Can Playing Video Games Interfere With Anxiety Disorder Recovery?

Written by Jim Folk
Last updated June 4, 2022

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Video Transcript

Can playing video games interfere with recovery from anxiety disorder and hyperstimulation?

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream, where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that prepare the body for immediate emergency action—to fight or flee.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response.[1][2]

Visit "The Stress Response” article for more information about the many body-wide changes caused by the stress response.

Since stress responses push the body beyond its internal balance (homeostasis), stress responses stress the body. As such, anxiety stresses the body.

Consequently, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. They are called anxiety symptoms because anxious behavior is the main source of stress that stresses the body, and a body under stress can exhibit symptoms of stress.

Acute anxiety can cause acute anxiety symptoms.

Moreover, when stress responses occur too frequently, the body can become chronically stressed, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulated” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants that dramatically affect the body, especially the nervous system.[3][4]

Chronic stress (hyperstimulation), such as from overly anxious behavior, can cause chronic symptoms.

If you have chronic anxiety symptoms, your body is hyperstimulated.

Regarding your question, if your body is hyperstimulated and you have chronic anxiety symptoms, you’ll need to contain your anxious behavior and reduce stress. As your body recovers from hyperstimulation (chronic stress), it will stop producing symptoms.

However, any activity that stresses and stimulates the body, especially the nervous system, can stall and even reverse recovery.

Research has found that video game playing significantly increases circulating cortisol, the body’s most powerful stress hormones. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones that often leads to hyperstimulation and symptoms.[5]

Consequently, playing highly engaging and stimulating video games can stall and even reverse recovery.

Keep in mind that even pleasant activities that stimulate the body and especially the nervous system can keep the body hyperstimulated and symptomatic.

So again, playing exciting video games can interfere with recovery from anxiety disorder and hyperstimulation.

Once your body is back to normal, non-hyperstimulated health and stabilized, it becomes more resilient to stress. At that time, you can resume video game playing.

However, be sure to balance the stress from your video game playing with sufficient rest so that your body doesn’t become hyperstimulated and symptomatic again.

Good stress management is key to lasting success after recovering from anxiety disorder and hyperstimulation.

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including this Frequently Asked Anxiety Question.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

4. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

5. Aliyari, Hamed, et al. "The Beneficial or Harmful Effects of Computer Game Stress on Cognitive Functions of Players." Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, May 2018.