Ever since I moved back to America from Japan in 2020, I have been rethinking life and my own goals moving forward. I decided late last year (2021) that I was going to go back to school and work towards my Masters in Psychology to become a counselor. Well, the more I have been diving into my psych major, the more I have been picking up some helpful tips and tricks that I could easily apply to my life.
On top of that, I find myself stressing out some times while playing competitive games or incredibly difficult titles, so I began to study means by which we can calm our minds as we play video games, ultimately helping us to fully enjoy them.
With that said, the following are some tips and tricks to help you ease your stress while playing. Trust me, I’m a psych major (hehe), and these are all practices with peer reviewed research that I will even source (In APA format, too!) for your convenience.
Deep Breathing Exercises
One of the most effective and practical tips for calming down is learning deep breathing exercises. These are all relatively simple to learn yet difficult to master, so starting to tackle these breathing techniques now already puts you at a good start, well ahead of most people. While gaming, or honestly doing anything, taking a moment to breathe can be the difference between enjoying yourself and making a poor decision.
According to a study in 2021 (Gopichandran et al., 2021), muscle relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises help with all types of stresses and anxiety, as well as sleeplessness, tension headaches, and more. It is worth noting that deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the “fight or flight” reflex, ultimately helping us to get our minds out of the “danger zone” and into a calmer state.
If you are interested in diving into these practices, head on over to this WebMD page on breathing techniques to help with stress relief.
Meditation, similar to muscle relaxation and deep breathing, is a calming technique to center yourself and clear your mind. It is a practice that is thousands of years old, and certain religions, especially Buddhism, perform meditations in all types of profound ways, including Zazen. Maybe this practice is why Japanese players are so good at video games (Okay, I’m kidding, but seriously, though).
Meditation programs and practices have been studied for years and years, and they have found that many of them reduce stress, calm nerves, and cleanse the mind of poor thinking and negative thoughts (Goyal et al., 2014). It is important to understand that meditation is a disciplinary practice and one that takes a lot of time and patience to fully understand and master, so do not be discouraged if your first time meditating is difficult. Just like any helpful action, learning how to turn off your brain, be in the moment, and focus only on breathing will become more natural over time.
If you are interested, there is an excellent 10-minute meditation hosted by Goodful on YouTube. I highly recommend it.
Good Diet & Exercise
Now we step into a very important area, and that is diet and exercise. Many gamers tend to snack and graze for long periods, usually eating and drinking unhealthy things that do more damage than good. As a gamer and a psych major, this has been one of the most life-changing areas of my mental health, and I think all of us need to be more wise about the food we intake and the amount of work we put into exercising.
Not only does good diet and exercise help with stress levels, pumping endorphins that make you feel good, they also contribute in reducing risk for cardiovascular disease (Burg et al., 2017). Essentially, exercise pumps positive chemicals into the brain, and it also strengthens one of our most important organs in the body, the heart.
Diet, also, plays a major role in stress relief. According to Sakano and his team (2020), high fat diets, and ones consisting of many sugars, induce stress. To combat this, committing to a low-fat diet and reducing sugar intake can help to calm nerves and lower stress levels. Again, as a psych major and a gamer, I hate this reality, because I love snacking. However, it is just not good for your mental health.
Another area that stressed out gamers tend to neglect is taking breaks. What I mean is that when a game becomes overly stressful, most gamers bite their lip and continue playing despite better judgment. As a psych major, I cannot stress enough the importance of pushing pause, taking a break, and letting your heart rate come down before playing again.
Cognitive fatigue is concerning, because it is something quite prevalent in today’s society. 60% of Americans, for example, regularly experience stress, including feelings of frustration, anxiety, and fatigue, and this affects all areas of life, including gaming. Taking breaks to relax, take a nap, read a book, or go on a walk are all effective ways to calm the mind and heart, but studies have even shown that playing simple and casual games can equally relax players (Rupp et al., 2017).
That means that if you are playing something like versus mode in Splatoon 3 and become angry, frustrated, stressed, etc, closing that game and opening up something else that is easier to play, like the wonderful Animal Crossing: New Horizons, can help as well. There are a lot of means to take a break, so find which one serves you the most and apply it to your gaming life.
Journal Your Thoughts and Feelings
Journaling is one of the best practices for getting your thoughts and feelings out there so that they do not swell. There are many ways to journal, and technically there is no “right way” or “wrong way”. You can just write your days down, focus on emotions, pains, and victories, or sketch/draw as a means of visual journaling. Whichever you prefer, the practice is still incredible and something we should all do.
