Apparently, as I learned in the RadioWest podcast episode I listened to just a month ago, we live in the “age of anxiety”. The author of a new book called Just Can’t Stop delves into the realm of compulsions and how small compulsions are evolution’s way of helping us cope with overwhelming situations. In the podcast she talked about mental health and the difference between serious, need to get help compulsions and minor, help you cope with your minor anxiety compulsions. It really pushed some ideas inward and I’ve been seriously contemplating my own battles and what they’ve meant in my life. So let’s get personal.
About 5 months ago I was diagnosed with debilitating anxiety and minor depression. After struggling with the inability to function for about 10 months I finally, with the support and courage of my wonderful husband, sought professional help. It was incredibly difficult for me to admit that I needed any help and incredibly difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t my mom – I couldn’t handle the stress of my life with the aplomb and poise that she does.
Since I started down this destructive path I’ve found that one of the best coping mechanisms for me has been video games. And now, after seeking help and understanding a little better where my anxiety and depression come from, I know why. I think I want to share this, not only because it’ll help me but because maybe it’ll help you, too!
I feel like I am in control:
When I look at my life I do not feel in control of my situation – work, our home being built, children getting sick, my daycare quitting and leaving me in a bit of a lurch, and the list continues. Playing a video game, especially because I pretty much stick to single player games or modes like Breath of the Wild or one player MarioKart, allows me to be in control of my entire situation. I want to explore in that direction, I can. I get to control where I go, when I accomplish tasks, how long it’ll take, and how to approach an enemy. This, for someone who feels like their life is spiraling, is a positive experience and helps me feel a little more inner peace and calm.
I can get upset without becoming mean:
I try to be as kind as I can. I don’t understand other people’s experiences, where they are coming from, or why they behave certain ways. As such, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong or they screw something up. But it leaves me with a pretty big ball of frustration that I’ve been unable to lose. When I play a video game I can get mad at the RNG gods without feeling like I am judging someone too harshly or becoming a toxic player. I can get frustrated without disrupting someone else’s experience. This gives me an outlet for my frustration without ruining any relationships or people.
It allows me to set and achieve goals:
When you are struggling with anxiety it can be incredibly difficult, even impossible, to set and achieve goals. You feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear all the time. When I play a video game I am given tasks and goals and a desire to finish them. Every time I finish a side quest I know I’ve accomplished something. Whenever I beat a dungeon or boss I feel like I’m making a difference and finishing a major task. These small victories do wonders for my self esteem and positive outlook, even if they are virtual. It’s something that didn’t require much thought or even, sometimes, much work on my part. But it’s something that helps me feel just a little bit better about myself. With enough game victories I usually feel a little more capable to set and accomplish real life goals.
The games I play bring me joy:
In the book Essentialism by Greg Mckeown, he spends a great deal of time discussing the importance of doing something because it brings you joy. It doesn’t necessarily accomplish a task or goal, it just makes you happy. Video games make me happy. I love the stories, the music, the characters, and the feeling of being involved in another world. And when you are depressed the importance of doing something that makes you happy and fires off that dopamine becomes even more essential. So I play because it makes my life a better place.
What kind of happiness do you find playing video games? Are there any lessons you’ve learned about how video games have positively affected your life?