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Gaming and mental health

Gaming can be a way to relax and stay connected with your friends. But sometimes, gaming might get in the way of things like studying or sleep. If you're feeling like this, here are things you can do to enjoying gaming in a positive way.

Just like social media, there can be positives and negatives to gaming.

Gaming, when used positively, can be a really helpful way to look after your mental health. This is because it can give us a space to unwind, relax and take time out from the pressures of daily life – just like reading can, or going for a walk. It can give us a sense of achievement and help us learn new skills, like problem-solving. Gaming can also be a really sociable way to have fun and stay connected with friends and family. 

But if gaming is starting to take over your life and get in the way of you doing other things you want to do, like study, work, exercise, eat or sleep then this can be a sign of a problem. You might start to feel out of control, unable to deal with real life, low mood or using drugs to game longer. If any of these are familiar to you, then you are not alone. There are things you can do to feel better and start enjoying gaming again in a healthy and positive way.

How can gaming affect my mental health?

Gaming can have a good impact on your mental health. You might find that gaming is making you feel good and connected with friends. It can help with things like:

Taking time out from our busy lives to switch off and relax by gaming. This helps us to give time to process your day, and take time to recharge after school, college, work, or university.

Connecting with friends. Keeping in touch with friends online can be a great way to socialise and can give us a low-pressure space to check in with each other, talk about what’s going on in our lives and how we’re really feeling. If you find talking about your thoughts and feelings difficult face to face, chatting with friends online might feel easier. It can be reassuring to know that your friends are there for you and that you’re not alone.

Learning skills you can use in everyday life, like problem-solving or being a team player. Gaming can make you look at something from a different point of view or consider how you approach a problem. Learning to be a team player can be useful too. For example, if you are working on a group project at school, you can understand what roles everyone will play and how you can work on the project as a team.

But sometimes, gaming can become too much. You might find that you are often thinking about when you are next able to game, or you stop doing other hobbies to game. This might make you feel out of control and that gaming is taking over your life. If gaming is effecting everyday things like school, sleep or work, it can lead to feelings of:

If you are having any of these feelings, it’s important that you reach out for help and get the support you need. There are people who will help you get through this.

How to have a more positive time online

If you find that gaming is having a negative impact on your mental health, here are some tips on how you can have a more positive time:

  • Build your own positive community by connecting with people, friends and family you feel comfortable with. Being part of a group can make you feel reassured, safe and an important part of the team. There will be other people who have the same interests in gaming as you where you can share and connect with each other. Avoid gaming spaces that are harmful for your mental health. If you are finding things difficult when gaming, talk to someone you trust.
  • Check your mood before gaming. This can help you reflect on how you are feeling and how this might affect your gaming time. By checking in with your thoughts and feelings, you can understand if gaming is going to make you feel better or, if it’s going to have a negative impact on your mood.
  • Set up your privacy settings with what you feel comfortable with. In your console settings, you can set who can see your profile as well protecting your information and who you connect with. This can help you to feel safe when gaming and keep your space positive.
  • Find time for other activities. Try scheduling in time to do other things you enjoy. It’s good to have a balance, and putting in time to do these things can help you manage your time.
  • Make sure you also have time to look after yourself. Basic needs like enough sleep, food and taking care of your hygiene are really important for your wellbeing. By looking after yourself, you’ll have a better time gaming.

What to do if gaming becomes too much

If you feel like gaming is taking over your daily life and you’re not sure what to do, here are some things that can help:

  • Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and why it is worrying you. This is often the first step to feeling better.
  • Decide how much time you think is reasonable for you to spend gaming and set an alarm to remind you when to stop. Or ask someone you are living with to encourage and help you to stop when you need to. 
  • Write down how you are feeling. You might be using gaming to distract yourself from focusing on other worries – it is important to figure out what is causing you to game so much and try to deal with these problems, because distracting yourself will not make them go away. And it’s ok to reach out for help and support so that things can get better.
  • Speak to your GP – they can help you with any worries you have about addiction, sleep, low mood, social anxiety or if your behaviour has changed since you started gaming.

Wes's story: How gaming helped my mental health

The idea that someone can enjoy sitting around twiddling their thumbs for hours seems almost alien to a lot of people.

For me, gaming became a place where I could escape my degree, my life and my mental health conditions when things were tough. Gaming also allowed me to do all the things we are told to do to deal with depression and anxiety. Gaming allowed me to reach out and talk to people from all over the world in similar situations to myself, many of whom were also experiencing physical and mental health problems; it allowed me to share my experiences and life with them in a real and meaningful way; it allowed me to find a place where I could take my mind off of negative thoughts and emotions.

The gaming experience and community became my therapy at the point when I needed it the most.

But there is a difference between a healthy relationship with gaming and one that is negatively affecting your mental health; if your “hobby” is causing you stress and anger or you’re using it as a coping mechanism to forget about the world around you, then it may be worth thinking about.

To continue reading Wes's story visit 'How gaming helped my mental health.'

For more information and advice on mental health conditions and looking after yourself visit:

Where to get help

See below for a list of organisations and helpline services that have information to support you.

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger

Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.

All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.

Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.

Text: YM to 85258

Opening times: 24/7

The Mix

Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

Email support available via their online contact form.

Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

Free short-term counselling service available.

Phone: 0808 808 4994

Opening times: 4pm - 11pm, seven days a week

Childline

If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

Phone: 0800 1111

Opening times: 9am - midnight, 365 days a year

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