Welcome along to another issue of Guild Chat, the column through which the Massively Overpowered community can come together to help readers in need with their guild problems. The topic at hand this time is a little bit different from those I usually tackle, and I’d particularly welcome input from those who suffer from anxiety since I’m not using any firsthand experience to form my advice the way I would normally. This anonymous reader has been suffering from what she describes as anxiety and panic attacks that are being triggered by her gaming. Although most of her MMO time is enjoyable for her, she finds that high-octane group content of all kinds can send her into a deep, suffocating panic and it takes a long time for her to calm down and decelerate her emotions again afterwards. She is seeking advice with coping strategies and is ultimately questioning whether or not her MMO gaming should be put to an end to save her from such frequent bouts of anxiety.
Read on for the full anonymous submission and don’t forget to leave your advice in the comments as well.
I’m dreadfully embarrassed that this is even something that happens and writing this is really hard for me. I suffer from panic attacks and generalized anxiety, have done since I was young, and it has started to affect my gaming. I worry constantly about everything and MMOs were my escape for the longest time until even that was polluted by hateful thoughts. In group content, I panic that if I misstep or die that my group will hate me, kick me, or send me threats in map chat. I used to love PvP but my last session left me in a crying, inconsolable heap and my partner had to spend a couple hours soothing me. I feel like such a weak woman but I really cannot cope with this much longer without learning how to. I don’t want to let this ruin my favourite hobby but right now I cannot play another day without help even though I should be able to cope. What can I do?
I have to admit that my personal experience in this department is lacking and I almost replied to the reader in question to apologise and say that I couldn’t do her topic justice. Then I considered the fact that if she is reaching out through this channel, I owe it to her to not shy away from the difficult topic and to be the supportive ear I always claim to be. It wouldn’t be responsible for me to brush away the topic when non-profit Anxiety Gaming reports that 2 of every 5 suffers from mental health issues and that two-thirds of those affected don’t seek any help at all.
With that said, I must point out that I am in no way a professional when it comes to mental health, and I’d advise anyone with similar symptoms to seek medical advice rather than self-treating any mental illness. You wouldn’t deal with a severe wound or appendicitis on your own, and your mental health should not be treated any differently: It’s important, you only have one you, and I quite like having you all clutter up the comment section! My advice here is purely supportive and non-medical and should be implemented alongside a suitable plan put forward by your primary care physician and/or the medical professionals responsible for your care.
In all my years of MMO binging, one simple fact has held true no matter which game I chose from my collection or what type of content I chose to explore: Every game is built up mechanically around fail and success states, so failure is an expected part of playing. Game developers deliberately include mechanics that trigger emotional responses in us because that is a key part of keeping people playing, especially since success is fairly meaningless if there’s no way to fail and you don’t have to work hard for it.
MMOs can certainly have their fair share of toxic players who delight in telling everyone else how terrible they are at playing the game at hand, but in reality, every player goes through a learning curve and will fail a great number of times along the way. If certain players in your MMO of choice are making you feel particularly pressured, I’d urge you to step away and find a new group to enjoy your MMO time with. If you feel as though it’s more unrealistic expectations that you’re setting for yourself, then taking some time away from the high-octane content while you work on your anxiety is probably the best thing for your mental well-being.
Anxiety always seemed to me to be an internal, unrelenting bully, and the best way I’ve found to deal with bullies is by focusing on building myself up so high that I become unshakable. It’s all too easy to forget how much care and attention needs to go into a human being in order to make them work at their best, so self-care is one of the first things we sacrifice when our lives get busy and our responsibilities add up. I think it’s even more important to keep up with self-care when you have a mental illness: You might have set aside your usual coping mechanisms after a good period; downscaled or forgotten to stay on top of any prescribed counselling, therapies, or medications; or ignored the warning signs that the anxiety is ramping up. If you’ve tried this already and it has failed, speak to your health practitioners about the sudden change and see if you need to switch up your usual plan.
Refocus and adjust your schedule where you can to fit in time for yourself again, and dust off the recommendations of the health professionals involved in helping you manage your anxiety. Engage in the activities that help relax and sooth you, be it a hot bath, a good book, exercise, or spending time with your partner. Spend time to do your hair and makeup if it makes you feel good and put on your favourite clothes, scents, or accessories. Spend the money on that hot chocolate or that new game you’ve been wanting; you deserve to feel good, and often anxiety can take up so much headspace that you can forget to treat yourself kindly. I don’t believe you’ll need to quit gaming because I feel that how you’re feeling is more to do with anxiety management than it is with your specific hobbies.
If you’re unsure of what to do or haven’t got a set coping strategy that works for you, there are several great resources online to help people in your shoes. I particularly like Mind, a UK charity that seeks to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Talking through your feelings as and when they crop up is a fantastic step to take when you’re able to, fiddle toys can be used in between PvP bouts to reroute pent up anxious energy, and muting your game volume and instead opting for your favourite music in the background can help reduce the developer-created tension in stressful activities that might be contributing to your anxiety. Watch out for your own warning signs that the game is becoming too much and take frequent breaks to help you naturally decelerate in between exciting sessions.
I mentioned my lack of first-hand experience with mental health issues, so I want to point you to some more experienced people who both encourage speaking up and talking about your anxiety and also deeply understand the world of gaming and won’t tell you that all you need to do is put down the keyboard, burn your evil games, and frolic in a field to feel better. One of my favourite game writers is Rock Paper Shotgun’s Senior Editor John Walker, who happens to have generalised anxiety disorder and has written about his experiences with a gaming twist. The big take-home from his words is that help is out there if you can allow yourself to reach out for it and that you should allow yourself the comforts and coping strategies that work for you. Feel free to say no to intense combat for a while if it isn’t within your comfort zone, and play what makes you feel relaxed.
I was blown away by a new initiative by Anxiety Gaming called Healing Station, and I really think you should give it a whirl. You join a trained Care Specialist on Discord and can talk about a wide range of serious mental health questions in a timed session. The service can provide critical support, but I did notice a banner warning of delays due to the team being at PAX South right now. Even with delays, I still imagine that the service would be useful for your scenario. If you’re not feeling up to actually speaking about how you’re feeling and saying the difficult stuff out loud, the company also has the Letters to You program. You can use the message field to vent away, and what’s even cooler is that your letter could be read during the LTY weekly podcast to help others in a similar situation.
Reddit can be an amazing space sometimes and often just knowing that a whole community exists who understands what you’re going through can be a relief in itself. Have a look at /r/Anxiety and see if you can get some feedback there too. There are old threads, such as this one, that prove other people face exactly what you do, so please don’t feel as though you’re broken, weird, or stupid for having anxiety when gaming. You deserve to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled, so I sincerely and deeply hope you find the right help and feel more comfortable soon.
Over to you!
I’m hoping that my advice is helpful, but I know that many of you will have experiences and suggestions that you can personally vouch for that could help with our submitter’s anxiety. I’d love to see plenty of helpful comments and messages of support for our brave anonymous reader in need, especially since mental health is such a difficult topic to bring up.
Thanks to our anonymous reader for this submission. If you’re feeling suicidal, depressed, anxious, or feel the need to self-harm, please seek help immediately. You can use this link to find emergency hotlines for your country.