Gaming is, for many people, an irreplaceable hobby. It’s escapist, it’s social, it’s challenging, and it’s very, very satisfying to win a match or beat a tough boss. It’s important for everyone to make sure they take time to enjoy themselves in their day-by-day routine; video games can offer an easy solution for squeezing some fun into those spare minutes. There’s even a degree of evidence that they can improve your cognitive abilities, problem-solving skills, and hand-eye coordination.
Like any hobby, however, it’s important to indulge in moderation.
Some modern video games can stretch into triple-digit hour counts, to say nothing of online multiplayer games. The temptation to just take one more turn, or play one more match, or beat one more level, can be overwhelming at times (Civilisation players, looking at you).
This is not to say that video games are negative or addictive; as noted above they can have many beneficial effects. But it’s very important to make sure that your gaming habits aren’t getting in the way of living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
This is particularly important if you are suffering from a mood problem like depression or anxiety. When you’re struggling to get out of bed every morning, it can seem far easier to just roll over and pick up your controller or grab your laptop and disappear away from the real world for a day.
Although it can be nice to forget for a while, this is only a short-term solution. Escapism can only last so long, and if taken to its extremes can lead to isolation and poor health, only making your situation worse and your mental health poorer.
Gaming can be great for everyone, and for many depressed people, it’s a welcome space to have some fun. With that in mind, here are some tips to make sure you’re looking after yourself properly during your sessions.
Take regular breaks
You’ve probably heard this one before, but for a very good reason: it’s vital to keeping yourself healthy. Even from a dedicated gamer’s perspective, taking a few moments away from the screen will keep your reflexes sharp and your decision-making skills fresh.
Ideally you want to be having a break at least once an hour. Depending on the game, of course, it can be quite hard to tear yourself away, and sometimes hours can disappear in what seems like a blink of an eye. There are, however, some things you can do to keep on top of it.
Try setting a regular alarm on your phone. Just having the ringer go off and remind you of how long you’ve been playing can be a good prompt.
Alternatively, you can use the natural break points in the games themselves. Playing a game of XCOM? Take a moment while your squad’s in the dropship leaving a mission. Hammering out some Black Ops? Take a space after each match to relax and have a drink of water.
This follows on naturally from the above point. Don’t just stop playing and sit there; stand up and stretch. Take a quick walk, even if it’s just to the kitchen. Take a moment to check your posture and to look after your wrists.
Some gamers even like to integrate fitness into the games themselves. You might have seen some suggestions about this online; a popular idea is to make yourself do five push-ups every time you die in a multiplayer match. This is a good idea for more than one reason: it gives you a reason to stand up, it takes your eyes off the screen for a bit, and regular exercise can be good for mental as well as physical health. Plus it helps discourage you from playing carelessly! Even if you can’t do a push-up to save your life, simply standing up and moving your arms and legs a bit can make a difference.
If you want to take things to the next level, you could try purchasing a walking desk. There’s a lot of these out on the market at the moment, ranging from specially-designed treadmills to cheap, simple, manually-powered devices you can keep in a drawer and get out when you want to. Obviously they’re not ideal for games which require precision, but when you’re playing something more relaxed, it can turn those idle hours into something productive.
Get good sleep
Most gamers are probably familiar with late-night marathons or looking out the window to discover you’ve been playing until 5am. While it can be a lot of fun to have the occasional downtime binge, if it becomes a regular habit, it can start to interfere with our sleep – and subsequently our mental health (and skill levels).
There are a few rules you should try to follow to make sure you’re not affecting things adversely.
Firstly, make sure you’re getting some space in between gaming and sleeping. If you’re going to bed at 11:00pm, it’s not helpful to play right up until 10:59. You might enjoy the few extra minutes of playtime, but what will end up happening is that you’ll take longer to get to sleep, and it’ll be a lot less restful in general. You’re more likely to wake up feeling tired – which, if nothing else, means you’ll play worse and get less enjoyment from your gaming the next day, not to mention the effect it’ll have on work and motivation levels.
Ideally you want to leave a full hour between gaming and sleep, but even half an hour will make a difference.
On a similar note, try to avoid gaming in bed. Although it can tempting to use a laptop or mobile to hide under the covers and play, your brain will start to associate your bed with pleasure, rather than rest, and it won’t start switching off when the time comes. If you can, sit at a desk, in a comfortable chair, or really anywhere that isn’t your sleeping area.
Hopefully that gives you a few ideas on how to maintain your physical health. Next week, join us for part two where we’ll talk a bit more about managing toxic environments, both online and offline.
- Henry Sawdon-Smith, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner