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Hub World: Stress

We asked our wonderful community the ways that they handle stress, and we had a lot of responses!

We split them up into three key areas; how to manage stress, which games we use to de-stress, and how we support each other. Everyone handles stress in their own way, so we wanted to explore the vast number of ways we can practice self-care when our stress levels soar. Perhaps you might find a new strategy to try!

 

How do you manage your stress levels?

 

“As a completionist, having goals to work towards with clear steps helps me sort through internalised stress, such as things in real life becoming hectic and unplanned. Despite the occasional steep challenge, games with fun trophies and objectives offer a satisfying conclusion like checking off a to-do list.” – Ruby Modica

“When I feel really stressed I head off into a room alone and listen to some music. I find that music can change your mood so if you want to destress then listen to some chill music and beats.” – Derek

“I tend to use mindfulness techniques to assess stressful situations and act accordingly. It could be simply by using immediate stress busting methods like deep breathing, visualisation and grounding or just removing myself from the situation altogether to diffuse my mind with a distraction like…cleaning the kitchen!” – Sally Morgan-Moore

“I’ve been walking along the seafront listening to the sounds of the waves, and taking in the sea air. Just doing any of these, helps me manage my stress levels, keeping me relaxed.” – SithGamiing

“I manage stress levels by engaging whole-heartedly in my life outside of work. Putting in effort to make room for life outside of your work, even when it’s busy and stressful (believe me) is incredibly important.” – Adam Clarke

“I like having a plan and taking action with it. Without those two things, its easy to become overwhelmed, especially on “off” days. Knowing what I have control over and also the things I don’t have control over is key.” – Andrew Pappas

“I really try to take even 10 minutes outside a day, walking round the garden or just grounding myself and being in that moment. Something new I’m trying is if I know the cause of the stress, especially in work, I will set that task aside and go back to it.” – Charlotte Callister

“Writing things down helps a lot. If it’s workload related, I tend to note a list of things I’ve achieved during the day and not just what I’ve got left to do. This has helped hugely over the years. In general though, I just tend to talk to anyone who is willing to listen. They say a problem shared is a problem halved and I’ve found this to be the case over the years. Particularly during COVID times.” – Antonela Pounder

“We all have our own hobbies to lift our spirits and each one can help us de-stress. However, the most important thing is communication. If we tell our loved ones, family members or friends that we’re not feeling ok, they just might give us the support we need or the space to breathe. Talking and being as open as possible can also lift a weight off our shoulders. Speaking about troubles can be challenging, but it can also be the best thing for our mental health.” – Richard Breslin

“I manage my stress by doing things such as gaming, watching movies and tv shows, and going to watch the football, I make time to do these things to help manage my stress levels. I also journal which helps to control the stress.” – AntarcticNinja

 

What games do you use to de-stress?

 

“I avoid the games that I know will get me annoyed and opt for something more relaxing. I go for games such as Stardew Valley, for me games like that where I can build, create a garden. But games like House Flipper also, I find if they’re relaxing and cheerful – they can help de-stress you.” – SithGamiing

“Different types of stress require different games. Being overworked with deadlines requires simple ‘checklist’ goals (examples include open world objective markers like inFamous, or challenge map settings such as Hitman), whereas anxiety and discomfort leads towards gaming nostalgia such as retro/artistic games (examples include ICO, Metal Gear Solid 1, Half Life 2, Portal).” – Ruby Modica
“Simulation games always help me escape from life stresses. Call me biased but there’s no greater “zone out” for me than escaping into the Galaxy of Elite Dangerous to revisit past discoveries or look to seek new ones. The stillness of space! Can’t beat it.” – Sally Morgan-Moore

“If I’m feeling agitated and worked up, some brutal button bashing with some classic God of War or Devil May Cry might do the trick. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I might immerse myself in an expansive open world with plenty of fun side activities such as Yakuza. If I need to focus and be totally distracted, I might play Gran Turismo7 which would require my 100% attention without a second thought of anything else. Perhaps I just need to kick back and relax, which is why Unpacking is my perfect yen game. At the end of the day, we all come from diverse backgrounds and have different tastes. So, finding the kind of game that will benefit us most in our time of need can go a long way in relieving some stress to help lift our spirits.” – Richard Breslin

