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Can Games Help You Beat Burnout?

You’ve been working non-stop, chasing to meet crazy deadlines, squeezing in personal obligations, before falling in a bundle in front of the TV or your phone screen late at night. Maybe you haven’t been able to sleep well for weeks. You wake up and you don’t want to go to work, go see your friends, or play games. You’re feeling exhausted, cynical, and like you’re failing to be your best.

Does this sound familiar?

Despite burnout being discussed in psychology-related fields since the 1970’s, it has only recently been formally included in the International Classification of Diseases index (ICD-11), as an “occupational phenomenon”.

To quote one of my favourite experts in the field of video games and mental health, Dr Jennifer Hazel (founder of CheckPoint), “The thing about burnout is, it’s real.”
“…there is a lower functional connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.”, which has been observed using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

There are real physical changes happening in your brain, impacting your memory and emotions.

Start at 17:40 for Dr. Jennifer Hazel’s discussion of burnout

It’s not a surprising that burnout can be caused by working too much. What might surprise you is that overwork usually isn’t the only factor at play when people report symptoms of burnout. Jamie Madigan (PH.D) discussed a few additional factors in his article on burnout and crunch.
“Additional factors that can drive burnout are feeling a lack of control over ones’s work, inadequate rewards for effort, the absence of supportive co-workers/friend/family, and unfair treatment.”

I need to be straight up with you. There isn’t much focused scientific evidence that games are a cure-all specifically for burnout. The variation of causes and the presentation of non-specific symptoms makes burnout a challenging condition to investigate.

A small study in 2015 found that a specially designed therapeutic game was on par with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in combating the symptoms of burnout. The game included activities like shooting down negative thoughts, and virtual role playing of stressful workplace situations.

CBT in video game form. Not really the fun gaming session you were hoping for.
Image from https://www.alfredlange.nl/publications/pdf/Zielhorst2015_burnout_game.pdf

The good news is that games have been identified as a way to avoid burnout. An article providing advice for doctors in training discusses the importance of finding time to relax, and partaking in activities such as video games. The author of the article specifically suggests that physical activity is recommended as it “forces the body to release endorphins and other chemicals that ensure relaxation…”.

Gaming sessions focused on movement, using games like Ring Fit Adventure or Beat Saber will be fun and will help prevent burnout.

Australian Streamer and Influencer Naysy playing Beat Saber

There is rarely a one size fits all approach when it comes to mental health. Recently I found myself struggling with symptoms of burnout. It took a lot of trial and error with usual supports and self care, discussions with friends I trust, and a healthy dose Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore to help me get back on track.

Dr Jennifer Hazel mentioned in the video at the top of this article “…the more burned out you get the less you realise you’re burned out”. Burnout can easily escalate if it’s not acknowledged and addressed.

If you are experiencing the symptoms discussed in this article please see your doctor or a mental health professional.

For more specific information about burnout:
CheckPoint Burnout Article
Reachout Burnout Resource

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