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How Stress Relief and Video Games are Connected

Updated on January 3, 2011
We all know this feeling...
We all know this feeling...

What is Stress?

Everyone has different sources of stress in their lives whether it's an arrogant boss, tough project, homework, kids or just life in general. We all know the feeling, you get frustrated, try pulling your hair out, groan and sigh, and fantasize about various means of escape; but what does it really mean to be 'stressed out'?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stress as " a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation." Psychologists have broken down the reaction of the body from a source of stress, for example your boss just moved your project deadline up from next month to next week, into three stages.

  1. Alarm - The body produces an adrenaline response to the stressor.

In our example, this would be the "Oh Sh**" moment of panic you feel when you get the news.

  2. Resistance - In this stage, you body is trying to cope with the stressor.

You take a few deep breaths and give yourself the "I can do this" pep talk, then get to work.These resistance techniques are in limited supply and if the stress inducing agent is not removed, then you move into stage three.

   3. Exhaustion - The body has lost the ability to cope with the stressor and normal body function is impaired. If this stage persists, long term damage may be done to the body.

At this point you've had 3 days with grand total of 5 hours of sleep. You're tired and irritable and ready to quit your job and move to the Bahamas. And the worst part is, you're still not done with the project.

This is the stage of stress that most people are intimately familiar with, and unfortunately, it's the most dangerous. Prolonged stress can lead to depression, digestive abnormalities (true story, I'm a stress-induced non-pooper), ulcers and even cardiac problems, not to mention the emotional roller coaster ride. The moral of the story is that stress is bad for you, so what can you do about it?

Music Catch 2 - Find it at Kongregate
Music Catch 2 - Find it at Kongregate

Stress Relief and Video Games

There are hundreds of ways to help alleviate the stress you experience every day, so I'm going to focus on one that many of you may not have considered before: video games. If you're in a stressful situation that you can't avoid, it's important to take a time out and give your mind a break so you can avoid the exhaustion stage of stress. Even if you take a 30 minute break, you can help re-boot your brain and return to your work more focused. Now the question is what do you do for 30 minutes? Play a video game of course! Any game you play will give your mind something to do so that you're not dwelling on your stressor while you take your break with the added satisfaction of doing something enjoyable.

If you're not a gamer, don't worry! There are tons of games that you can get for free online or as apps for your phone that can help you relax after a tough day and blow off some steam. If you're already a gamer, you may never have thought about games as a means for stress relief. A study recently performed by a Texas A&M International University professor suggests that even violent video games can reduce depression and hostile feelings in young adults. This study focused on violent games (such as Call of Duty) and young adults so the results obviously don't apply to everyone however anyone can find a game that will suit their wants and needs in order to see the benefits.

Here are some tips for picking the right game for you:

Tip 1: Consider your time/money budget. If you can only spare 30 minutes or price is a concern, then look for free apps on your phone or games on the internet. On your app-enabled phone, check out the games section and sort the games by price to see the available free games. Here's a few websites to check out for a variety of free games online:

Tip 2: If you're new to games, pick something that suits your other interests. For example, if you like to read fantasy books, try playing a fantasy game. If you often get angry when you are stressed, try a shooter game. Killing zombies and aliens is a great way to release some anger.

Tip 3: Keep it simple, especially if you are already a gamer. If your favorite game also makes you want to throw your controller sometimes, then it's probably not the best choice for a stress-relief activity. If you are new to games, pick something with simple controls such as mouse only games, or motion controlled games like on the Wii.

Tip 4: Have fun! The whole point of using games as a stress reliever is to re-vitalize your brain and keep your stressor at bay, for a while anyway.

Hopefully this information will give you some ideas for how to play video games for stress relief, just remember that this technique may not be for everyone so if you're stressing over games then forget them!

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