the comfort of our homes, we are given the opportunity to reflect on why it is that we put ourselves through the stress in the first place. One tip to overcome any anxiety is to be mindful of what your goals are and where the stress is coming from. Since most people enjoy gaming from their rooms, there doesn’t need to be any pressure against getting up for a minute to breath and to practice mindful behavior. If competitive stresses you out, then consider why it does. If it is due to the stress of random teammates, try inviting friends to join or muting other people. This isn’t to avoid everything that makes competitive games competitive, it is to give yourself the experience of being in ranked matches without the overwhelming elements.

For the more physical effects of anxiety, it could be helpful to take your time to prepare for gaming sessions. This does not only include warming up, but also again, being mindful of your body. Even if nothing is impacting your game, it’s important to realize what helps you play most comfortably. By being aware of your posture, grip, and overall attitude, you can remind yourself later of what works best for you when under pressure. It’s comforting knowing that no one necessarily needs to see or know about your cool-down rituals so getting up and out of your current surroundings in-between games is perfectly normal. If your palms are shaky, try running them under warm water; if your body is stiff, get up and stretch. These are small things you can do during a long queue and it doesn’t matter how often you need to reset yourself, eventually it will become easier.

If competitive games are not for you, however, there are many options to unwind to. Many single player games offer a satisfyingly relaxing experience, such as Stardew Valley, Firewatch, Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and Breath of the Wild. Afterall, gaming never had to be stressful; maybe instead of it being the stimulant of stress it could be soothing by nature. Unlike Dark Souls, many of these games offer straightforward gameplay without much at stake, not that only simple games can be relaxing. I’ve found highly repeatable stories like Jedi: Fallen Order and Cyberpunk 2077 to be extremely immersive enough to evoke more playthroughs, despite fast-paced action. These are only a few simple suggestions, so it is encouraged to find what works best for you personally. Whether you are experiencing anxiety and its effects in game or not, the best thing we all can do is be patient with one another that way we can all walk away peacefully.

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