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STORY stress

How Esports Athletes Can Prevent Stress

Stress
Stress Prevention
The Autonomic Nervous System
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The Sympathetic Nervous System
Cortisol

Introduction

Esports is a demanding activity for the nervous system as it requires gamers to react quickly and constantly anticipate the "dangers'' of fighting threats and opponents. Although it does not apply to life or death in the literal sense, your body doesn’t know the difference. This perceived danger is perpetual in gaming, which can cause stress. With many gamers playing for extended periods, stress can become a major problem, leading to issues such as anxiety, high blood pressure, and even heart disease. 

This story explores causes of gaming-related stress and guidelines to prevent and relieve it.
.01

The Effects Of Prolonged Gaming On Hormones And Stress

Esports games are often designed so that players are always on the edge, risking success or failure, which causes the nervous system to be alert, ready and constantly "switched on". In this state, large amounts of adrenalin and the stress hormone cortisol are secreted, causing blood sugar levels to rise. This provides the muscles with a burst of energy to escape the "danger" the body thinks is present, which can be seen in the elevated heart rates during combat and gameplay, despite being sedentary.
Health problems arise when a gamer’s body continues to be in this “stress mode” for long periods, and only exacerbated when these players train for hours, often late in the evening and at night. This causes the body to maintain in a state of "danger", thus suppressing the rest and recovery system. Alongside the exposure to blue light from screens, this can have a detrimental effect on the natural sleep-wake cycle and production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

While there are exceptions, the reality is that most gamers spend many hours of the day in front of a computer screen, often propped up by fast food and stimulants such as caffeine and sugar. A sedentary, inactive lifestyle fuelled by an unhealthy diet, where the body is in constant combat mode, makes it difficult for gamers to properly rest. This not only has negative consequences for performance, but - more importantly - your health.

Signe Find

Hormones & stress specialist

.02

The Importance Of Cortisol And Its Impact On Stress

Cortisol is one of the most essential hormones in the body. Produced in the adrenal glands (the two small glands placed on top of the kidneys), it keeps us alive and is vital for our energy levels, good moods, productive immune system and reducing inflammation.

While cortisol is formed continually in the body, production increases when we’re stressed, hence why it’s often (negatively) branded the “stress hormone”. However, it’s an incredibly important hormone as having the right amount is crucial to a healthy production pattern during the day, where levels rise in the morning and decrease during the afternoon/evening, allowing us to properly rest and recover.
Chronically stressed people form more cortisol than normal and at times when they could do without it, like bedtime, which interrupts vital sleep. Over time, fluctuating cortisol levels may also lead to the development of illnesses such as diabetes and problems with the gastrointestinal tract, potentially causing digestive problems.

One of cortisol’s biggest roles is “glucose management”, where it controls our blood sugar production. Conversely, a dysfunctional blood sugar will cause cortisol dysfunction. This interplay between the two means that one can’t be efficiently managed without the other. Therefore, both cortisol and blood sugar levels should be addressed during treatment so that they support one another. This is why diet plays such a big role in stress prevention and why it’s crucial for a healthy lifestyle to have good sleeping habits, be physical activity and integrate destressing routines integrated into your everyday life. 

Signe Find

Hormones & stress specialist

.03

Aid Stress-Related Sleep Problems With Relaxation Exercises

So, how did you sleep last night?” – many of us probably grew up answering this question on most mornings. And, unless you were not able to give an answer, it illustrates that we all have an intuitive idea of what good or bad sleep is. Nowadays, fitness trackers suggest they may answer this question for us, but we recommend that you ask the only ‘real’ expert on your sleep – that is you! 

Beyond just ‘good’ or ‘bad’, most people agree that good sleep has several characteristics. They include, but are not limited to falling asleep quickly, the feeling of undisturbed sleep, and the feeling of being refreshed upon awakening.
While sleep for many people is something they actually enjoy, about 30% of the population in modern societies report having trouble sleeping. Among complaints reported most frequently are problems falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or simply sleep not being refreshing. 

Often, the reason is stress, which puts our bodies in a sort of ‘alarm state’: we are prepared to fight (or flee). And admittedly, it is hard to imagine a state less compatible with a sound slumber. Among the situations that do cause a stress response, is also bad sleep itself. Thus, the relationship between stress and sleep can become a self-reinforcing one: you experience stress due to work or school, you sleep badly, and this fact again increases the stress you experience. Therefore, working with your thought system may prove helpful when it comes to your sleep.

Christine Blume

Sleep scientist

.04

The Importance Of Managing Stress In Esports

You can't see an imbalance in your hormones in the same way you would see or feel an injury. An injured wrist or finger is not mistaken - it requires rest. However, the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, for instance mood swings, indigestion, lack of concentration, and poor sleep can be more trickier to pinpoint, and over time can mean a lot to your health. For example, where emotions like anxiety and constant negative thoughts take over making it harder to stay focused. It is therefore paramount that esports athletes keep any hormonal imbalances in check.

Equally, it’s important to be aware of how esports can affect the sympathetic nervous system, especially when it comes to spending extended hours in front of the computer.
With the constant intensity and high demands gaming puts on the body's ability to handle a high level of mental pressure, there’s also an increased need to integrate destressing routines and healthy tools to rest and relax again after a game. Proper nutrition, physical exercise, meditation and breathing exercises will help here.

Physical exercise is a powerful weapon in combating stress. It produces endorphins - the natural painkillers and mood elevators. These help improve sleep, which in turn reduces stress. It also helps reduce levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Additionally, regular meditation and breathing exercises are also considered exceptionally useful tools in stress prevention and relief as they positively impact the nervous system and thereby also the hormonal respiratory system. 

Signe Find

Hormones & stress specialist

.05

Improving Mental Health Through Social Connection

Taking good care of your wellbeing and mental health goes a long way in preventing stress, and may also help boost your gaming performance.

While diet and physical exercise are major factors in the quest for better mental health, establishing and maintaining good, quality relationships plays a huge role, too. Building stronger, broader social connections and having the ability to connect with other people - be it family, friends, teammates, colleagues or the wider community - affects how you are doing, increasing your feelings of happiness and self-worth.
As a passionate esports athlete, it can be hard to find the time to connect with people on a social level. But even if you have a full schedule, try putting effort into strengthening your social interactions both in and outside the game as this will help develop your mental strength, which goes a long way in improving performance. 

And so, to up your game as an esports athlete, you should put better emphasis on the relationships in your life, especially with your teammates.

Mia Stellberg

Sports- & esports psychologist