Disconnect, Esports, Mental Health
Henrik Kamstrup Nielsen9 months ago
Being a professional athlete is a hard work, requiring a great amount of dedication. This applies whether you are an athlete in the traditional sense of the word or an esports athlete. Furthermore, both have in common that it mostly begins as a hobby which in time gets more and more serious. And to the chosen few it ends up being their full-time work. When our hobby ends up being our full-time job it is especially important to learn to put our jobs aside to be able to “refuel” your resources. This applies to jobs in the traditional sense, but it especially applies to you esports athletes out there – no matter if you´re already a pro, an up and coming or consider esports a serious hobby. In this article we´ll look at what happens when we work and what happens when we don’t take breaks from work. Furthermore, I’ll show you a couple of tips on how to disconnect.
By Henrik Kamstrup Nielsen
Many of us know the situation. We have an assignment at work we find interesting, and we find it hard to put it away. Putting our jobs aside when that job is also our hobby is even harder. You might not consider being a professional esport athlete your job – but it is. That’s what the word professional implies. When you’re professional there’s a world full of expectations towards you. You must be able to cooperate. You must build the team. You must train together. Besides that, there’s everything around you that hasn’t got anything to do with the game on “field”. Press, commercials, fan events. You name it. The working days are long with great outside and inside pressure. Even adding changing working conditions, changing working hours and traveling across time zones to the mix. It requires a sturdy person to work under these conditions. Therefore, it is essential to remember to fill your life with other things that matter.
Disconnect – to Live a Life
That’s easier said than done. Because what does it mean to live a life? That is a hard question to answer as there’s around 7,753 billion different answers. What I’m certain of is that not many of these people have ever sat down pondering that question. As it is, not many people go through their everyday life doing that many conscious actions. Therefore, they end up doing what they always do. That’s how people are created and in many ways that’s quite clever.
Researchers don’t agree 100 % with each other in this field, but in broad terms they agree that a normal human being is actively conscious between 1 and 10 % of their time every day. The rest of the time we let our subconsciousness do the rest of the work, essentially living our lives on autopilot. As mentioned, it is clever as our brain is resource-intensive muscle and being fully conscious takes time. If we were to be fully conscious all the time our brains and systems would quickly be fully overloaded with impressions, we had to process and decide what to do with.
The above also makes us creatures of habit. We do what we’re used to doing without thinking too much about it, not stopping to consider whether what we’re doing is good or bad. We just do it. If we occasionally stop to think about what it is we’re doing, our psyche will quickly come up with excuses to convince you to do what you’ve always done. It’s fine, right? No, no not necessarily. What happens is that our psyche believes that every change is dangerous, hence it tries to avoid changes. That’s what I call resistance.
Adding body chemistry to the mix supporting our habits makes it hard to do anything new. The body adds a shot of dopamine every time we do any action that brings around good emotions. Playing games, especially computer games, is one of the most addictive things we can put our biology up against, as games are designed to keep you engaged – with a lot of dopamine thrown into the mix. And we keep going because it feels really good. With that knowledge in mind, it will actually make it easier for us to do something about it. Bear with me for two more paragraphs, and I will tell you what you can do.
Stress – What You Should Be Aware of
As previously mentioned, it’s not the bodily stress reaction that’s the main villain here. What is a problem, however, is that either we’re not aware of the signals the body is trying to send telling us that hey, you’re stressed or we’re simply ignoring those signals. Which is often accompanied with a thought: ”it will get better soon.” The primary reason we get sick with stress is because we end up ignoring the signals for too long and then the body simply shuts down.
In the coming paragraphs I will list the classification of stress I work from, including which signals you can expect from your body. Signals which are extremely important to be aware of and which you can use proactively. Because it is possible to do something before getting stressed, but it is up to you to take responsibility for your emotions and from what you feel in your body. The definition on the list is taken from a Danish book called “Mindre stress – mere overskud” (Less Stress – More Surplus) by Bjarne Toftegård.
Disconnect – What Happens When You Don’t Disconnect.
