You’re not on your own if you’ve been struggling to find things to fill the time with this lockdown. With all of the free time this pandemic has afforded us, a large amount of us are searching for new hobbies to help those minutes tick by. And in the void that’s been left by regular social gatherings, there has been an exponential rise in other types of indoor-friendly activities – like gaming.
But despite being used as a useful way to help the time pass, recent research has found that regular gaming can benefit the mind in numerous ways. Due to the mental stimulation that video games provide, they encourage players to coordinate their visual, audial and physical movement together, which has been shown to improve a person’s general coordination. Also, video games have been proved to enhance memory and improve a person’s attention span, due to the importance of recalling game instructions and focusing on a game for long periods of time. And one other area that gaming has been proven to be especially beneficial in, is its power to help us relax.
This may come as some surprise to some people, due to the amount of bad press violent and high-intensity video games get, but multiple studies have illustrated that gaming can indeed act as a kind of mindfulness meditation because of its ability to help us get into a flow state – otherwise known as ‘the zone’. So, what barriers are in the way of helping us to achieve this flow state, and what things can we do to achieve a relaxing gaming experience? Buckle in while we explain all of this and more, so we can equip you with all of the tips and tricks you need to stay relaxed and keep ahead of your game.
Avoid high intensity, violent games
Gaming isn’t always a perfect way to chill out. Certain styles of video games can actually elicit the opposite response on their players by raising their levels of stress. Research has shown that games that include high levels of violence or fighting style game-play can induce stress on the gamer by raising their cardiovascular activity and increasing their negative emotional responses.
In a study that compared the physiological and emotional responses of gamers playing Mortal Kombat games in comparison to simple puzzle games, the former group showed higher levels of physiological arousal due to an increased heart rate and blood pressure. They were also recorded to have higher levels of stress hormones such as epinephrine and nor-epinephrine, in relation to the other group that were playing simple puzzle games.
This indicates that if you are really keen on relaxing during a gaming experience, the type of game you play has a massive influence on your level of stress while playing.
Turn off your mic
Although gaming with your mic on can be a great way to make your experience more interactive and social, it’s been shown to aggravate stress in certain situations. Even though most gaming servers have regulations against cursing or other forms of inappropriate language, it’s obviously hard to filter out all extreme language. Turning off your microphone is an easy way to exclude yourself from the tirade of hyped up gamers, because it may prevent you from saying something that you just might regret.
Don’t take the other gamers too seriously
We can’t always choose who we play with. And even though it may be the minority of the time, it’s possible to be in a game with some people who get on your nerves. Whether it be their constant gloating, aggressive language, or persistent trolling, it’s important to keep composure and try to let their behaviour go over your head. Lots of people are more aggressive over a Bluetooth headset than they would be in real life, so try not to get worked up over a stranger and keep a calm head on your shoulders.
If you still find yourself getting worked up after attempting to ignore someone’s irritating or vulgar behaviour, try muting them. Whether it be an individual person or the whole group chat, don’t let a stranger’s words ruin your day. Muting people is a quick and easy way to take a step out of an annoying situation to regain composure and calmness. To be honest, we wish it was this easy in real life!
Don’t take the game too seriously
Leading on from the point above, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in a game to the point where it can seem like an actual life or death situation. And while there are psychological benefits to being immersed in video games, if you put video game progression to the top of your priority list, it’s no surprise that you take things personally when you encounter setbacks.
Putting too much pressure on yourself to succeed in a video game not only takes away a lot of the fun, but it also can lay the foundations for an unhealthy gaming to life balance. Taking the game too seriously can easily make it seem like a chore, and raising the steaks can wreak havoc to your stress and anxiety levels too. So if you find yourself getting a bit too worked up, remember – it’s only a game!
Try CBD oil
Otherwise known as cannabidiol, CBD is a herbal compound that derives from the hemp plant. It’s completely non-intoxicating, unlike its neighbouring cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and it’s packed full of remedial and therapeutic qualities that help to soothe the mind in a variety of ways. For this reason, taking CBD alongside your gaming practices is a wonderful way to help you to relax and enter the ‘zone’ – the mental state that psychologists believe is responsible for standing behind gamings mindful benefits.
CBD is so effective at calming the mind due to the special relationship it has with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex cell signalling network located throughout the body, that helps to bring a balance to a range of bodily functions. One function that the ECS carries out is regulating the activity of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that generates and regulates a lot of the emotions we recognise as anxiety.
When pure CBD oil is consumed, it helps the ECS to work more efficiently, and this, in turn, increases its power to regulate the amygdala. This means that the mind is more easily brought back to a place of calm, and anxious thoughts can be managed with greater ease. Also, as well as relaxing the mind, CBD also can improve focus, memory retention, and alertness, which are three important factors when it comes to gaming.
So, we’ve seen that there are many benefits of CBD oil. There’s also a huge variety of ways to try CBD, but the most popular is to take it sublingually by dropping CBD oil under the tongue, rubbing it into your skin with a topical product, or to take it daily in the form of capsules. It is also to be noted that in the UK cannabidiol is illegal to consume for anyone under the age of 18.
Take regular breaks
Playing a video game for long stints can be pretty detrimental to your wellbeing for many reasons. Aside from the obvious downsides that come alongside sitting in the same position for extended periods of time, gaming for a long stretch of time can also raise blood pressure and heart rate levels, likely because of the increased investment in the game.
We know that gaming can be pretty addictive. But to prevent these negative physical and mental health consequences, it’s important to either limit your time playing a game or to make sure that you take extra breaks. If you’re glued to your gaming chair for 8 hours a day it’s no surprise that it may feel like it’s starting to take over your life. And as you get more invested in a character and their journey, you start to take your gameplay more personally, and this can result in you feeling more stressed and anxious when you face hurdles.
Whether it’s a short walk every half-hour or restricting your amount of play to a couple of hours a day, limiting your amount of gaming time actually makes you savour it more, and it will definitely prevent you from getting too stressed.
Find the right game
As we went over earlier, the type of video game you decide to play can have a massive impact on how relaxed you feel while playing. Reaching for Black Ops when you’re looking to unwind after a long hard day may suit some people, but it also can run the risk of raising your heart rate and increasing feelings of stress and tension.
But fear not, there are hundreds of games on the market that have been made especially with the goal of helping you to relax. From puzzle games like Zenge, The Witness and Limbo, to games that encourage you to explore like Firewatch, and Universe Sandbox, all of these games are great at helping you enter ‘the zone’, without subjecting you to any negative psychological side-effects.
So if you’re looking for a super relaxing gaming experience, if you find the right game you’ve already won half of the battle.