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4 Ways Pokemon Go Has Improved My Well-Being

For the past two weeks, Pokemon Go has been taking over news channels, Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines all over the world. It’s a simple concept, allowing users to become trainers and live out their dreams of being “the best there ever was” by walking around their communities to catch the best and coolest Pokemon. As I write this, I am sitting at a dock with 300 strangers trying to catch rare Pokemon that spawn here.

Almost immediately, there were stories of Pokemon Go positively affecting people’s mental and physical health. However, these stories have been shadowed by the negative, fear-based narrative that always seems to come with new tech fads. Stories of folks walking off cliffs or getting robbed while playing the game certainly contribute to that fear. Then there is the friend who insists Pokemon Go players are lame and shames others for having fun. People with these negative opinions forget Pokemon Go, like all games, is a tool. It’s not inherently good or bad; it all depends on how someone uses it.

So, I thought I would share how I have been using Pokemon Go as a tool for mental wellness in my life. As a tool, Pokemon Go has changed my life. It’s such a simple tool (and, let’s face it – not a great app or game as it crashes constantly and is riddled with server issues), but it has still vastly improved my mental and physical health in the two weeks I have been using it.

Here are the ways it has helped me:

1) I am not scared of talking to strangers.

After years of therapy, medications and self-care for social anxiety and Asperger’s, I assumed I would spend my life feeling afraid and disconnected from other people. Even though I am a public speaker and community mobilizer, talking to other people has always been a huge point of stress for me. I constantly worry I will say something the wrong way, accidentally hurt someone or otherwise mess up in a conversation. I am the girl who orders Starbucks through the app, even when I am standing in the store waiting – just because I can’t build up the confidence to talk to the person at the counter. Even though I can stand on stage and talk to thousands of people at once, one-on-one connections have always been difficult for me.

Since I started playing Pokemon Go, I have found myself starting conversations with strangers without thinking twice. It’s given me an easy connection to other people. Usually I am worried about being weird, but with Pokemon Go, everyone playing is on the same level of weirdness I am. Most importantly, the game has given me the confidence to know I can have a connection with people, even if it’s temporary, and that is helping me realize I can connect with people in other parts of my life, too – be it work, friends or family. It’s an amazing feeling.

2) It has made going outside less scary.

Pokemon Go has made me excited to go outside, walk around and talk to strangers about where to find the rare Pokemon. It’s shown me I can talk to people, listen and do all of this without feeling worn down. It’s brought me to a level of wellness I can safely say I have not felt before. Most days, leaving my house is a huge chore, full of worries and anxiety about what might be waiting for me outside. But now I know Pokemon are outside, so I go out with my backpack and battery packs without thinking twice. It’s helped free me from staying in all day alone with my thoughts. And this leads me to #3.

3) It’s helped me rediscover the joy of walking and the beauty of my city.

Since getting Pokemon Go, I have been reaching my Apple Watch steps and exercise goals every day, which I have never been able to consistently do before. It’s made me more active and excited to explore my city. I have revisited parts of Toronto I love (like the Jack Layton Ferry Dock, the Island and cool downtown cafes) and brought me to explore parts of the city I had never been to before.

It’s shown me amazing cafes, parks and places I can set up shop and work. As someone who works from home, it can be easy to sit at home for days on end and not go outside or move around. But since I have started playing, I have found cool work spots in in parks, cafes and other places with great wifi.

4) It’s given me a place to fit in.

Pokemon Go has given me the confidence and connections to know I can find a place to fit in. It’s given me a way to engage in self-care that requires movement and human connection. It fights the voice inside my head telling me that hanging out with people will be work, that people will hate me and that isolating myself is more comfortable than talking to people. It’s shown me that people can be awesome and friendly. That my friends want to run around the city with me at 4 a.m. and just talk. That hanging out with people is fun and can refresh my energy.

I can’t believe all of this has happened because of Pokemon. I am confident even when Pokemon Go is an app of the past, I will remember this experience and push myself to have more fun interactions with people – to keep learning how to connect with both friends and strangers. Because for the first time in my life, I am not scared of talking to people, going outside or finding a community to fit in with.

Will people use Pokemon Go for bad things? Will they not pay attention to their surroundings while playing and get hurt? Could people become addicted to this? Of course – but this does not invalidate the good Pokemon Go has done good for so many people. I am excited to see how the game will grow and change, and what people come up with next. More importantly, I am excited to see someone figure out how to make fun games that include movement – I believe people should definitely capitalize on the health benefits of this wonderful type of tool. Until then, good luck to all you trainers out there. I hope you become the best there ever was.

Leadphoto courtesy of the Pokémon GO Facebook page.