The problem with not disconnecting is simple: we burn out, get sick with stress or worse. In many high intensity businesses comparable to the aviation industry this is known as fatigue. Fatigue has been a known subject in that industry for more than 20 years now. Because in that industry fatigue can ultimately cost hundreds of lives. In esport you don’t have the responsibility for other than one life. Your own. On the other hand, you only have one to live so it’s important to take care of that one life. It’s important you don’t burn out. Burning out will affect you personally and it will affect your career which will be drastically shortened after burning out. That would be a sad story to tell when you fought so hard to get to where you are now, right?
Disconnect – What Benefits You’ll Gain.
A better, full life. A longer career (if you want to). Something to fall back on when you don’t want to be in esports any longer. Sounds good? It’s quite simple and the mentioned points are only part of the benefits you’ll gain. In many ways humans are complex beings but on many other levels, we’re simple beings living complex lives. By nature, we’re all born with 7 basic psychological drives all containing different emotions and behaviors. We share these drives with many animals, that’s why they are quite simple but also sometimes inappropriate because evolution is a slow worker. The cost here is that our brains haven’t been able to adapt to the complexity of life in the modern world. I’ll dig deeper into this another time. What you need to know for now is that these 7 drives all contain needs that need to be fulfilled for us to feel satisfied and ready to meet the challenges as a professional athlete.
Disconnect – What Can You Do?
You must get away from work. Don’t work when you are not at work.. As mentioned, this can be extra hard when you are a professional gamer, as our brains would like you to keep playing because it feels nice. The biggest problem with that is that the brain isn’t necessarily aware of what is good for you in the long run. The only thing the primordial brain knows is that it’s nice to play and it awards you when you keep playing. It feels so nice that we end up forgetting other things in our life that feel good. If I haven’t convinced you yet, try and notice how hard it is to keep away from your phone. Notice how many times during the day you start to stare at your phone without any purpose to begin with. Computer games has the same alluring effect.
Well. Now you have decided to keep free when you have free time. What to do with that time? You should do something that brings meaning to your life and fills you up. How do you recognize things that do this to you? Again, it’s quite simple: do things that make you feel satisfied. What that is differs from person to person. And there’s a risk, the first time you decide to consciously take time to discover you don’t know what activities will give you that emotion. If you find yourself in that situation there’s only one thing to do: find a notebook or a pad of paper and start being creative. Write down everything you believe will satisfy you. Even if you’re not sure if one activity will make you satisfied, write it down anyway and try it. If it doesn’t do anything for you, delete it from the list.
Examples to get you started: hang with your friends. Go to a restaurant. Read a good book. Go for a walk. Exercise. Be with your family. The sky’s the limit. The most important thing is that you get the feeling that these activities will recharge you mentally. The added benefit of these activities is that you will give your brain some much needed rest. Letting your brain rest will let it store all of what you and your teammates have worked on all day, adding that knowledge to the subconscious parts of your brain. That way you’ll be more focused the next day to learn new tactics and plays. Your brain is maybe the most important muscle in esport and like all other muscles it needs to rest to be ready for the next day.
Worth mentioning is this: When you have practiced bringing consciousness into your choices when to relax and actively chose your R&R, there’s no problem with playing games as a way to relax. You just need to be able to make that active choice, so you bring awareness to the fact that you do have other choices in your life.
I’ve mentioned the benefits before and I do it one more time: you avoid burning out, you prolong your career, you’ll sleep better, you’ll be better rested for practice next day, and you might discover, that you don’t have to fear the day you have to stop your career, because you now know what other things you can do when you’re not professional anymore. You do this by having other meaningful activities in your life other than your esport and your team.
I’ll fix my point in this article with the example below:
Every heading in the above table represents a life area / area of need for you making up the life you live. If your life currently looks a bit like the above, let me show you how your life will look when you’re by some reason or other, aren’t able to have esports as a part of that life:
Empty, right? This is just an example, but an example that shows what happens when we let one part of our life take over too much of other parts of our life. When we can’t do that thing any longer, we just get emptiness. Work is a big part of many people’s lives, that’s how modern society works.
The point is: fill your life with more meaning than just work and gain all the mentioned benefits. And remember: if you have a hard time figuring out what to add to your life and help you disconnect – help is near.
The illustration is made by inspiration from:” Feel the Fear & And Do It Anyway by Susan J. Jeffers
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