“Puzzle games, I love to take my mind away from the stresses by having to think about next moves in a game, really helps to change my thought patterns” – Tracy Clark

“Open world games are my go to a lot of the time. They’re so powerful in that they allow us to explore a world so vastly different to our own, with so much freedom. They provide an amazing distraction. For me, games like DEATH STRANDING and Horizon: Forbidden West help a lot to de-stress.” – Antonela Pounder

“To destress, I LOVE playing nonograms and logic games. I have dozens of nonogram apps on my phone and games like PictoPix on my computer. I also have some Minecraft servers that are available for some mindless tree chopping.” – Grace O’Malice

 

How do you support others during stressful times?

“I like to share mindfulness techniques I’ve picked up along the way as methods of stress management. Things like the STOP method or mindful breathing exercises to help people “in the moment” with stressful situations, or it could be something as simple as having a cup of tea and a chat to break things down and be a listening ear for them.” – Sally Morgan-Moore
“When friends are stressed out, it’s important to make a point that you can make time for them. Not just listening to them vent, but also suggesting spending time with them. Even small gestures like visiting them for an hour, going somewhere relaxing like a local park or cafe, or (with gamers) doing some casual multiplayer to suit their needs and take their minds off of the stressful triggers.” – Ruby Modica

“I reach out and suggest a break from what they are doing and have a coffee or chat over something that they really like.  Just to help them focus on something positive.” – Tracy Clark

“Listen to how they’re feeling, what they’re saying and what it is that’s making them feel stressed. Showing someone you’re there for them, if they need to talk – is one of the ways we can help others. But it’s important to note, we can’t force people to talk if they don’t want to. This will only make them feel more stressed, which will impact their mental health further.” – SithGamiing

“I usually send my friends so many memes or Tik Tok videos! I’m also really careful to let them know that I’m there to talk to, and thinking of them, but with no pressure for them to open up if they don’t want to.” – Charlotte Callister

“Offering them a distraction in some way, shape or form helps a lot. Whether this is grabbing a coffee with a friend / colleague, jumping on an online game together or just chatting on a call together. Something that gives others a brain break. In a workplace setting, 1 on 1 meetings are essential for checking in on the wellbeing of your staff. These check-ins give teams the opportunity to talk about anything and everything with someone in a position to potentially help. Just having someone ask you if you’re OK, can really help.” – Antonela Pounder

“To support other people when they’re stressed, I just try to be available. I know how incredibly relaxing it can be when someone lets you just vent for a moment, or even to just know they have someone who will always answer a text message or a phone call when they’re having a bad day.” – Grace O’Malice

Skills utilised:
News

Outgrowing Button Mashing by Ben Huxley

My last job was a cashier at a petrol station.

At the end of the shift I had to count up the day’s takings while making sure a hundred-quid float remained in the till. Terrible with numbers, I counted the coins and notes, subtracting the float with a calculator – all while a supervisor glared over my shoulder. Fuel requests beeped, queues got longer, coins fell, clinked, and rolled under the counter. £5 and £10 notes fell and scattered like autumnal leaves. My arms and hands flapped and jabbed respectively at the touch screen monitor.

Some thrive under pressure; others don’t. For me, pressure unleashes a flustered panic, mindlessness, the proverbial headless chicken let loose in public. When gaming, it manifests in button mashing: hammering the controller and hoping for the best, the headless chicken confined to fingers and thumbs. In the past this has worked for me. It’s how I got through Tekken, Devil May Cry, God of War, even the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. It takes a long time, and a lot of luck, but eventually I knock the keys in just the right order to snuff the last boss.

Last month I bought Sifu, the new beat ‘em up from French studio Sloclap. I’ve always been a sucker for martial arts films, especially ones where a single hero takes on a horde of enemies: Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Iko Uwais in The Raid. I thought Sifu would let me live out that fantasy, dispensing the goons with ease as a fighting master. This wasn’t the case. Sifu is hard. And for someone who button mashes when the going gets tough, it’s impossible. And that’s without exaggeration or hyperbole. It’s literally impossible to button mash your way through Sifu.

