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Gaming and your wellbeing

Playing games can positively impact our mental health by giving us time to relax, connect with others, or try out new life skills. Sometimes though, gaming may start to negatively impact us. That's why it's crucial to think about gaming and our wellbeing.

The positive impacts that streaming and gaming can have on our mental health include:

  • Time and space to relax: for some of us, gaming can be great for our wellbeing. Online gaming can also help us form social connections. Many of us also use gaming as a form of mindfulness. Our 2021 Coronavirus survey found that 16% of adults and 37% of young people had used gaming as a coping strategy during the pandemic.
  • Test and learn new skills like team-working or problem-solving: Learning is one of the 5 Ways To Wellbeing. It has been shown to enhance self-esteem, encourage social interaction and promote a more active life.
  • Connecting us to others: building a positive community can be a great way to socialise and connect with others. The feeling of togetherness can help us talk more honestly about their feelings, especially if we're going through a difficult time. Research has shown that the shared cultural experience of playing video games supported positive communication with young people and their friends and family.
  • Expressing ourselves: there are many ways to express yourself creatively online through streaming and gaming. Some of us find communicating online helpful to test how we're feeling before sharing with others. This can help you clarify your emotions or what you want before talking to those closest to you. However, always be careful to not share personal details online.

"Put simply, gaming is an amazing way to give yourself a break, meet like-minded people and recharge your imagination."

It's also vital that you look after yourself online – and that's true of gaming too. It's possible to become addicted to gaming. This is when you game to the point of it being harmful to you. Some signs of gaming addiction to look out for include:

  • Feeling irritable and restless
  • Hiding how much you've been playing
  • No longer seeing friends or doing the things you used to enjoy
  • Spending too much money on games or in-game purchases

You might also find yourself feeling:

  • Isolated
  • Low
  • Angry
  • Lonely

If you feel like gaming is becoming a problem, talking to someone you trust can be an important first step. This could be someone close to you or a GP.

Sean’s story

Though Sean Longhurst has played video games since he was a child, he wouldn’t have called himself a committed gamer before the coronavirus struck. But when the first national lockdown made outdoor socialising impossible, gaming became a vital way for Sean to manage the depression he had lived with for years.

“A couple of friends were playing online and said it would be a good way to stay connected.

So I started gaming seriously, and it has been an undeniably positive experience.

“I know when I’m at my worst in terms of my own depression, that’s when I disconnect from the meaningful people in my life. But when we’re playing together online, we chat using headsets, and that’s a real way of staying connected to those people. We’re also not very good, so there’s a lot of laughter!

“And gaming also gave me a focus during lockdown. It was something to learn, get better at and something that took me out of the very heavy, claustrophobic world. It was my version of learning how to make sourdough!

“Even when all I want to do is put the duvet over my head, even at those points, I might have a little game because you can play in bed, whereas with things like cycling, I would struggle to find the motivation. Gaming is so accessible, and it takes your attention as well because it’s hard. You don’t forget about depression, but it takes you out of that space a bit. It stops me spiralling and makes me feel I’ve done something positive, rather than staring at the ceiling all day.

“I hate to think what lockdown would have been like without gaming. I don’t know what would have happened with regards to my mental health.”

Healthy gaming tips

We have some tips on keeping your gaming a positive experience for you and your mental health. It is okay if you find these things don’t work for you, as everyone has their own way of looking after themselves. These are just some suggestions to get you started.

Getting a good balance

Streaming and gaming can have many positive impacts. Still, it’s essential to find a balance between your online and offline life for your mental health and wellbeing.

  • Set aside some time regularly to do something offline. This could be reading a book, doing some physical activitybeing outdoors in nature, or practising relaxation techniques.
  • If you’re taking on a timed streaming challenge, make sure you make time to get up and move around. This will avoid you being sedentary for too long during an extended stream or gaming session. To help, we’ve made some ‘I’m taking a break’ overlays which you can use during your stream in aid of Mind. 
  • Reserve time in your day to look after yourself, like eating a healthy meal and getting a good nights sleep. If you’re taking on a timed streaming challenge, make sure you stock up on healthy snacks and water to keep you going.
  • Continue to spend time with the people you care about.
  • Learn how to deal with triggering content healthily and constructively. If you encounter something that upsets you while gaming or watching someone stream, it is okay to close the screen or exit the game. You might even want to turn off your computer, console or mobile device and take a break. Some people find that using a distraction technique also helps, such as focusing on your breathing, watching TV, or doing housework. Suppose you find yourself in a bad place or having negative thoughts after seeing triggering content. In that case, you might need to get some additional offline support.
  • If you find that gaming is starting to negatively impact your mental health, you may need to take a break for a while. If you do feel like gaming is becoming a problem for you for any reason, talking to someone you trust, like a GP or someone close to you, is a significant first step. You may find our useful contacts and resources section helpful.

