Batman and Robin, the most dynamic of duos, have battled the villainous forces of Gotham City side by side since 1940. Unfortunately spending long, arduous hours together in the pursuit of justice strained their partnership, leading to petty disagreements and multiple break-ups.
Holy hole in a donut! If superheroes bicker when things get tough, is there any hope for us regular folks to get along?
There is always hope, fearless reader. Stay tuned!
The Impact of Stress
Studies suggest that most people experience increased stress during quarantine. A common definition of stress is when our abilities are overwhelmed by the demands of a situation, similar to putting eight ounces of peanut butter into a six-ounce jar. You can keep trying, but that lid isn’t going on neatly.
Irritability, insomnia, and symptoms of depression such as feeling low and fatigue are common side effects of strained emotional capacity. This can make it particularly challenging to tolerate family members, roommates, and fellow fighters of crime. Stress can lower our mood and reduce our desire to socialize, leading to even fewer opportunities for positive interactions with others.During a pandemic, when many of us are living with the same people for an extended period of time problems may arise.
Take a couple of people, add some stress, stick them in a confined space long enough, and you have the recipe for some legendary bickering.
Or a hit reality show.
Social Connections are Important
What do oxygen, water, and social connectedness have in common? They are all essential to our survival. Beyond the basics, little humans rely on adult humans to teach them social norms, which helps to ensure their acceptance into the community group. Acceptance allows us to develop positive, long-term relationships within the group, growing into a deep, comforting sense of belonging termed “social connectedness.” It’s more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling; studies indicate that these attachments can bolster self-esteem, promote psychological well-being, and support healthy emotional development, especially for teens and young adults. And superheroes, probably.
Family routines and celebrations may appear to be trivial events that simply mark the passage of time. In reality, these social interactions are rituals that build durable ties between individuals, and families. By routinely reinforcing our connections, we help to mitigate the negative effects of daily stressors that drain our physical and mental health.
A reduction in stress may mean a reduction in irritability, helping us avoid some of that unwanted bickering.
Maintaining these benefits requires consistent opportunities to connect with one another beyond day-to-day pleasantries. Positive interactions that promote social connectedness are activities that encourage shared experiences, allow for mutual enjoyment for those involved, and facilitate conversations. If you’re especially fortunate, there will be also be bouts of uncontrolled laughter.
Sadly, when life gets hectic, we have less time to spend with our loved ones right when we need it the most. Devising a schedule makes it easier to organize regular activities, which then creates consistent opportunities for positive social interactions.
Holy Vociferous Vilification, Batman!
What social activities do we have scheduled? Why, playing games of course!
Video games do have quite the reputation, however. Many non-gamers might not be familiar with the thoughtfulness of Stardew Valley or the cutesy goodness of Animal Crossing, so their image of video games and their devoted users may be less than accurate. Despite bad press, research consistently shows that casual use of video games may reduce stress, alleviate mental strain, and lessen the likelihood of experiencing a depressed mood.
Teens report that playing video games after a difficult interaction with parents or friends helps them release some of their frustration leaving them in a much better mood. But beyond the passive benefits associated with playing video games, a recent trend in game development tackles real-life mental health struggles directly. For example, Celeste is a visually stunning adventure that presents the player an opportunity to practice a breathing exercise often used to manage anxiety.
Combining entertainment with a mood boost, it’s easy to understand the popularity of video games.
Staying Connected is All Fun and Games
Getting the family together to share in the fun may foster stronger feelings of social connectedness regardless of age, with parents feeling closer to their teens or grandparents connecting to grandkids. It’s a win-win. To encourage more family members to join in, choose games with minimal complexity; they tend to be more newcomer friendly.
Games—both traditional table-top versions and video games—offer a multitude of ways to engage people across generations. Tabletop entertainment has moved beyond Monopoly and Candy Land. No matter the group size or play style, there exists a plethora of choices. There are cooperative adventures like Forbidden Island, beautifully illustrated strategy games like Monarch, or the brain-centered excitement of Zombie Dice. Story-based role-playing games, including Dungeons & Dragons, are enjoying a burst of popularity thanks to enthusiasts of all ages, gender identities, abilities, and alignments. (House rule for family games: no evil player characters.)
Tech-oriented humans of all sizes may find their fun in video games. Action, sci-fi, military, fantasy, Grand Prix racing, therapeutic, farming simulators—the categories are far too numerous to list. Your group can work cooperatively, or competitively, together in the same room, or together across the country. Multiplayer options allow groups to join forces with mystical beings to save the world, or just hang out and dig a really big hole until you hit lava. (Just don’t toss anyone in.) The only true limits are your internet speed and the funds available to purchase your computer or console.
Stress happens. Some days are just overflowing jars of peanut butter. Especially right now. Creating opportunities for positive and supportive social interactions with our loved ones can strengthen our connections with them, which benefits us (and them) physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Maybe all Batman and Robin need is a few hours in the Batcave playing Candy Land?
Erika Stewart Wheelhouse, MA, LMHC served in the US Army Medical Corps before earning her Masters in Counseling Psychology. She treats teens with traumatic stress in a clinical setting and advocates in the community for reduced stigma associated with mental illness as the managing director of Strive Family Resources. She is also a proud volunteer Psychomancer with Take This.