The game opens with a prologue/tutorial which I swept through with ease, excited to get started. Reader, it took me a whole day to finish the first stage. Sifu’s roguelike gimmick is a magical ageing charm, in which our character ages every time our health bar depletes. Once we pass our seventies, the run is over, and we have to start again. My avatar finished the first stage as a weary and grey 79-year-old, and I felt like one myself.

I’m never going to finish this, I thought. And with my button mashing tactic, I never would have. There are five stages, and you continue at the same age you finished the last. Repeating the same stages again and again are mandatory.

I don’t know what motivated me – a rare 7 hours of sleep, maybe – but the next morning I started again with a new aim. I didn’t want to simply finish the game. I wanted to learn to play it. If that meant experimenting, taking time to learn, and losing more often, so be it. Surrounded by six foes with baseball bats, I wouldn’t thrash with my thumb, but observe what they did. Do they swing high first, or low? Do I react with a parry, block, weave?

I died constantly because gaming this way was new to me. I’ve tried applying mindfulness to gaming (link to previous article?), but I’ve never expected constant failure to this extreme. Learning the enemy’s routine took hours of trial and error, which sounds like a boring slog, but I was enjoying it more.

I would go into a Sifu run expecting pandemonium; an intense rush of unfairness where things will go wrong. The fact that I was expecting this changed everything. As the pressure rose and the plethora of fists, boots, and bottles gravitated to my 59-year-old avatar, I took a deep breath and told myself it’s okay. It’s just me and the game; nobody’s watching; this isn’t a competition. It took me a couple of weeks to finish it, which is way longer than average, but that’s what I’m getting to.

Single-player games are personal journeys that one usually takes alone, like reading a novel. This makes them a safe space for trying new things, taking risks, and cultivating patience without any social pressure. Pressure can trigger instinctive reactions that often make the situation worse. It sounds glib to compare button mashing with life-debilitating stress responses, but hear me out.

At the age of 29, I have unlearned a negative instinct that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Pressure is unavoidable, but with a little training we can learn to unlearn our bad instincts. It’s possible to rewire your mind to actually enjoy certain pressures in life. Within reason, of course. I now play games differently to just last year; I see improvement quicker, and experience deeper satisfaction than ever before. My friend, aware of my previous habits, couldn’t believe his eyes when I finally let him watch me play Sifu.

Video games provide a safe environment for training before, say, starting a shift at the petrol station during peak hours. If I can unlearn button mashing, I can unlearn my headless chicken routine. It will take a bit longer, but now I have hope that it’s possible. You can do it too, just don’t expect it to be easy (Sifu certainly isn’t).

 


Ben’s Muckrack

Ben is a freelance writer based in North Wales. He believes games are one of the most important and undervalued art forms, and aims to share their value to as many people as possible.

Skills utilised:
News

We Can’t Stress This Enough – How Intense Games Can Be Relaxing by Ruby Modica

At its heart, gaming is rooted in experiencing escapism.

A fantastical experience that requires active user input means that a lot of brainpower and focus is required to properly immerse a player into their adventure. Similar to music, there are gaming genres that appear specifically targeted to help relax players by presenting a zen-like atmosphere where the very act of playing a certain game can help someone feel calm. However, it is not just ambient games with soft visuals and slow gameplay that can achieve this seemingly elusive goal of relaxation.

For some, sitting down at their preferred gaming machine after a busy day means they will likely want to play something that suits their tastes, but also not stressful. In this modern era where gaming has blossomed into a commonplace international business, it can feel like playing everything pushed towards players can become like a second job, especially if it boasts tough difficulty levels and a long runtime.

People are built differently, with preferences and hobbies varying widely between individuals. As such, it can come across as insulting when a non-gamer points out the apparent stress that affects gamers when talking about their own hobbies. Plenty of leisure activities can lead to heightened stress levels be it physically, mentally or even emotionally. Abseiling and paintballing are just two examples of outdoor activities that are marketed as fun but can still be stressful to many, particularly novices. It is worth keeping in mind that stress can indeed be fun in certain environments but still is not a viable choice for everyone.


