I revel in stress. I really do. If I’m not stressed I really feel like I’m not working hard enough. If I’m lounging at home and not doing anything productive I get this clenching feeling in my gut that screams at me and tells me that there is something academic I could be doing. I’ve noticed that when I get together with other grad students there is a tendency to equate stress with success. We tend to romanticize finals, and praise those who survive stress. We’re impressed by others who can maintain their teaching assistantship, take a full course-load, and keep up with two equally demanding fellowships. But they aren’t really maintaining, they aren’t even living, they are surviving- trust me, I know, I’m that overloaded overachiever.
While I can’t say I’ve solved my stress problem, I’ve found a way to deal with it that is healthy and cheaper than ulcer medication or a therapist. This past January I bought myself an X-Box 360.
I’ve always been a gamer girl, whether that means card games, board games, video games, or outdoors games. When I entered grad school in 2008 I pretty much abandoned video games in order to become a focused and responsible ‘adult’. From 2008 to 2010, I barely played over 5 hours of video. By reintroducing playtime into my life, I’ve gained a number of benefits:
1. Increased productivity using rewards: I’m using my X-Box 360 as a reward system. Right now I have Assassin’s Creed 1 and 3 waiting to be played, but I made a promise to myself not to do that until I had finished my weekly list of goals. It also works on smaller projects; when I finish this post I’m going to play an hour of Fable III.
2. Co-operative play: Studies have shown the benefits of playing games with others and engaging in activities to increase bonds. While it probably would be better to run with someone outside or pick up a frisbee, video games seem to work as a good alternative. Playing through Halo: Reach and Rock Band Beatles have been major bonding activities for me and some of my friends. We battle through something together, and in the end are closer because of it.
3. Reconnecting with friends: I use the online features of my X-Box 360 to play games with friends I don’t get to see. Being a grad student means I have friends who are spread all around the world. One common thing between us seems to be that we are gamers, so this gives us a change to engage in activities together and also catch up without an expensive flight.
4. Stress release: There’s something cathartic about blasting the head off a mutated giant rat or fighting against a battalion of skeleton warriors. Instead of engaging in an activity that might actually hurt me or my liver I’m safely at home, blowing off steam by slashing my way through a horde of zombies with a chainsaw.
5. Power of play: Finally, play is important. Solving puzzles, engaging in adventures, carefully selecting the paths we take or people we befriend; its all about play. The video game world is one where we aren’t subject to following the rules, we are free to play around. That’s important. We need these moments of freedom in a world where are real lives are so heavily determined by administrative rules, committee guidance and our own unbelievably high goals.
Honestly, what we need is a change in how we live. We need real vacations, two week breaks from technology and academia, and we need to stop praising stress and making it a symbol of one’s success. However, until we can shift our perceptions, I’m going to keep playing video games, because it relaxes me, it lets me escape, connects me with friends, and for a moment I forget my responsibilities. Never underestimate the power of play to relieve stress and increase happiness.
Now pardon me… I’ve got a secret sect of assassins to deal with.
[Image by Flickr user Mustafa Sayad and used under Creative Commons license]
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