Keeping yourself safe online

Just like in the offline world, when you’re online, it’s important to think about your privacy and how to keep yourself safe.

  • Check your privacy settings. Just because a site requires you to log in doesn’t necessarily mean that your profile is entirely private – some parts might still be shown publicly. You should avoid posting your personal details online, like your address or telephone number. You should be able to review and change your privacy settings for any online account.
  • It’s also important to manage your privacy settings carefully if you’re playing online. This can help you connect with people you trust and avoid being trolled or bullied – both of which could affect your mental health.
  • Parents and carers can find advice for setting controls on games and internet services from Pan European Game Information (PEGI), who set the age ratings for games in Europe. Even if you’re not a parent or carer, you may find these controls helpful.

Keep an eye on your spending

Protect yourself from excessive spending while streaming or gaming. Some of us might spend money to make ourselves feel better or make poor financial decisions if we are unwell. This can lead to spending that you feel guilty about later and may even lead to debt problems.

If online spending when you are unwell is an issue that affects you, see our money and mental health pages for information that may help. For more information on gaming, money and mental health, you can read more on YoungMinds’ website.

Manage your screen time

It’s essential to take regular screen breaks so you don’t strain your eyes. Using screens in the evening to play games or stream, including tablets and mobile phones, can negatively affect your sleep.

It can help to think about when and how you use screens. For example, you could try:

  • cutting down on screen time before you try to sleep,
  • avoiding stimulating activities before sleep such as playing games,
  • using a blue light filter, night mode or dark mode – you might be able to find these options in your device/monitor settings and in individual app settings,
  • adjusting other settings – for example, changing the brightness or using silent modes like flight mode or do not disturb.

Staying safe streaming

Whether you are watching streamers or broadcasting yourself, we have some tips on keeping the experience positive for you and your mental health. It is okay if you find these things don't work for you, as everyone has their own way of looking after themselves. These are just some suggestions to get you started.

Banish the trolls

Don't tolerate abusive behaviour when streaming or if you're online elsewhere. Block, report or mute people who bully or troll. Twitch has guidance on out how to report abusive users. Have you found a user fundraising for Mind on their stream that is behaving abusively? You can make a formal complaint about this user by filling out our online complaints form.

Be careful with your private information

Streaming and gaming are great ways to take a break and connect with people all over the world. But you don't want to share too much, and we strongly advise you not to share personal information with people in games or online. If someone is asking for personal information, you can report them on your streaming channel. Here is guidance on how to report a user on Twitch and Youtube.

Customising your privacy settings to something you feel comfortable with is vital to protect your personal information. It also allows you to choose who can connect with you.

For more information, take a look at Mind's online mental health pages.

Choose the right content

It's incredible how fast the world of streaming has grown, increasing the number of different communities you can find online. When choosing what content to watch, you may want to review the 'about' page on the streamer's account to get a feel for the sort of content they broadcast. If they are playing a game, you can check its PEGI rating.

Our streaming and fundraising challenge is not suitable for those under 16s. Still, we know many young people enjoy watching their favourite gamers on Twitch and YouTube. We recommend that parents and carers enjoy these streams together with their children in the same room and that young people have adults they can trust to talk to if they need to.

YouTube and Twitch don't allow accounts for under 13s. PEGI has great advice for parents and carers, including some gaming and internet control settings that can help regulate what content young people engage with.

We know we can't control what games people choose to play for our streaming and gaming fundraising. However, we ask our supporters to be mindful that violence, nudity and other triggering content wouldn't be appropriate for a Mind fundraiser.

Useful contacts and resources

If you find that things are becoming too much for you or are worried about how you are feeling or behaving, you may want to get additional support. You may find the below resources helpful:

 

This information was published in November 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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