Mental Health: Are Video Games Good for Managing Stress and Anxiety?

In times of pandemic, two events that a priori would have no reason to be related may go hand in hand more than we would have imagined: mental health and all cross platform games on market or other video games. The former has deteriorated in the face of the dramatic situation of health crisis and […]

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In times of pandemic, two events that a priori would have no reason to be related may go hand in hand more than we would have imagined: mental health and all cross platform games on market or other video games.

The former has deteriorated in the face of the dramatic situation of health crisis and social isolation, and a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) revealed that 53% of adults in the United States suffered a negative impact on their mental health as a result of concerns about the coronavirus.

Video games, however, have grown significantly in the wake of the worldwide confinements and, during the past month of March alone, spending in this industry increased by 11% according to Nielsen’s Super Data, resulting in the highest figure spent in a single month: $10 billion.

And, according to Verizon, the largest mobile operator in the United States with more than 80 million customers, in this country, the use of video games increased by 75% when social isolation began and, according to the market research company, Global Web Index, a third of people spend time playing games during the pandemic.

But other than being two events that have taken place because of the quarantine, what do they have to do with each other? The answer may come as a surprise to you: The mental health that is so affected these days could do with a few games to release stress and combat anxiety.

And, although neither video games nor any type of entertainment can or should replace the appropriate therapy with a specialist, they can be another tool that, in its proper measure, helps alleviate certain symptoms of mental and emotional discomfort.

PLAYING AGAINST ANXIETY

That video games can help combat stress and anxiety is nothing new. Already in 2009, in an investigation of the “Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation”, experts recorded the electroencephalographic activity and heart rate of several people who played various titles.

The result for them was clear: according to the conclusions of that study, a change in alpha activity was observed in the frontal areas of the brain, which are associated with relaxation and a good mood, as well as a lower heart rate, which is associated with less stress.

Therefore, the publication stated that “it is not surprising that more and more people are turning to video games to disconnect their minds for a while from their daily problems”. And although a little more than a decade has passed, the premise does not seem to have changed.

Sometime later, in 2014, a group of researchers from the University of Plymouth, in the UK, asked a group of students to describe their problems with anxiety, before playing a game of the well-known game “Tetris”. They made two control groups: some of them, the game would give them an error and they would not be able to play it and the others would complete it without problems.

The conclusion was that the anxiety of the latter was reduced by 24% more compared to those who could not play. The psychologist at the university, and co-author of the study, Jackie Andrade, told NBC: “We want to test this in the real world, and make it easy for people to stop their anxiety habits and get on with their lives”.

In a similar vein but already in 2019, researchers Anne Marie Porter and Paula Goolkasian, from the University of Northern California, but several people to play the fighting game “Mortal Kombat” and “Tetris”, and concluded that video games could have therapeutic and relaxing purposes.

ANXIOLYTIC AND ANTIDEPRESSANT AT THE SAME TIME

According to a recent study in the journal Acta Psychologica, boredom slows down the passage of time, which intensifies negative moods (sadness or moodiness), and aggravates feelings of loss of control and anxiety, and along these lines, the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior revealed that video games help the time pass faster.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic, the Mexican Ministry of Health has revealed that around 18 million economically active Mexicans suffer from stress problems and the specialist of the Psychiatric Attention Services (SAP), Guillermo Peñaloza Solano, recommended video games as a way to strengthen memory and learning.

In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the video game “EndeavorRX” for treatment in children, between 8 and 12 years old, with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

In fact, in 2019, Feggy Ostrosky Shejet, professor at the Faculty of Psychology and PhD in Biomedicine from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), already commented to several media that video games released dopamine, similar to what a glass of wine or a chocolate candy produces in our bodies.

The independent publishing house Mary Ann Liebert Inc, which publishes publications related to different areas of research and medicine, revealed in a study this past summer that a group of psychologists concluded that a group of students significantly reduced their stress and depression levels after playing “Plants vs Zombies” for 20 minutes a day.

With this data, it is understandable that a situation like the one shaking the world right now affects mental health and, in turn, that video games, in their right measure of time and enjoyment, can be a way to alleviate this burden. So now you know: Playing a game or two can be a good way to disconnect from home and avoid some states of anxiety. 

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