According to numerous studies focused on the incredibly high stress levels of medical students, journaling has been found to reduce stress levels tremendously and give people the power to put how they feel into words. According to a study by Flinchbaugh and others (2012), journaling allowed students who were experiencing high levels of stress to acknowledge said stress and face certain demons that they did not know were festering within them.
Many times in our busy days, we tend to bottle up our feelings and emotions, and people who have the lowest control of their emotions tend to bottle repeatedly until those emotions explode in such a way that they hurt those around them. Journaling is yet another means by which to help you document your feelings and communicate them to loved ones, including yourself, in a better way.
Practice CBT/CPT Methods
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) are long-studied means by which to help intervene in stressful situations and serve to reduce stress and even burnout. There are other methods out there, but I am focusing on these two as the lessons are easier to swallow and practice over time. One major thing with CBT and CPT is the use of Socratic Questioning which comes from the ancient philosopher, Socrates.
One study focused on the application of CBT-training for groups at a university to help with high levels of stress and anxiety, and by training in stress management in this particular way, students found themselves functioning at a much higher level thanks to keeping their untrue thoughts and emotions at check thanks to the practices within CBT (Molla Jafar et al., 2015). If you have severe PTSD and are hoping to apply these methods to your own life, I would moreso recommend to go to a therapist for a few sessions to help coach you in CBT/CPT to process your stress-induced trauma and pain.
If you are interested in applying Socratic Questioning to your daily life, I recommend downloading this PDF and using the questions to help challenge certain thoughts that may be influencing your emotions and behaviors. Often times in our lives, we leave heavy and potential harmful thoughts and emotions unchecked, and that will ultimately create bigger problems down the road. Keeping a close check on this is healthy, and if you are interested in something else, there is an excellent smart phone application called CBT Thought Diary that takes you through the process on a daily basis.
Burg, Matthew M. Matthew M., Schwartz, Joseph E. Joseph E., Kronish, Ian M. Ian M., Diaz, Keith M. Keith M., Alcantara, C. C., Duer-Hefele, J. J., & Davidson, Karina W. Karina W. (2017). Does stress result in you exercising less? or does exercising result in you being less stressed? or is it both?: Testing the bidirectional stress-exercise association at the group and person (N of 1) level. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(6), 799-809. doi.org/10.1007/s12160-017-9902-4
Flinchbaugh, C. L., Moore, E. W. G., Chang, Y. K., & May, D. R. (2012). Student well-being interventions: The effects of stress management techniques and gratitude journaling in the management education classroom. Journal of Management Education, 36(2), 191-219. doi.org/10.1177/1052562911430062
Gopichandran, L., Srivastsava, A. K., Vanamail, P., Kanniammal, C., Valli, G., Mahendra, J., & Dhandapani, M. (2021). Effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercise on pain, disability, and sleep among patients with chronic tension-type headache: A randomized control trial. Holistic Nursing Practice, Publish Ahead of Printdoi.org/10.1097/HNP.0000000000000460
Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M. S., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D. D., Shihab, H. M., Ranasinghe, P. D., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E. B., & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368. doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
Molla Jafar, H., Salabifard, S., Mousavi, S. M., & Sobhani, Z. (2015). The effectiveness of group training of CBT-based stress management on anxiety, psychological hardiness and general self-efficacy among university students. Global Journal of Health Science, 8(6), 47-54. doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v8n6p47
Rupp, M. A., Sweetman, R., Sosa, A. E., Smither, J. A., & McConnell, D. S. (2017). Searching for affective and cognitive restoration: Examining the restorative effects of casual video game play. Human Factors, 59(7), 1096-1107. doi.org/10.1177/0018720817715360
Sakano, D., Uefune, F., Tokuma, H., Sonoda, Y., Matsuura, K., Takeda, N., Nakagata, N., Kume, K., Shiraki, N., & Kume, S. (2020). VMAT2 safeguards β-cells against dopamine cytotoxicity under high-fat diet-induced stress. Diabetes (New York, N.Y.), 69(11), 2377-2391. doi.org/10.2337/db20-0207
Thank you for stopping by Nintendo Link for all of your gaming features and helpful tips from a psych major! What do you think of these tips and tricks to help calm you down while playing games? Did you find them helpful? Let us know in the comments below! Happy gaming, everyone.