How Games Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

Updated on June 22, 2021

Mental health is a topic that has received a much greater focus in the media and amongst the general public in recent years, as studies begin to demonstrate links between mental health and physical health, and highlight the negative effects of stress and social isolation. 

In several countries, including the United Kingdom, businesses are starting to train their employees in mental health first aid as well as physical first aid, as they recognise the importance of supporting their employees.

According to the OECD, mental health issues cost the UK economy £94 billion each year, with the Centre for Mental Health reporting it costs employers around £35 billion annually. 

Self Care is Key

Self care is the most effective way of protecting your mental health. Part of this comes from recognising when you need to take your foot off the gas pedal, and part comes from having ways to rest and recharge.

Different people will have different ways to rest. Some will prefer to put their feet up and watch a movie or read a book, while others will prefer to get active by going hiking or for a run. This entirely comes down to personal preference, but it’s wise to experiment with a few different ways as you may find you actually feel more relaxed after exercise than after doing nothing.

Games for Self Care

A popular option for self-care is playing games. Research in the United States has found that around 64% of people that play games do so to relax, and 53% do so to help reduce their stress levels.

This can include video games, board games, and card games, such as a Solitaire game, all of which can have similar attributes. For example, board games and card games have elements of social interaction as they are played with others. Video games can offer the benefits of online therapy, thanks to their online multiplayer modes.

Here are some of the ways that playing games can help with self-care.

Social Interaction

Despite the protests of introverts, having interactions with other people has been proven to improve mental health. People that have strong personal relationships with others have better sleep patterns, more effective immune systems, and lower levels of inflammation and stress hormones.

If you don’t have a large social circle, or you find it difficult to make friends, then playing a game is a great way to start to build these connections naturally. It may be through playing a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game like World of Warcraft, a board game with friends, or a card game like poker or blackjack with colleagues after work. The game itself doesn’t matter, just the fact that you get to spend time with others. 

In addition to the social benefits of playing card games with friends, they can help to improve your cognitive abilities. Depending on the type of game you play, you’ll have to memorise the rankings of different combinations of cards, as well as try to remember all of the cards that have already been drawn. 

Similar benefits can be achieved from some board games, like Scrabble, which require you to develop a strong vocabulary and be strategic about your tile placement. 

Improving your Creativity

According to an article published by Forbes, being creative can have several benefits on your mental health, including increased happiness, reduced stress, and lower levels of anxiety. 

You can get your creative juices flowing in many ways, through writing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or even just working in your garden or cooking. Games are another great way to get creative, as you must find novel solutions to problems or new techniques in order to beat your opponents. 

Shutting Out the World

We have many different things in our lives that try to monopolise our attention. Our phones are a big source of this, with their continually pinging notifications, and the always-on way for people to contact you. They can magnify work pressures, or other sources of your stress. 

Turning these distractions off for a while is an effective way of looking after your mental health. Playing a game often requires all of your attention, meaning there is no room for your mind to concern itself with your other thoughts or to get distracted.

This can be an effective self-care solution as it gives you a break from the rest of the world.

It is clear that looking after our mental health has become an important issue that we must take care of. The advantages of doing this are clear on both a personal and a national level, with health and economic benefits both coming from effective mental health management.

With their stress-reducing qualities and opportunities for social interaction, playing games, of any type, is an effective way of realising these benefits.

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