Gaming and its complicated relationship with our well-being

Gaming is an immensely popular activity, with a diverse audience, so it’s not surprising that it’s a common topic in therapy sessions.


Instances of one partner expressing concerns about the amount of time spent gaming by the other partner, parents who are concerned about their teenagers’ gaming habits, and adults who struggle with the stigma and self-shame around their time spent gaming, are all common.

However, despite the stigma often associated with gaming, research shows that moderate gameplay can be connected with positive mental health outcomes, such as enhanced mood, reduced stress, decreased anxiety, improved emotional regulation, and heightened self-confidence.

Gaming also serves as a platform for developing valuable skills, such as problem-solving and adopting different perspectives when tackling challenges. For individuals dealing with social anxiety, gaming provides a safe and enjoyable space for social interaction, encouraging a sense of community. Similarly, those battling loneliness can find solace in gaming, benefiting from a sense of connection and engagement.

The benefits of gaming were promoted during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the World Health Organization through its #PlayApartTogether campaign. Gaming is a great way to help people cultivate autonomy by allowing them to enjoy the control over their avatars' actions, destinies, and agendas.

Achieving a sense of flow during gameplay—a state of total immersion—can contribute to reduced anxiety and enhanced well-being. Some believe that the positive effects of engagement with video games trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This physiological response creates positive emotions like joy and elation. Immersive gameplay can also induce a mindful state, contributing to stress reduction. When it comes to which types of games to play, a 2020 game found that role-playing games were perceived as particularly beneficial for mental health.

Interestingly, younger players tend to be more open to acknowledging the well-being advantages of video games. Perhaps this is because older players perceive video games as less socially acceptable, often linked to feelings of guilt and stigma.

However, it's essential to acknowledge that along with the benefits of gameplaying, there are potential dangers and it's crucial to strike a balance, as excessive play can have adverse effects on mental well-being. Individuals at a higher risk, such as those with addictive tendencies or heightened stress levels, might experience negative mental health effects, including increased stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

This is highlighted in a 2022 report on gaming and mental health, which looked at the range of emotions experienced by players during play. The positive impacts on well-being included a sense of creative expression and escapism and a commonly reported downside was a feeling of lack of control (such as when players found they spent much more time playing games than they’d originally intended). If gaming begins to evoke emotions of isolation, anger, or sadness, then the player should consider seeking help.

It's clear that gaming has a complicated relationship with our mental health, so check in on how it’s affecting you. The Mental Health Foundation recommends pausing the game every now and then to assess your feelings and reactions. Reflect on your emotions before, during, and after gaming sessions to develop a heightened awareness of the benefits and drawbacks for you.


Hazel J, Kim HM, Every-Palmer S. Exploring the possible mental health and wellbeing benefits of video games for adult players: A cross-sectional study. Australasian Psychiatry. 2022;30(4):541-546. doi:10.1177/10398562221103081

Federica Pallavicini, Alessandro Pepe, and Fabrizia Mantovani. The Effects of Playing Video Games on Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Loneliness and Gaming Disorder During the Early Stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic: PRISMA Systematic Review. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social. 

Mind-Gaming-Report.pdf Networking. Jun 2022.334-354.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Biggleswade, Central Bedfordshire, SG18 8GU
Written by Claire Coker, MA, MBACP Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Biggleswade, Central Bedfordshire, SG18 8GU

Claire Coker is an integrative counsellor, proud to be woke and anti ‘should’. She loves working with people who struggle with low self-confidence and/or loud inner critics. She’s all for saying no, respectful boundaries, breaking down negative self-beliefs and the magic of our unknown potential.

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