Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD) is a struggle for many of us. Cold weather—not to mention a pandemic—is forcing us to stay inside more, the sun sets way too early for comfort, and our sleep suffers because of these changes. Because of our need to remain isolated and indoors, more video games are being played. How do they affect seasonal depression?
Ritual Motion released an article last year about seasonal depression, and how playing video games can help combat symptoms of depression, as well as how they can harm positive sleep hygiene.
“Cognitive deficit is a common symptom among patients with depression, but because gaming has positive impacts on cognition, it can alleviate symptoms for those with SAD,” Ritual Motion wrote.
For me, “cozy” titles like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Minecraft are my go-to games when I’m anxious. When I’m focused on a task that isn’t backed by violent urgency, I find that my anxiety levels immediately begin to ease. However, cozy video games aren’t the only ones that can combat anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that video games can ignite improvements in cognitive function and attention, particularly action games.
The study “hypothesized that depressed patients who complete an action video game intervention would show a larger reduction in depressive symptoms and rumination, and an increase in both objective and subjective measures of cognition, compared with depressed patients in a passive (wait-list) control group.”
The discussion of the study concluded that the hypothesis was correct: Six weeks of “training” with an action game contributed to “lower levels of rumination and higher levels of subjective cognitive ability. In addition, the study noticed “better processing speed and cognitive flexibility.”
Ultimately, video games can give us a nice rush of dopamine. According to a study in 1998, the amount of dopamine released while playing video games was “similar to what is seen after intravenous injection of the stimulant drugs amphetamine or methylphenidate.”
Both methylphenidate and amphetamine are often used to help treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy. Some believe this is what can push gaming into an addiction, but for most, it’s all about that dose of instant gratification. Games deliver a robust and instant reward system, even when it comes to the smallest details (ex. the sound of a headshot in Call of Duty or slashing through mobs of enemies in an RPG).
While “everything in moderation” is key, video games can be a profoundly positive experience for players. In an atmosphere where safety equals isolation, it’s important to find the activities that boost your health. Maintaining healthy levels of play can help promote good sleep hygiene, mood, and even productivity. So if you’re stressed, maybe grab a controller and take a small break.
You’ve earned it.