Video Games & Anxiety Management

Video Games & Anxiety Management

Video games are a big part of my life. I love them playing them, sure, but for me, they mean even more. They help manage my stress and anxiety. They always have, and today, I see them as a part of my daily self-care. (Which may be a weird concept to anyone who doesn’t play video games, but any gamer out there will probably know exactly what I’m talking about.)

I have chronic anxiety and mild autism, and my brain needs to be stimulated. I can be watching TV and still need to read a book. I usually need to be doing two things at once, and one of them is often screen in my hand. Video games give my mind the stimulation it needs so that it can focus and settle down, which calms my whole nervous system, allowing my stress levels to decrease and my body to relax.

When my anxiety was at its very worst, I’d be lying in bed, having a panic attack, and I’d reach for the Nintendo switch. It worked.

Nostalgia is a key part of why they work, too. Video games have been important since I was a little kid. I can remember so clearly sitting in my grandparents’ TV room, 9 or 10 years old, playing Atari 2600. It cost $159 – I remember the cost because it was on the box. I can still remember how much peace and comfort that system brought me. We had that Atari for years. Then they got me a Nintendo. Playing Mario for the first time, I just loved it.

I like that cartoony stuff. It’s a big part of managing my stress and anxiety.

Today, what works best for anxiety management are the “cozy games.”

If you’ve never heard of a cozy game, it’s a kind of newer term for games that are not stressful. Nobody’s trying to kill you, and you’re not trying to kill anybody else. It’s casual. Cozy games can be a lot of different things. Kat of “A Casual Gamer” describes them as giving feelings of comfort, warmth, and self-care. “My kind of cozy games are very no-stress, non-competitive, wholesome in story and cute in design….” she says.

Cozy games can have a lot of different features, depending on what gives the player that sense of ease and comfort. Right now, one of my favorites is Animal Crossing. You live on an island and you’re making friends and planting stuff. You’re looking for fossils. It’s a sweet simulated life, and it’s one of the video games I play daily. I also like role playing games (RPG) like Final Fantasy.   

Before my anxiety was properly managed with medication, and my anxiety was at its highest, I relied on cozy games to get me through almost every night. If nothing else, Animal Crossing helped me wind down so I could sleep.

These days, as my anxiety is properly managed, I don’t need to play quite as much – though I still do. 'Cause it’s fun to plant stuff on a screen and watch it grow.

To read more about my lifelong journey to manage chronic anxiety, read my upcoming memory, From Turmoil to Triumph, due out in February 2024.

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