Video games can be a great way to relieve stress, and many of us need all the help we can get, especially around the holiday season. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for mental health, so having more options available to fight stress before it becomes a chronic issue is important. A new program from Xbox launching today could provide players with one more tool in their stress-relief kit.
In a post on the Xbox Wire blog today, Xbox announced a partnership with the sleep and meditation app Calm. The collaboration brings soundscapes from two Xbox games to the Calm app. Starting today, you can listen to the sounds of waves and ocean birds from Sea of Thieves or ambient background noise from Halo Infinite’s Zeta Halo with a Calm Premium membership.
Neither Halo Infinite nor Sea of Thieves is necessarily the most relaxing experience out there, but listening to the sounds of nature has been shown to improve mood and aid sleep. One study found that the sounds of water and birds are some of the most helpful.
If you aren’t already subscribed to Calm Premium, you can get three free months if you’re an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate member. Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can also get half-off a one-year Calm Premium subscription through the program.
While natural soundscapes have been shown to benefit overall mental health, it’s important to note that apps aren’t a substitute for actual mental health care. A meta-review of studies on mental health apps published in 2022 found that studies supporting their effectiveness are generally flawed, and concluded apps provide “small-to-moderate benefits relative to nothing.” The evidence supporting meditation’s benefits is much more compelling, so integrating meditation apps into your life could be beneficial — as long as you’re not using them as a replacement for other mental health interventions.
Xbox’s new mental health initiatives offer more than a trial of Calm. Also starting today, Xbox players can donate Microsoft Rewards points to Crisis Text Line, The Games and Online Harassment Hotline, and mental health advocacy organization Take This. Microsoft is also donating all proceeds from sales of its Gears of War “Never Fight Alone” t-shirt to Crisis Text Line, along with one percent of revenue from all Gears of War merch and games.
Throughout December, Xbox has already hosted two Twitch takeovers — inviting guest streamers to play on the Xbox Twitch channel — and has one more planned. On December 14 at 6 p.m. Eastern, streamer emme will be playing Stardew Valley, one of the most chill games around.
Stardew Valley is also featured in a Game Pass collection highlighting games that either encourage relaxation or spotlight mental health struggles. Stardew Valley will be joined by fellow chill games Disney Dreamlight Valley, Unpacking, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Persona 5, while the opposite of chill, are included in the new collection to showcase their representations of mental health.
To highlight how stress and other mental health issues affect real people, the Xbox Community Blog is sharing stories from Xbox Ambassadors discussing their own mental health. These posts focus both on the consequences of stress and burnout and how people have used gaming to support their own well-being.
Kicking off Xbox’s new mental health awareness program, 343 Industries Quality of Life Program Manager Ron Brown is featured in an Xbox Wire blog post. In the post, Brown dives into his history of experiencing burnout, receiving his first mental health diagnosis, and working to treat his depression. In addition to highlighting how gaming helped him deal with stress and connect with other people, Brown talks about taking medication and seeing a therapist.
As tempting as it can be to look for easy solutions like playing games to relieve stress, the tougher work of reaching out to professionals needs to be a part of the conversation as well. By highlighting both stress relief practices and the experiences of people who’ve dealt with more profound mental health struggles, the new effort from Xbox could help at least some players become more open to taking their mental health more seriously.