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The Relationship Between Video Games and Anxiety

The relationship between video games and anxiety is strong. Find out about this link and what to do if video games and anxiety have you in their grip.

The relationship between video games and anxiety is an enmeshed one. Video games tend to draw people who experience certain types of anxiety and keep them hooked. Then, the more time someone spends gaming, the more his or her anxiety tends to increase. Let’s explore the relationship between video games and anxiety to loosen the grip they might have on you.

Do video games cause anxiety? This is a common question without an easy yes-or-no answer. Researchers haven’t found evidence that video games cause anxiety directly; instead, studies continue to show that video games and anxiety are correlated. This means that, rather than having a cause-and-effect relationship, the two relate and contribute to each other.

Video games and anxiety are connected by

  • Traits and characteristics of someone engaging in gaming
  • A specific type of anxiety

The Relationship Between Video Games and Anxiety is Associated with Personality Traits

Most psychologists and other mental health professionals believe that there are five primary personality traits (collectively known as the “Big Five”). One of these traits is neuroticism, and it refers to nervousness and being prone to anxiety. Neuroticism is often referred to as an “anxious personality.”

Dr. Brent Conrad, a clinical psychologist who writes for Tech Addiction, explains in an article that “[people with] higher levels of trait anxiety, aggressive behavior, and neuroticism are at a higher risk for video game addiction.”

This does not mean that everyone with anxious personality traits is a gamer, nor does it mean that every gamer is high in the trait neuroticism. It does mean that there’s a relationship between having character traits that tend to be nervous and anxious that can make people gravitate toward video games.

Many find that video games help with anxiety by providing a different focus for thoughts thanks to a need for total concentration on a game. Video games distract from daily troubles by providing an engaging escape.

Escape is a big part of the allure of gaming. Video games often relieve stress and anxiety. This holds true for not just trait anxiety but a specific type of anxiety disorder as well: social anxiety or social phobia.

The Relationship Between Video Games and Social Anxiety

Of all anxiety disorders, social anxiety has the closest relationship with the gaming lifestyle. Social anxiety can lead to excessive gaming, and excessive gaming can worsen social anxiety.

It’s not uncommon for people with social anxiety to take up gaming as a pastime. Playing video games doesn’t require people to be out in the world mingling among other people.

People with social anxiety do still need and want human connection, and online gaming can fulfill that need. Joining online forums to chat about games, connecting with others to complete missions, and talking via headsets lets gamers feel like part of something. No longer are they on the outside looking in. They can join the party without having to leave the house and physically be around people.

Unfortunately, the more someone escapes into the virtual world of video games, the harder it becomes to interact in their real world. Online friends become increasingly familiar and comforting, while real-world people become more anxiety-provoking and intimidating. Therefore, gaming increases and interaction with friends and family decreases.

The Relationship Between Video Games and Anxiety Isn’t Set in Stone

You can weaken the relationship between video games and anxiety whether your anxiety comes from personality traits or an anxiety disorder like social anxiety. People often use games to escape their uncomfortable anxiety symptoms, so treating anxiety and the factors that contribute to it can be beneficial (King, et al., 2010).

Try these tips for dealing with gaming and anxiety:

  • Reality Breaks. When gaming, set your timer to take reality breaks. Pause and interact with someone in your real world. Spend some time talking to a family member, meet up with a friend for a bit, or even take a trip to a store—just something
  • Become Grounded. Plant yourself in your physical world. Become fully connected to it. One way to do this is by taking a mindful walk outside or through your house. Go barefoot if you’re comfortable doing so. Feel the ground, the air on your skin. Breathe deeply and notice smells. Take in sights. This quiets and soothes a brain that is overstimulated from both video games and anxiety.
  • Therapy. Seeing a therapist can help both social anxiety and gaming addiction. Studies show that even treating one with therapy will improve both (Scutti, 2017).

The connection between video games and anxiety is strong. Anxious personality traits and anxiety disorders, like social anxiety, team up to cause problems for people. You can take measures to weaken and even break the relationship between anxiety and video games.

article references

Next: How To Quit Video Games, Gaming. How Tough Is It?
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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2018, July 19). The Relationship Between Video Games and Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/gaming-disorder/the-relationship-between-video-games-and-anxiety

Last Updated: April 24, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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