If you read my blog you’ll already know that I am currently effectively managing my anxiety and that I love gaming. Some people think that gaming probably can lead to anxiety and depression and I agree, it can do. When it overtakes a life or makes you withdraw from society then problems are caused. However, new studies have shown that there are games out there that can reduce symptoms of anxiety and in my personal life, I’ve certainly seen the benefits of gaming for my mental health.
First off, let’s look at the science. There are a few studies that now show support for using gaming for depression and for anxiety. Michigan State University created a simple game that reduces anxiety. To be fair, it doesn’t look like a very good game, but the aim is to distract the mind away from what it’s trying to do that leaves you feeling anxious. Your distracted mind isn’t able to worry about things like flight or fight or whether you’re going to have a heart attack or whatever your mind is freaking out about because it is concentrating on something else.
The research also noted that there are loads of brain training games out there but there has been no scientific research into the benefits for anxiety. Games have also been created to help sufferers deal with or at least understand anxiety and depression better. Find the list of games here.
Cognitive Benefits of Gaming
Mental health isn’t the only area worth mentioning, there’s lots of evidence that show how gaming improves cognitive functions too, improving basic visual processes, attention and vigilance, executive function and job skills.
So that’s some recent research but I want to talk to you about my own experiences briefly.
- When I would panic on the school run (daily horror if you have panic attack disorder, and that’s putting it lightly) I would come home and my daughter and I would play Zelda The Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The game was comforting as we both enjoyed it but it also made me concentrate on something else helping my body to return to normal and reassure myself that I wasn’t actually going to have a stroke.
- When I was in the grips of agoraphobia I played Second Life, an online virtual world. There I made friends, learnt new skills as I ran an online shop and made virtual clothes and furniture to sell. Now Second Life can be dangerous if you get addicted and allow it to dominate your first life, but if it wasn’t for Second Life I probably wouldn’t have become a freelancer as it is that game that gave me confidence and taught me skills such as marketing, professional blogging and graphic design.
- Mobile gaming, including the 3DS has also helped me deal with journeys and waiting times.
- I play games now as a way to relax and to escape the stresses that come hand in hand with being an adult. I’m not alone either, the average gamer is now aged 31 and there are more gamers aged over 36 than between the ages of 18 to 35 or under the age of 18.
Distraction plays a big role in retraining the mind not to be anxious. It can be used to show yourself that the symptoms you’re experiencing are not caused by oncoming heart attacks or that you’re not really going to pass out. You stop your brain from entering that mindset and show yourself that panic attacks do come to an end and it was just your brain thinking you were in danger, when you really weren’t.
I think it’s important to learn from how games ease and stop the symptoms so you’re able to carry that knowledge with you so you no longer need to have a game in front of you. You learn that the symptoms are purely anxiety and learn to distract yourself in other ways or talk yourself down from the peak of a panic attack.
What do you think? Do you think gaming could benefit anxiety and panic attacks for those who suffer?