Keep Calm And Game On: Can Video Games Relieve Stress?

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So your parents have been telling you all about the dangers of playing video games too much since you were a kid huh? Well guess what, it turns out that all those hours you spent playing Call of Duty might have helped you become a lot more relaxed and stress free than non-gamers. And there’s actual science to back it up!

For years, video games have been shown to have plenty of of health benefits like improved motor skills, better decision making skills, and  in some cases, even help your vision! So it’s really not “that” surprising that they can be used for stress management. I mean, anyone who rushes home to play a game of Madden or Halo after work can attest to the fact that games help get them through their otherwise stress filled lives.

But why does it work?

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Why Video Games Help Relieve Stress

There’s still a lot of research being performed to determine the specific link between stress relief and video games. But from the work that’s been done so far, there are a few theories that help explain why video games could be be one of the best Stress Hacks there is.

A lot of people believe that stress, depression, and other mental disorders are the result of a patterned way of thinking. You know, every day you wake up feeling like “another day, ughghgh!”. Your brain starts to be trained to expect to be stressed out, and your common stressors usually happen every day. So you’re constantly living in a state of stress.

Video games break that pattern and give your brain a mental break. It’s basically all about refocusing your brain onto something else and getting into a different “zone”.

Good News For Type “A” People

If you have a Type “A” personality (easily irritable), video games can really help you relieve some stress. If you’re not sure whether you’re a Type A person, here’s a brief description from Simply Psychology:

Inter-related with this is the presence of a significant life imbalance. This is characterized by a high work involvement. Type A individuals are easily ‘wound up’ and tend to overreact. They also tend to have high blood pressure (hypertension).

Type A personalities experience a constant sense of urgency: Type A people seem to be in a constant struggle against the clock. Often, they quickly become impatient with delays and unproductive time, schedule commitments too tightly, and try to do more than one thing at a time, such as reading while eating or watching television.

Type A Personality

According to some research funded by PopCap (the folks that make Bejeweled), Type A personalities have a hard time turning off. They’re always in a rush and thinking about work. Unfortunately, this trait is extremely common here in the U.S, which is why we’re always so stressed out.

What happens to Type A’s when they try to relax is that their brain isn’t able to sit still. It’s weird, but they actually require some form of stress to be able to function. Otherwise they get bored and frustrated. It’s like telling a kid filled with sugar to just sit and stare at a wall. It’s pretty much impossible.

Video games allow Type A personalities to get enough of a mental challenge to be able to relax, but not get too bored or overly stressed. So it’s like giving that sugar filled kid a toy to play with. It gives him something to do so that he’s occupied, but doesn’t go overboard.

What Type Of Games Work Best?

Not all video games work great for relieving stress. Some games can actually make your stress levels even worse. The type of game that works best for you will vary, but according to a few different studies, there are some key characteristics to look for:

Easy to get started: One of the key features of games that help relieve stress is the ability to just pick up and play. So games that don’t require a ton of tutorials and long explanations work great. Apparently Bejeweled works pretty well.


Has  nothing to do with your real life: Video games help manage stress because it gives you a break from your real life. That’s probably why some people like to play Gears of War or Call of Duty when they’re feeling stressed out.

call of duty

Not too involved: Games like World of Warcraft, Elders Scroll or other MMO’s might not be the best option. Yea, they can be fun but they also suck up A LOT of your time and require you to get really committed. Find games that you can just play a game or two of and stop like Madden (although sometimes that’s easier said than done).

Madden 25

Require you to move: One of the best things about what video game companies are doing is incorporating physical activity into games. The Wii has plenty of games to get you moving, and the Kinect for the Xbox has a few games to get your blood flowing too. And of course, Playstation has the Move.

Wii Tennis

A little violence might help: I’m not the morality police, and I know plenty of people think that violent video games are ruining kids. But to borrow a bit from one of my favorite comedians Louis C.K, but maybe people who do messed up stuff were a little messed up before GTA was invented. And according to a professor at Texas A&M International University, there’s a correlation between lower stress levels and violent video games. So maybe GTA V isn’t deteriorating the “moral” society we live in as much as some people make it seem.


Here are a couple of sites with suggestions of games to play when you’re stressed out from Giant Bomb and The Escapist.

Game On

The next time you find yourself feeling stressed out and needing a break, give video games a try. You don’t have to go out and get a PS4 or Xbox One (paying for them might stress you out), but just playing a game of Angry Birds on your phone might help you a little. You can also try some of these games from Stress Relief Pig, although some of them are kind of violent (like Whack Your Boss).

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Additional Resources

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About the author

I'm an avid reader and love anything to do with mindfulness and mental health!

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