Diving into the concepts of stress and catharsis that arise from gamers who deliberately undertake challenging video games. This can be reflected with subsets of gamers such as completionists, speedrunners and so forth, who find their own ways to have fun with games from an external perspective despite the frequent associations with stress.

A lot of games that are developed to be difficult were given a lot of exposure when popular YouTubers streamed/uploaded their attempts, birthing the “Rage Game” genre as countless failed attempts left players visibly raging in a humorous way for the enjoyment of others. This niche genre is still being given lots of notoriety today, but it should be noted that the gaming medium is becoming more diverse across the board. The sensations that come from gaming can no longer be divided into base emotions like “happy” and “sad” now that they have become more complex.

Some games are marketed specifically for their difficulty, turning the stress into a rewarding factor while playing. A strong example of this is I Wanna Be the Guy, an infamously difficult indie game with additional mods and limitations that induce stress for gamers as they tackle self-imposed challenges. Beating the game requires a lot of trial and error, repetition and occasionally luck. However, the thrill of playing such an intense game results in a strangely cathartic experience for determined players. This extends to other games with “permadeath” difficulty where one loss means players have to start at the beginning again. Outlast and Resident Evil 7 are champions of this, but even these near-impossible runs have been by determined gamers. The joy of beating a tough challenge also comes with bragging rights and an unrivalled satisfaction that some players just seem to prefer.

In turn, completionists undertake a lot of stress compared to more casual gamers who traditionally play a game to their own levels of satisfaction without needing to get every achievement or trophy accolade. However, this category of gamers find the journey just as fulfilling as the destination, continuing with a determination to seek out all secrets hidden within a game until they receive that illustrious 100%. Given that this is a concept that predates the achievement hunting setup seen at the start of the sixth console generation, completionists do not owe anyone an explanation for playing a game “correctly” so long as they are having fun.

However, it should be noted that stress-related fun comes with a proviso. Just like with any other hobby, if the stress begins manifesting more negative responses such as addiction or an imbalance in temperament, then action should be taken to reduce time spent gaming or otherwise thinking about it. Self-care is important, and can be neglected if a gaming journey is becoming more frustrating than fun.

Games Done Quick (GDQ) is another example of people putting their skill and stress into a positive force, namely the effort of speedrunning games for charity. Since 2010 the GDQ community have dedicated several events per year to livestreaming speedrunners of specific games for the attention and support of charity events. This helps to encourage a strong sense of community for gamers and their willing efforts to donate out of the kindness of their hearts. The next Summer Games Done Quick event is set to take place during the week of June 26th – July 3rd.

Speedrunning can be a casual thrill or a competitive streak, but stress naturally develops from repeated runs through a game as quickly as possible to improve previous attempts. Many new exploits and gaming tricks are still being discovered across games of all ages, often through gaming communities using their leisure time to work together.

All in all, stress has a lot more power when it is used as a strong positive force for things like community and self improvement. While it does need to be kept in place and checked frequently by gamers and non-gamers alike, we can make sure not to be critical of people for enjoying games in a way that does not match our own. Being able to feel such a powerful emotion while attempting to indulge our escapism just shows how powerful the medium of video games can be, and that is a fact that we can celebrate every time we pick up a controller or keyboard. We really can’t stress this enough.


Ruby Modica is an independent content creator, editor and writer.

She loves sharing insight into video games and discovering new things, with a desire to work in the media/gaming industry full time. Most days she is busy at her computer working on her next big project.

LinkTree 

Skills utilised:
News

Pause: Daily Mindfulness

Pause: Daily Mindfulness is a free self-help app that provides many mindfulness techniques that are best suited to the user.

Pause teaches techniques such as:

  • Finger Tai Chi helps you rest and recharge with mindful finger movements.
  • Mindful Walking, use walking to help with your mental health.
  • Breath will teach the user some breathing techniques using “belly breathing”.
  • Flow Timer, a mindful timer for meditation and work
  • Sleep, drift off to sleep with a mindful tapping exercise.
  • Lets Go discover your inner freedom
  • Resonance lets you play with singing bowls and create sand mandalas.

