Can Video Games Be Used as Coping Mechanisms?
For the last few decades, skeptics have thought that playing video games was bad for your health. Experts cited the prevalence of addiction and physical ailments that could have otherwise been avoided if games weren’t so frequently played. But modern gaming can actually help those with mental health disorders, especially if they’re looking for effective coping mechanisms that don’t require medication.
As natural remedies for anxiety and depression become more popular, people are now looking for better ways to deal with their disorders. And because some mental health medicines present numerous side effects, many gamers have decided to enter virtual worlds in lieu of dealing with all that. So, is it a good choice or not? The jury needs a verdict.
The top 5 mental health benefits of gaming
As it turns out, there are a few measurable benefits associated with gaming as a coping mechanism for mental illness. In fact, many inpatient treatment facilities in the United States and abroad use video games as part of therapy. Here are the top 5 reasons why:
#1. Boosted Confidence
There’s something special about setting goals and smashing them, but that’s not always easy in real life situations. Thus, some video games can provide a much-needed boost to the ego by creating surmountable odds. Then, when you achieve your objectives, move on to the next level, or enhance your character, you feel a little bit better about yourself.
#2. Meaningful Distraction
It’s not always easy to find effective distractions when your mind is fighting with itself. But certain video games can provide enough diversion to help you cope or retrace your triggers at a more comfortable pace. Meanwhile, you’re not just sitting around reminiscing or ruminating to make things even worse. You’re busy doing something you enjoy and that can help.
#3. Compatible Socialization
Dealing with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder can hinder your ability to socialize with peers and like-minded people. However, having a screen between you and other individuals can help you express yourself more naturally. Also, the people within the gaming realm typically share your interests and make more compatible companions.
#4. Anxiety Relief
Those who suffer from an anxiety disorder understand the importance of finding fast and effective coping mechanisms. Once an anxiety attack hits, it’s hard to stop the momentum. Meanwhile, calming or exciting video games can provide immediate solace and give the gamer something to do with their excess energy besides stress out.
#5. Sense of Accomplishment
Some coping mechanisms can make you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, but interactive gaming can give you feelings of accomplishment and self-worth while also helping you deal with mental illness symptoms. This is especially true if you play with other people in a group or in competitions.
NOTE: Because of the dopamine released while you’re gaming, there’s a slight chance of developing an addiction to video games if you don’t play responsibly. So, try to come up with at least two or three other coping mechanisms to prevent dependency.
How to use video games to boost your mental health
If you can manage to play video games responsibly, you should enjoy all five of those benefits. However, that means you must participate in gaming only when it’s appropriate. Interact with virtual worlds and long-distance friends before, during, or after experiencing mental health symptoms. Use them to prevent outbursts or episodes. Better yet, incorporate them into your existing treatment plan like this:
- Play games while waiting on your next therapy session.
- Choose gaming as an alternative to self-medication or substance abuse.
- Tell others about your reasons for gaming when/how you do.
- Be courteous of other people’s needs, space, and time while playing.
- Set a time limit to prevent overuse of video games.
In the meantime, don’t allow the video games to become your only option. Instead, try to combine your pastime with psychotherapies and approved medications (if they’re needed). Never substitute gaming for prescription medicine because you won’t get the same result.
If you notice signs of video game addiction, try to cut back on your use or develop alternative coping mechanisms while you wait to see a therapist. Then, seek help from a mental health professional to develop more productive ways of coping with your condition besides playing video games.
NOTE: If playing video games takes precedence over your daily duties or gets in the way of performing important tasks, that’s a major sign of addiction. Sign up for counseling as soon as possible.
Yes, video games can be used as a viable coping mechanism for some mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. However, gamers must be careful not to become addicted to the dopamine-fueled distraction or else they may end up dealing with an entirely new problem.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.