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  • Essays
  • Board Game Relief : Can Board Games Improve Your Mental Health?

Board Game Relief : Can Board Games Improve Your Mental Health?

O Updated
(Photo by Big Potato on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

Hobbies are known to be a way to reduce stress and can improve feelings of anxiety and depression. Board games are, of course, no different. In this article, I want to look at how playing board games can help your mental health.

Let's look at solo games first of all. Very much like the classic game of patience, many modern solo games can give people some "me" time, during which they can focus their mind on solving the puzzle that the game presents them with. Solo games, like other games, will occupy your mind to a lesser or larger extent. So there will be a solo game that gives you just the right level of challenge that you need. After all, sometimes your brain is already overwhelmed and for those times the perfect game will be something light, maybe something visually engaging, where you don't have to think too much, but your focus is still kept on the game.

Generally, all games can also give you a sense of achievement, which is probably more pronounced in solo games, because it's just you against the game, but multiplayer games can also give players the feeling that they've really had an effect on something and that their actions and decisions led to a positive outcome. It's not even all about winning, but could be a matter of improving on your previous score, discovering an interesting strategy or something similar that lets you feel that you've really achieved something.

Board games can also offer a social aspect. Sharing your problems and worries with others is often really helpful and board games can give you an excuse to meet up with friends and they can be the catalyst for conversation, not just about the game itself, but because everyone is probably relaxed, it will be easier for you to openly share your thoughts with the group.

Other times, you don't really want to talk, at least not about your problems. You just want to spend time with friends. You want to talk to them to distract yourself from your day-to-day worries. The game itself might become just a background to having fun and being silly with the people around you. The game can also become the focal point and lead to really exciting moments or real hard laughter. It basically becomes a form of escapism.

There is another social aspect to board games, which Tabletop_creature from Twitter shared with me. They said "joining a playtesting boardgame group really helped me to find new friends and going to these sessions has become a permanent fixture in my life." OK, maybe you're not a board game designer yourself, but I think joining a board game club can also be a really great way to use board games to deal with stress and anxiety.

On the one hand, you have the social aspect, that either allows you to switch off from your worries and just have fun with like-minded people for an hour or two. On the other hand, being part of a board game club also gives you something to look forward to every week or every month or however often the club meets. That's also true for regular game nights with friends, of course. Knowing that you will have a fun-filled evening ever so often can really help manage your stress or anxiety, because you have something to look forward to. You know that you will have fun again soon and you can put your feelings of stress and anxiety into perspective.

Of course, board games can't always help with stress, anxiety or depression. If you're struggling to cope and things you tried yourself aren't working, please reach out to a medical professional who will be able to advise you further. Your mental health is as important as your physical health and you're never alone - help is always at hand.

So, have you found that board games help you with stress or anxiety? If so, in what way? Are they a stress relief for you? Do they allow you to escape into another world far away from your day-to-day? Is it the social side that board games give you? Do you play solo games that allow you to focus on something else for a while? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. It would be wonderful to hear what board games offer you.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #333688 14 Jun 2022 09:28
There is also a theory that boardgames help stave off alzheimer's disease and some other forms of dementia. It could be the social aspect of gaming with other people in person, or it could be the meaningful decisions offered by the game itself.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #333690 14 Jun 2022 10:04
As someone who recently had a mental breakdown, for me it was a non-issue. The nature of my situation was that focusing on a board game was just not going to happen. I didn't play any games for 18 months, largely because I *couldn't*. These Games Of Ours introduce a pleasant feeling of stress in presenting you with an array of decisions to make and determining which is best. Pleasant or no, I did not need to be looking for more stress.

I mention stress because when I was dealing with a mental health crisis, stress was an important factor. Because my mind seemed to be failing me and attacking me, it increased my stress level, which made my mind increase its assault against me in a vicious cycle. This wasn't an environment where I was even capable of deciding which of four cards I wanted to play, even if I wanted to.

When I started recovering it was because therapy had increased my window of tolerance to the point where I could at least make myself try gaming again. That level of fake it till you make it worked, but only because of other factors.

Now, on the other hand, what board gaming did do for me was provide a circle of friends who care about me and were there for me, even if I couldn't at the time be there for them. And when I was ready to try again, they helped me out a great deal, and their care and concern added to my ongoing therapy to help me better evaluate and refute what my brain was telling me (and ultimately reveal the true cause of a lot of my issues: my soon-to-be ex-wife). That I am grateful for.

I am now in a much better place and soon heading for an even better one, away from my ex. I leave my life with her behind, gladly, but I continue on with my friends. And I'm being up front about my hobby with any other potential romantic interests.

I wouldn't say that gaming qua gaming helped me, but the relationships I made through it certainly did.
stormseeker75's Avatar
stormseeker75 replied the topic: #333693 14 Jun 2022 13:33
Bro, I am sorry to hear about your hardships. I can relate. I'm going to threadjack just a little. Please know this is meant as solidarity and empathy and not selfishness.

I got what I thought was going to be the best job ever. I was getting promoted from a staff accountant to Assistant Controller. I bought a house and moved. I uprooted my whole life. The job turned out to be bad in so many ways which led to my quick departure. I then went to a cannabis company because I wanted to see what that industry is like. That place about killed me. I was working 60-70 hours routinely after the first two weeks. I eventually quit and have since moved on to a better job.

Once I went to the cannabis company, my desire to engage in ANYTHING causing the slightest bit of discomfort went right out the door. I stopped doing everything mostly because I didn't have the time. When I had the time, I was simply recovering and trying to feel human. It didn't work. This went on for about 10 months. I quit three months ago and am just now starting to feel like playing games will be fun. But even at that, I basically want to play party games where there's almost no rules and I can party while I do it. That's where I'm at.

I don't get relief from games EVER. They always stress me out. I used to like the stress though. I used to seek stress out wherever and engage in all kinds of activities I didn't really enjoy because I thought I had to. Turns out many things in life are actually a choice. I choose to have fun now. I choose to relax and enjoy whatever time I get with my wonderful wife and my dogs.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #333695 14 Jun 2022 14:02
Playing games is relaxing for me, because it is just playing. It’s silly make-believe, whether we are farming or flying spaceships or fighting monsters. Most of the time it’s just funny and we laugh a lot. But I do mostly just play with family and close friends. And we aren’t super competitive, and usually spend more time talking than playing.

A couple of weeks ago, we were playing something and Al rolled nothing but ones the entire game. We were dying laughing every time he rolled the dice.

Playing with my family during that first winter of COVID, when we were so totally isolated, and bored and, tbh, scared, and it was so dark and cold outside, definitely kept us sane.
LineOf7s's Avatar
LineOf7s replied the topic: #333714 15 Jun 2022 00:09
My wife has always enjoyed boardgaming because she gets anxiety when interacting with people socially. In those situations, there are unwritten rules about how to act and how to interact with others, and she doesn't know these rules well and fears the consequences of getting them wrong.

In the magic circle of a boardgame, however, everyone at the table signs up to the same set of explicit rules. This provides a clear, agreed-to infrastructure to interact with people - even strangers - within the context of an environment in which everybody there has chosen to participate. The pressure being off lets her enjoy the people even as she's enjoying the game.

When playing with friends it's even better (even if the infrastructure is still somewhat necessary), but there's no great requirement for her to have necessarily established any sort of relationship with the other players beforehand. That's what the boardgame does. :)