A gamer’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. Physical injuries in esports come as no surprise—they happen in every sport, but gamers experiencing challenges with their mental health may see a big dip in their performance during competition. So how do gamers help make sure their mental health is at its best for performance?
Here are the top tips for improving mental health in Gamers and Esports:
- Forest Bathing
By incorporating the above tips, mental health for gamers and esports can be yet another challenge to overcome, rather than an end to a career.
Mental Health in Esports
It’s hard to say what mental health challenges are most prevalent in esports, but the two big ones I’ve read about in the media are anxiety (especially in the form of panic attacks) and depression.
Anxiety can present itself in many different forms. Justin “Plup” McGrath, who competes in Super Smash Bros. Melee, experienced anxiety in the form of a panic attack; LoL pro Diego “Quas” Ruiz retired from esports after being suspended and spoke out about his battle with depression.
Just do a quick search about mental health in esports and you may be surprised to find that competitive gamers are having a lot more to contend with outside of physical injuries.
Perhaps the most applicable to esport athletes is the need to “unplug”. What is unplugging? It’s getting away from all sources of technological stimulation. That’s right: no phone, no computer, no internet, no netflix. If reading that last sentence made you uncomfortable, you need to unplug.
If you’re a competitive gamer, you spend your time “plugged in”, and the stimulation you receive is exponentially greater than reading a blog on your phone or scrolling through reddit. I remember when PUBG came out and having a lot trouble sleeping after playing at night.
If you’re a competitive gamer that spends a lot of their free time outside of your game still plugged in, you may become susceptible to feelings of jealousy and envy. Researchers found that a third of people became more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. As a competitive gamer, being inundated with information from social media about other gamers doing “better” than you can a take a toll on your confidence.
In the age of the internet, we either consume or we create. I would argue gaming is creative as you’re always learning and trying to improve. If, however, you continue to be staring at a screen in your free time, you’re most likely consuming, and this can take away from creative ideas to help your team or you improve and prepare for the next big match.
Best Way to Unplug
Float tanks. Nothing will help you unplug like an hour in a float tank.
What is a float tank? Float tanks are an enclosed tube filled, on average, with 10” of water. The water has around 800 pounds of Epson salts dissolved in it so that when you lay in the water, you effortlessly float. Additionally, the water is heated to your body temperature to eliminate your skin sensing it.
With the tank being completely devoid of light, sound and smell, you become deprived of all senses (hence why many refer to them as “deprivation tanks”). Gaming, especially competitive gaming, requires you to take in an inordinate amount of information and then process it to make split-second decisions—over and over for hours and hours.
Float tanks allow an extreme break from an extreme activity. Competitive gaming is a big psychological stressor. Taking the time to shut your brain off from all stimulus will give it a much-needed break. Here is a list of just some of the benefits associated with float tanks:
*effects may vary, do not expect a miracle after your first float, most users report benefits after several floats or when floating becomes a routine*
- Pain management
- Heightened senses
- Chronic stressor relief
- Brain synchronization
- Improvements with insomnia
The benefits for gamers are obvious. It astounds me that I have never seen a gaming house with a float tank. If I oversaw a gaming house, there would be a separate room with a float tank for each team member. Imagine an esports team all floating together after a day of practice? They’d be bordering on telekinesis afterwards. But hey, I’m sure the lounge room with more computers, TV’s and games are just as important.
This tip is like unplugging and float tanks. Its purpose is to cut down or eliminate stressful stimulus on your brain (especially artificial stimulus). The term comes from a wellness practice with origins in Japan and South Korea (In Japanese, it’s called: shinrin-yoku).
Forest bathing is simple. Take a break from your busy life, go outside and find a quiet forest to surround yourself with trees and just spend some time there. This process is meant to soothe and restore your stressed mind. Match after match of Dota 2 takes a toll on your mind. Providing yourself with an opportunity to help restore what gaming takes out of you is vital for long term performance.
