Dr Atheeshaan Arumuham, a specialty doctor in psychiatry, has come up with some helpful tips for esports players to improve their wellbeing and performance.
Dr Arumuham is from Gaming the Mind, a group of mental health professionals with an interest in promoting wellbeing in the gaming community and looking at the interactions between mental health and gaming.
“Research has shown that participating in esports can help players develop better problem-solving ability, faster reaction times, and create meaningful relationships. However, there are concerns regarding players experiencing burnout early in their career.
Burnout arises from exposure to continuous stress which is poorly managed. As an example of the stress players can experience, one study has shown a player’s heart rate can rise to match that of an F1 driver.
Using feedback from esports athletes, teams are establishing guidelines to improve player wellness and performance. ROCCAT recruited a psychologist for their League of Legends team, which the players said helped build their self-confidence and team-cohesion. Similarly, Astralis hired a psychologist who monitored players for signs of fatigue and arranged workshops where they could spend time away from computers to develop game strategies and relax.
Here are Gaming the Mind’s eight tips to improve your wellbeing and performance while playing:
- Aim to have 8-9 hours of sleep a night: good quality sleep is crucial to maintaining focus and improving decision making. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the stage of sleep when you dream, has been shown to be important for learning, memory and emotional health.
- Try to have at least 30 minutes of exercise per day: playing esports for long periods of time can lead to elevated levels of cortisol; a hormone associated with stress. Staying physically active is important because low-intensity exercise can reduce cortisol levels. Not only does exercise benefit physical fitness, it can also improve mental well-being and reduce tension.
- Practice, but don’t forget to take breaks: players are known to experience fatigue when playing repeated matches of their favourite esports game. Having to process a lot of information at a time can become hard work for the brain. Taking time to disconnect and engage in some relaxation techniques can provide the necessary downtime to optimise performance.
- Be careful with caffeine: caffeine (as seen in energy drinks) can seem like an attractive choice to stay alert. However, it can actually be detrimental when you want to focus over longer periods of time, as consuming products that have high doses of caffeine can cause anxiety and poor sleep.Caffeinated soft drinks tend to be high in sugar as well. After a spike in sugar from food or drink, your body can react by dropping your blood sugar levels, resulting in a “sugar crash”, which can leave you feeling more fatigued. Try using healthier snack options such as fruit or grain bars that will slowly release energy as you play, without a sugar spike.
- Eat a balanced diet: players may opt to choose processed or fast food that they can eat while playing. However, these foods are high in fats, tend to be less healthy, and will not provide the body the necessary nutrients that fresh food can. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet includes a daily intake of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy products or dairy alternatives, high-fibre carbohydrates, and a small amount of unsaturated fats.
- Drink at least 6-8 glasses of fluid a day: becoming dehydrated can impair performance in tasks that require attention and memory skills. Trying to drink predominantly water would be a good choice, as it is a healthy option without any calories or sugar.
- Take time out of playing to eat: avoid eating at your computer as this will give your mind some time to disengage and relax. Try eating in another room, or if possible, with friends or family. Cooking food and eating away from your desk will help break up long periods of sitting down.
- Use apps to support mental well-being: the NHS recommends a collection of apps that can help support ways to relax both your mind and body, incorporating breathing techniques, relaxing sounds, and short exercises. The NHS also provides a brief synopsis of these apps to help identify one that will work best for you based on factors such as age. Another option would be to try low-intensity games, or try relaxing activities such as reading, when having a break between training.
Esports rewards those who train well, and part of training well means paying attention to your health. Maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle has been shown to have positive effects on the physical health, mental health, and performance of esports athletes.
About the author
Dr Atheeshaan Arumuham is a specialty doctor in psychiatry and a member of Gaming the Mind; a group of mental health professionals with an interest in the interactions between mental health and gaming, and promoting wellbeing in the gaming community. For more information please go to gamingthemind.org and follow them on Twitter @gamingthemind.