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Playing video games can relieve your stress, reduce your depression, and make you feel better.

That may sound like a big claim to make, but at this point there’s plenty of evidence available to support it. Enough evidence in fact, that if video games aren’t a regular part of your life right now, adding a bit of game-playing time to your schedule could actually improve your mental health in many surprising ways.

This topic is not without its controversy, and there are plenty of studies and research on both sides to build a case on either, but lately the research in favor of video games is so compelling that it’s almost irresponsible to not acknowledge the many benefits that video games offer.

Who Plays Video Games?

When you think of gaming, you may picture a bunch of teen boys sitting in front of a big-screen TV like zombies, incessantly jamming buttons on their controllers, while aggressively playing violent video games.

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This stereotype has been blown away by current research into what demographics play video games today. 2013 numbers from the Entertainment Software Association revealed that women have actually caught up, and the age groups that make up game players are well represented from 0 through 100 years old.

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More recent numbers put men and women pretty much on equal footing as game players. This reality means that people from every walk of life and every age group turn to video games for their entertainment.

There is a reason so many people turn to gaming, and if recent research is any indication, it’s because video games provide a tremendous vehicle for stress relief in anyone’s life (plus, they’re fun).

Video Games and Mental Health

A 2010 study at Texas A&M conducted by Associate Professor Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson showed that both men and women who play violent video games long-term seem to be able to adopt mental skills to handle stress, become less depressed and get less hostile during stressful tasks.

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Ferguson’s sample size was 103 students, and he explained the study as follows:

“In this study, 103 young adults were given a frustration task and then randomized to play no game, a non-violent game, a violent game with good versus evil theme, or a violent game in which they played ‘the bad guy.’ The results suggest that violent games reduce depression and hostile feelings in players through mood management.”

In fact, Ferguson suggested that violent video games could potentially be used as a form of therapy to help people find a way to “work through their frustrations” in real life.

For avid video gamers reading this, the results probably come as no surprise, considering that if you ask anyone you know who plays games why they play, a common answer is, “to relax” or “de-stress”.

In fact when researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital polled children there about their video game playing habits, they discovered that a majority of kids choose to play video games as a way to manage difficult feelings like anger and stress.

Playing Video Games Will Help You De-Stress

In a 2014 study at University College in London, researchers surveyed 491 subjects and found a correlation between the total number of hours spent playing games (primarily first person shooters and action games) per week, and overall recovery from work-related stress that day.

Researchers Emily Collins and Anna L. Cox confirmed that there’s a clear correlation between playing games and handling stress better, but also noted that there is not a proven causal relationship, because as they explain:

“If an individual plays digital games, this may be due to the ability and inclination to take time to themselves and to pursue hobbies, and it may be this that reduces WHI and the need for recovery rather than the activity itself.”

So, whatever the reason – if you make the conscious choice to play video games after work, you will experience faster recovery from the stress you experienced, and you’ll be able to handle that stress all that much better the next day.

It isn’t just children or young adults either. Researchers at the National Institute on Aging were so impressed by studies showing the positive effects of video games on cognitive functioning, that they launched a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) project to use a Nintendo Wii to try and help improve the daily cognitive functioning of senior citizens.

Okay….so maybe not Mortal Kombat….but you get the point.

Clearly, video games do have a direct, positive effect on the human brain. However, contrary to popular belief, the effects of video games are not negative, but positive.

In one 2009 study published in the Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation, researchers tested the effects of casual video games (CVGs) on gamers. The effects tested in this study included electroencephalography (EEG), and heart rate variability (HRV).

Since both of these physiological responses are used to indicate when someone is stressed, common sense would tell you that during video games that require a lot of attention (and often stressful, timed tasks), a person would end up more stressed than ever before!

The opposite was actually true. Researchers found that:

“Remarkably all three games had different yet complimentary mood lifting effects. BJW 2 decreased left alpha brain waves associated with a decrease in withdrawal and depressive type behaviors, and PGL increased right alpha brain wave activity associated with excitement or euphoric behaviors.”

The final conclusion of the researchers was even more surprising. Not only did they suggest that gaming can help to reduce your stress, but they suggested using gaming as an actual form of therapy for people who suffer from various mental health issues.

“These findings have broad implications which include the potential development of prescriptive interventions using casual video games to prevent and treat stress related medical disorders.”

This statement is plenty of vindication to convince anyone that taking a bit of time out of your day to play video games is very good for your mental and physical health.

