About a year ago, I started feeling stuck on where I wanted to go next in my career. It was a unique window for me to start something new, but the anxiety of staring into the unknowing was overwhelming.
I found myself playing solitaire, a game I loved growing up, as a way to escape the stress of thinking about what comes next. After playing I felt less anxious, and even recharged.
It made me realize that games are a powerful tool to address mental health.
In fact, games allow people to exercise their minds, develop social skills, and in some cases, build up hand-eye coordination and physical fitness. There are many ways that games improve someone’s mental health, but the following five are a good place to start!
1. Intellectual development and building self-Worth
Games require you to take in information, analyze, and make decisions. In many ways, these are important life skills. While we might not realize it, games are a great way to challenge yourself and develop critical thinking skills, all of which can make you a smarter person.
Look no further than the game of bridge, as an example.
Touting the mental benefits of the game, an 89-year-old doctor from West Bloomfiled, Michigan, recently said, “It’s the intellectual challenge, the problem-solving satisfaction, that makes bridge so attractive.” Indeed, the mathematical nature of the game, not to mention the spatial reasoning involved, either sharpens the mind.
Additionally, games like bridge keeps people from depression as noted by neurologist Keith A. Josephs from the Mayo Clinic. He refers to data about social interaction to bolster this hypothesis. Two decades ago, researchers at the University of California found strong correlation between playing bridge and the bolstering of the players’ immune systems. Having a good immune system, they found, created a stronger feeling of peace of mind in players, which contributed to those players’ overall mental health.
2. Games help develop our children
The same benefits of bridge experienced by adults also apply to children, no matter what kind of games they play. Neha Shivhare and David Kaufman noted the social benefits are just one of the plusses. Games change the structure of children’s brains for the better.
Harvard Researchers built upon previous research and stated that both video games and face-to-face games are important to children’s development. In particular, children learn about decision making and the consequences for their decisions. In a board-game for example, children can learn how a certain strategy might yield near instant victory but also equally quick defeat, depending on luck. They can then make a reasoned decision to try it or not. Feelings of accomplishment and successful learning also boost happiness and self-confidence.
3. Video games can prevent mental illnesses
Video games played during youth have been shown through research to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease in adults. One of the reasons for this is the way that video games boost metacognition, which is “thinking about thinking.”
The best way to achieve this kind of thinking is to ask someone why decisions were made while playing. Which goals did they have? Were their decisions designed to boost themselves or slow down their opponents?
There is ample subconscious and quick thinking that takes place during game play. Reflecting on how decisions were made develops mental acuity.
4. Problem solving prepares for life’s challenges
Both video games and board games offer players problem solving opportunities. For example, in a video-game quest you might defeat the monster to find the sword, give the sword to the knight to get the map, and follow the map to rescue someone. In a board game like Scrabble, a player might make a play that doesn’t score as high as possible to block the opponent from playing a 70-point word.
Such problem solving translates directly to the improvement of mental health. Problem-solving therapy relies on exactly the same methods to help solve patients’ real-life problems. These problems might include a poor reaction to a grave health diagnosis, unexplained anxiety, or relationship difficulties.
5. The Value of Sports
Sports teach teamwork, concentration, and leadership. Physical fitness is another benefit, and data indicates that physical health begets mental health. Players can relieve stress and boost their well-being, and feelings of accomplishment reinforce self-worth.
Start having fun!
Games have been called a “a waste of time,” at best, and “evil” at worst. Neither could be further from the truth. When played in moderation, they are not only fun, but they provide various benefits that can make you a mentally stronger person. Tap into your inner kid, and start enjoying games.
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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.