We believe this app can be really helpful to aid those who may need to learn mindfulness or practice mindfulness to relax and destress, the app is easy to download, simple to use and provides a very unique design to help aid the relaxation with its excellent sound, music and look.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Red Dead Redemption 2 and Burnout

Burnout is a common thing felt around every industry there is, but in the games industry, especially for developers, content creators and gamers, burnout is rife within.

The definition of burnout features below:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job”.

There are ways we can show the symptoms of burnout through both cause and effect in video games, and there are games that bear resemblance to the concept of burnout. One of which is Red Dead Redemption 2, which we’ll discuss below.

Now burnout may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of outlaws in the dying wild west trying to survive, but that’s exactly what we’re highlighting. Dutch Vanderlind’s gang are trying to survive in a time that is nearly gone; there’s no room for outlaws any more, society is evolving and leaving many things behind, including their way of life.

After a robbery in the town of Blackwater goes wrong, the gang are forced to flee and lay low in a nearby camp. They’re looking for ways to earn money to stay alive, while also trying not to raise suspicions with the locals and Pinkertons. The gang is desperate, pulling off odd jobs just to make enough money to make it to the next day. Dutch’s headspace slowly declines and clings onto every possible plan he can come up with, and the player (Arthur Morgan), loyally obeys every command in an effort to help in every way he can, despite beginning to question his way of thinking.

There are clear signs of Dutch’s mental health declining during the game. He carries the burden of many people relying on him, whilst under the influence of a manipulator. The pressures of everything simultaneously is a lot to handle. This is where themes of burnout begin to bleed into the game’s narrative. The whole gang are feeling it; they are trying every way possible to just settle, be in peace and have enough money to live on for the rest of their days.

It seems to be a continous cycle of trying and failing, losing people, stakes being raised and having to move on. The gang can’t catch a break. Every day it takes a toll on all of them in different ways; they’re stressed, desperate to just settle down, but with a manipulator and the declining mind of Dutch, things just seem to spiral out of control.

Now obviously in real life, we’re not rolling with Dutch Vanderlind, trying to get rich and live out the rest of our lives in Tahiti, but you can compare it to real-life settings. Game developers want to bring their art to the masses, bring creative ideas to life, show people what they can do and provide incredible experiences. The games industry is notorious for period of crunch and deadline pressures which affects the mental health of those who work within it. In fact, in a recent UK census, 31% of those asked revealed that they live with anxiety, depression or both, when the national average is 17%.

This damaging work-life balance and strain can be seen across the creative industries. One example we see a lot in our industry is streamers and community managers. Having to manage entertaining your audience regardless of what’s going on in the background can be incredibly taxing on your own mental health and can easily lead to burnout, especially so if this sort of content creation is done as a side project in addition to a full time job.

Games, even ones that aren’t developed with mental health as a focal point, can tell us a story and easily relate to how we’re feeling. Red Dead Redemption 2 portrays burnout, the results of the burnout and the extremes it led to for the gang. We all have our stories of how burnout has affected us and how we’ve coped.

The good news is there are ways to combat burnout. Taking real breaks away are a great way to just switch off from what is going on. Schedule free time and actually take that free time, whether it be going on a walk, playing games, calling friends or family, taking a nap… there are so many different ways to refresh your mind. Burnout has many different forms and reaching out to trusted people, talking to your GP or booking an appointment with a mental health professional is always a good idea when you’re struggling in any way, shape or form.

 

Skills utilised:
News

The effects of ‘lockdown fatigue’ – and tips to tackle it

2020 has been a year where we just couldn’t have predicted the enormity of what would happen. In the first few months, most of the world was put into a lockdown where the mantra was stay at home, stay safe and try to slow down the spread of COVID-19. In normal times, most of us have a tried and tested daily routine, and the lockdown unexpectedly interrupted everything. For so many people, it took a toll on their physical and mental wellbeing, with many feeling anger, sadness and overall confusion. 