I get it, some of you probably think this is silly. Consider this, however, doctors in Scotland can now prescribe nature to their patients. When a doctor in Shetland, Scotland prescribes nature to their patients, it comes with a year-long calendar of outdoor recommendations. Their reasoning for this type of prescription is based on the evidence that spending time in nature:
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety
- Increases happiness
- Reduces aggression
- Reduces ADHD symptoms
- Improves pain control
Imagine having all the above-listed conditions and the handful of pills you’d typically be prescribed to take each day. A simple walk in nature is powerful, and gamers will see the benefits in their performance. Once I started incorporating walks outside after a gaming session, my irritability and sleep improved quite a lot.
If you haven’t already, check out my article on the importance of sleep for gamers. This tip doesn’t require you to leave the house. It may be difficult for some of you to get both more and better quality sleep, but the benefits for your mental health are powerful.
How does sleep directly affect mental health? REM (rapid eye movement) sleep improves our learning and memory, and it is also critical to our emotional health.
When our sleep is disrupted and less than optimal, our neurotransmitters and stress hormones get all messed up. When this happens, our brain suffers, and our thinking and emotional regulation become impaired.
Can you remember a time when you were getting great sleep consistently? How did you feel? Now compare it to a time when you were getting 6 hours or less. Getting adequate sleep that allows you to enter REM should be part of the basis of your mental health care regimen. Until it’s on track and close to optimal, other methods for improving your mental health may not be as helpful as they could be.
As a gamer, you are constantly practicing and learning. As a competitive gamer, you are constantly practicing and learning, but you’re also subdued to many forms of stress: your salary depends on your performance, competing in front of an audience, living up to your last great performance, your team counting on you for the next win. Sleep allows your mind to recover from stress, and the best part, it’s free and probably more beneficial than most other methods you would pay for.
Of course, exercise would show up on any Cyber Athletiks tip list. Although competitive gaming requires some level of physical exertion (although a very small level), it is also susceptible to the health risks associated with being sedentary, and mental health is one of those risks.
Exercise’s Benefits for Depression & Anxiety
Exercise releases endorphins—powerful chemicals that help uplift your spirits. Runners call it the “runners high”; bodybuilders call it “the pump”; I call it a better alternative to medication.
Disclaimer: I simply mean Medical Professionals are quick to prescribe medication without trying less intrusive measures. Exercise is not always a substitute for medication.
Exercise is a great way to improve well-being and calmness because it promotes new activity patterns in your brain. Like the above tips, exercise is also a great way to quiet the mind in an almost meditative state. Many of the benefits I get out of exercise comes from the simplicity of routine and discipline.
Exercise is vital for mental health, not just physical health. The simple slogan “Fit Body Fit Mind” has a lot of truth.
When an athlete in traditional sports gets injured, they have access to a team of medical professionals that includes physiotherapists, sports doctors, rehab trainers etc., all of which are often unavailable to the general population due to their expertise. But what happens when athletes experience mental illness? Often, they are overlooked by their coaches and teammates, or the athlete just avoids seeking help due to the stigma.
Esports is a slightly different, slightly more tragic story. Not only is esport specific health care still on the rare side, leaving pro gamers more susceptible to acquiring preventable injuries, but esports must also deal with the stigma associated with “just playing video games”.
I hope this article has provided a guiding resource for how competitive gamers can begin incorporating preventative activities for their mental health and well-being. But please, if you are experiencing challenges with your mental health seek assistance immediately. Professional help will come with more benefits than just a boost in gaming performance.
Click here for a global directory of mental health hotlines.
Are Mental Health Symptoms Avoidable?
Not for everyone. There may be a genetic component determining how susceptible someone might be in experiencing challenges with their mental health. Additionally, there is still a large stigma associated with mental health causing individuals to refrain from seeking help. We will all have challenges with our physical bodies at some point and, for the most part, we will all have challenges with our mental health.
Like efforts being made on how to reduce or eliminate an individual’s susceptibility to Alzheimer’s are, there are certain activities we can do and not do to promote our mental health and well-being.
Esports and competitive gaming are not easy. If you are trying to become the best at anything, paying attention to your physical and mental health will increase your chances of achieving your goals.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. These tips are intended as potential preventative measures for individuals endeavoring in competitive gaming. These tips should not be considered as a form of treating current mental health challenges and symptoms. Click here to find the nearest help available to you.