As our anxiety mounts, most of us instinctively recoil – withdrawing into ourselves and allowing our minds to get caught in a negative loop.
When this happens, it helps to find creative ways to break that loop.
One unexpected way some people combat anxiety is through playing board games.
Could it be that finding relief from your anxiety is as simple as getting your game on?
There are many different reasons why board games are great for mental health – and anxiety, in particular.
Playing Casual Games Is Good for Mental Health
Anything that reduces stress is beneficial for reducing anxiety
Stress can be a huge factor in anxiety – sometimes kicking off panic attacks or even prolonged periods of generalized anxiety. Anything that reduces stress is beneficial for reducing anxiety. This is why we’re so often told to exercise often and eat a healthy diet.
But what about exercising our brains? Playing chess, for example, comes with a whole host of health benefits that are directly related to working out our grey matter. People who play chess have better memories, an increased ability to focus, and brains that stay active and are more stimulated by positive thinking and activity (as opposed to the negative thinking that tends to come with anxiety).
Does playing board games such as chess directly relate to a reduction in stress, though? Studies say that the answer is yes. Research funded by RealNetworks showed that playing casual games helps adults with relaxation, stress relief, and mental balance. Their study included a wide range of games including board games, word games, card games, classic arcade games, and digital puzzles.
Letting Go of Control with Board Gaming
One of the personality traits common to many people with anxiety is the need to be in control. This can present itself in the form of the feelings of panic we experience when our heartbeat seems to be going a little too fast or the avalanche of “what if?” thoughts that begin to spiral out of control if our spouse is a little late getting home and doesn’t call.
Anxiety and the need to be in control
Because we can’t be in control of everything 100 percent of the time, it’s helpful if we can practice relinquishing control and facing the unknown whenever possible. As silly as it may sound, playing board games is a fun way to practice this.
This sort of practice works even better when you start young. Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a holistic child psychologist, uses board games in her practice as a way to help children who are prone to anxiety cope with their feelings of not being in control of a situation.
In Dr. Beurkens’ experience, board games work well to get kids used to unpredictable outcomes. A board game never plays out the same way twice, so it helps children manage and become more comfortable with uncertainty. In addition to this, board games help kids develop persistence and resilience to keep trying even when the chips are down.
Board Gaming Combats Social Isolation
When anxiety rears its ugly head, the last thing most of us want to do is interact with others. Instead, our anxiety whispers to us withdraw to a place where we can surrender to the feelings of panic, the pounding heart, sweaty palms, and racing thoughts without having to hide them or explain them to others.
Anxiety whispers to us to withdraw
Isolating ourselves this way isn’t good for either or brains or our bodies, however. Studies have shown that social isolation can lead to increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Pair that with the fact that being around others can help us move our minds past the anxiety rather than getting caught in a nasty cycle of worrying, feeling bad, worrying about feeling bad, and on and on…
Board games are an excellent way to socialize with others – and one of the best things about them is you can be totally flexible in the way you go about it.
If you’re comfortable putting yourself out there even when you’re not feeling 100%, head to your local chess club on a casual play night or organize a game night at your house with a group of friends.
If you’d rather take baby steps, invite a friend over for a fun night of chilling out with snacks and reliving your childhood with a few games of Life or Trouble.
Even if the anxiety doesn’t completely disperse, the night will pass much faster than it will if you were sitting at home alone, you’ll potentially expand your social circle, and this is a powerful way to show your brain who’s boss.
Making a Move in the Battle Against Anxiety
Everyone who deals with anxiety has their own personal methods of coping with it. Some people meditate and others exercise. Some find it helpful to write or create artwork.
Could flexing your mind by playing board games be the key to breaking out of an anxious cycle?
If it helps, it’s certainly worth a try. What do you have to lose? It’s your move!