We asked a gamer and two people who work in the games industry on how it has affected them:

Lee Hunt from Koch Media had this to say about his lockdown experience:

Working from home has been something of a battle. As nice as the commute is, and as good as Teams and Zoom are, video calls just can’t replace human-to-human interaction. Working at home even in a “team” can often feel very lonely and isolated. It’s also hard to switch off from work when your home becomes your place of work. Taking regular exercise and finding the time to do things – like playing a game with your colleagues – are really good ways to boost your mental and physical health and help to forget about some of the challenges the world is facing for a while.”

Anni Valkama, a 100% video gamer and scribbler of stories, had this to say about her time in lockdown:

At first, the lockdown offered a seemingly perfect opportunity for retrospection and time to recharge. With furlough halting my work late-March, I suddenly had all this time on my hands to do all the things I normally could not do on a day-to-day basis. However, at the time I had no idea what three months in solitude (I live alone with no pets, partner, or friends) would do to me. Was it not for the distraction offered by video games and the existence of social media as means of communication, who knows how I would have emerged from this experience.”

Lorna Birrel, an industry worker, told us:

I already struggle a little with social interactions. I have days where my critical voice decides everyone hates me. I’m usually pretty good at handling it, but lockdown really knocked me off balance. Because of the isolation from my colleagues and friends, it’s harder to reassure myself that everything is okay. In online chats, people can wander away and get a cup of tea, or get distracted and forget to reply – but you don’t know what’s happened because you can’t see them. We all experienced this before lockdown, but now it’s the main way we talk to each other, it makes everything more disjointed. I quickly found myself exhausted by so much online interaction, and I’m still trying to find a balance that works for myself and others.

Another area I got worn out from quickly was all the work calls. We have been encouraged to have cameras on if we feel up to it, but as we can no longer tell who’s looking at who, even when I’m not part of the conversation I feel like I can’t relax – like someone might judge me if I slouch my shoulders and don’t look my best. 

As time has gone on, less and less people have their cameras on, so I think many of us are feeling burned-out by this. It doesn’t help that meetings have increased, because you can no longer casually walk over to someone and chat for a bit, and some people struggle typing everything out due to intonation being lost. I think we’re all doing the best we can, and there are some great upsides – no commute, more comfortable clothes (especially in heatwaves) – but the permanence of the distance, and not knowing when it really ends, is draining.”

Top tips

It’s clear that everyone deals with lockdown fatigue differently, but the most important question is what can you do to reduce it? Here are some tips that could potentially help:

1 – Exercise regularly.

2 – Try and maintain a good sleep pattern if possible. 

3 – Try to have a structure in your day. Plan ahead in the morning and stick to it as best you can. 

If you have trouble sleeping:

1 – Routine is key to help minimize stress.

2 – Getting outdoors and exercising now there are fewer restrictions will help. If you can’t go outside there are indoor exercises you can do. 

3 – Turn off your screens at night and avoid sugary foods. 

4 – Check your environment – is the place where you sleep too hot or too cold? Are there any LED lights that might be keeping you awake?

5 – Wind down, take a bath, read a book. It all helps.

6 – We sleep for a third of our lives! Instead of thinking of it as an inconvenience, try to think of sleep as a priority for your mental and physical wellbeing. 

 

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

The Pep Talk: How to Beat Depression – A vlog series by Julia Hardy

Julia Hardy is a broadcaster, presenter, journalist vlogger and all-round legend within the technology and videogames industry – she’s even done a TED talk on using humour to combat sexism after the blog she created, ‘Misogyny Monday’ shone a light into online behaviour.

In this series titled: How to beat depression, Julia talks about openly about depression, how she’s learned to cope with it over time, and advice that may help others from what she’s learned on that journey.

The series is signposted here with Julia’s kind permission. You can follow Julia on TwitterInstagram and YouTube. To watch the remainder of the series, click through the links below:

Episode One :: The simplest things for maximum results.
Episode Two :: How to beat your depression.
Episode Three :: How to best handle social media.
Episode Four :: Beware of stress.
Episode Five :: It’s all about personal best.
Epilogue :: My depression history.
Epilogue :: How to be the best you

Skills utilised:
News

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