These findings supported an earlier study from McGill University in 2007, when researchers found that playing what they called “social-intelligence games”, reduced the stress hormone cortisol by an impressive 17 percent.  It seems fairly obvious that if you play video games, you will not be as stressed out as you are right now.

Play Video Games at Least a Little Every Day

This research and the latest findings in this area of study have been enough to convince me to alter my daily schedule so that – in addition to going to the gym and working out at least 60 minutes a day – I am also scheduling in time to play some form of video games.

It seems like really anything will do – from action-packed first person shooters, to mind-challenging casual games online or on your mobile.

Do you play games to reduce your stress, if so, which ones reduce stress for you the most? If you don’t play games, are you considering doing so now? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and let’s discuss!

Phoenixns via Shutterstock

  1. John Manaar
    November 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Woah I did study this awhile ago

  2. The Next in line
    November 24, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Playing video games sure is "relaxing", although a lost less than being out with friends.

    Now, this doesn't include team based online games with a competitive nature.Those type of games are extremely stressful unless you play with your own team, but even them there's still a lot of stress.

    Playing competitive online games solo should be avoided at all costs and psychologists should take special care to mention this.

  3. chloealey
    November 17, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I think you could be better.

  4. lucy
    August 9, 2016 at 2:32 am

    this is amazing and true im only 13 yr girl and i love playing viedo games since last year and they are violent and help me with anger or when im upset

  5. Annyeonghaseyo
    June 20, 2016 at 2:29 am

    this would help reduce the stress. but it still wont be ok to play too long.

  6. Daedalus
    May 16, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Toats.

  7. Kirito12
    April 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    anyone wanna....get in on this?

  8. Kirito12
    April 5, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    we should start up a google doc

  9. Kirito12
    April 5, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Thsat's waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay past cool heh heh.

    • Kirito12
      April 5, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      I KNOW RIGHT?! SANCIC SPEED-HOLIC HAHA DRUGS

  10. Kirito12
    April 5, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    lel whatd heheh

  11. Jackie
    February 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    dinosaurs

  12. Jackie
    February 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    turtles

  13. Joe
    January 7, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I think the author of this piece is in some way accepting payment from video game sellers. My personal experience with associates who spend lots of time playing games is that these people don't spend much time thinking of creative ways to solve work related problems. They don't tend to be the sort of person who feels passionate about their work and thus, they're not going to be the guy who wants to go beyond his or her normal duties in order to solve a difficult problem. More of a "do the bare minimum" sort of worker. I can just imagine all of the valuable mind power that goes to waste when people just play a game that someone else created rather than creating something themselves. It's like participating rather than getting in there and doing something yourself. Sorry. I wont hire a gamer because I need workes to "do things" instead of just waste time watching TV.

    • Joe
      January 7, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Corrections: Spending all of your spare time playing games seems like being only a spectator in life rather than being an actual participant.

    • Jackie
      February 3, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      I think in fact that this is the best
      Like the period of dino
      i also think a
      kind of nothing in fact
      eating with video games
      to the USA
      u are here to talk
      run away from games
      to the boss levels
      like Jeff bong-ere
      e also
      some people

      • Jackie
        February 3, 2016 at 5:06 pm

        I like turtles you get it i think read it sideways

      • Joe
        March 16, 2016 at 7:17 pm

        Stop writing junk

    • TJ
      February 28, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      Research shows that playing video games for about an hour a day is beneficial while playing for 3+ hours a day can have negative effects. If your associates play for 3+ hours a day your description is probably apt. To your point about "participating rather than getting in there", the interactive nature of video games is actually a huge plus. There's a lot of research showing the benefits of gaming, here's a general overview of the positives as well as the negatives of gaming: http://www.raisesmartkid.com/3-to-6-years-old/4-articles/34-the-good-and-bad-effects-of-video-games Definitely consider hiring a gamer, we aren't all as you've described.

  14. Tiny
    December 30, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Avid gamer and have been for a decade. Female and in the last age group - and I'd not be without my games. It started with Zelda, but these days I prefer MMORPGS. I am not an overly social type, but it is nice to see other players running about in Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings Online) or Tamriel (Elder Scrolls Online). Gaming helps me with stress and worry, and I also believe MMORPGS can promote greater acceptance and understanding, as gamers come together from all over the world, sharing their passion, and end interacting beyond religious beliefs or nationalities or age. We are one cool bunch with quick reflexes and constantly growing exp! ^_^

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