Stress impacts us all in different ways. As one of the most referenced themes related to inconsistent tournament play, it is imperative we understand what stress is, how it can affect us, and most importantly, how we can best deal with it.
In esports, what can cause stress?
Most serious gamers fall into the chronic stress category, which is defined as “exposure to a stressor persisting for several hours per day for weeks or months” (1). There are many factors to consider when looking at video game specific stress:
- Too many hours practicing – players can’t be expected to maintain gaming for up to 16 hours a day.
- Expectations from teammates and fans.
- High stakes at tournaments.
- Extremely busy schedules/juggling priorities.
Not only are there unique issues related to the high cognitive load gamers experience, but every video game presents different types of content, which can have different effects on stress outcomes (2).
How do I react to stress?
When the body encounters a stressor, it activates a stress response whereby the central, autonomic, endocrine, and immune regulatory systems interact to adapt to stressor demands and achieve physiological stability (2,3). Stress hormones signal the body to circulate more energy by influencing cardiovascular functioning. This is why we sometimes feel somatic symptoms such as a spike in heart rate and sweaty palms or psychological symptoms such as laser focus and racing thoughts.
Stress can affect these gaming aspects:
- Higher chance of being tilted
- Reduction in accuracy
- Impaired focus
- Team orders can be ignored
- Reaction times for decision making may slow down
How do I know that I’m stressed?
Everyone is different, but a few things to look out for are:
- Heightened emotional state (feeling immense anger or frustration)
- Sweaty palms
- Racing thoughts and an inability to think clearly/focus on the task
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling fidgety or unsettled
How can I calm myself down?
As we all react differently to stress, it is difficult to offer a ‘one size fits all’ approach to coping with gaming stressors. However, here are two popular techniques which generally tend to achieve good results.
The 3/3/3 breathing technique
It is as simple as it sounds. In between games, take a moment to recenter yourself and regulate your body. Breathe inward for a 3 second count, hold for a 3 second count, and then breath outward for a 3 second count. Try your best to breathe deeply from your diaphragm. If you are unsure of how to check this, place your hand in the middle of your belly, between the bottom of your chest and your belly button. You should feel your stomach rise and fall with each breath. Some people find it useful to have a cue word or physical action to get them back in the game after doing this. Something such as ‘ready’, or a small hand movement like clicking your fingers.
This technique really forces you to take a quick break and check in with your mind. It focuses on 3 of your senses: sight, sound and touch. Take off your headset and listen for a sound that reminds you of where you are – take a moment to really hear it and be calm. Then, focus your eyes on something other than the screen/monitor in front of you. Again, really focus on looking at the particular thing you’ve chosen and taking time to identify some of the details. Lastly, reach out and touch something. It could be the chair you’re sitting on, the ground, or something that forces you to stand up and cross the room.
How to avoid esports related injuries
The repetitive nature of esports predisposes gamers to strain or stress injuries just like athletes in traditional sports
1. Dhabar, F. S., and McEwen, B. S. (1997). Acute stress enhances while chronic stress suppresses cell-mediated immunity in vivo: a potential role for leukocyte trafficking. Brain Behav. Immun. 11, 286-306.
2. Porter, A.M & Goolkasian, P. (2019). Video Games and Stress: How Stress Appraisals and Game Content Affect Cardiovascular and Emotion Outcomes. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1-13.
3. Sterling, P., and Eyer, J. (1988). “Allostasis: A new paradigm to explain arousal pathology,” in S. Fisher and J. T. (Ed.), Handbook of Life Stress, Cognition, andHealth. Chicester, NY: Wiley.