I was looking through my Facebook memories today and I came across a post of mine from a year ago where I discussed the mental health struggles I was going through at the time. I was dealing with post-partum depression on top of my already existing depression and anxiety and I ended up hospitalized for a week. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s already been a year since I hit that low point in my life. Since then, I’ve come a long way and gaming has been a part of that journey in getting better. As a sort of celebration of my ongoing recovery, I thought I would discuss some of the mental health benefits board games can bring.
1. Board games can lead to establishing routines.
Routines are a major component of good mental health. As Mariana Plata writes in this article for Psychology Today, “[W]hen we organize ourselves and know what to expect, it’s easier to actively work towards counteracting the thoughts and symptoms of…mental health conditions”. In terms of gaming, establishing a routine can mean either attending a regular meetup, starting a family game night, or even just setting aside a regular time to game.
For me personally, when I was able to attend a local meetup on a regular basis, it really helped my mental wellbeing. While I have not been able to attend this meetup in quite some time, due to personal circumstances and conflict with my school schedule, it still had a profound effect. If this is a route you’d want to undertake but aren’t sure of where to look for meetups, a great place to start is to look at the local Game Groups forums on Board Game Geek (that’s how I found mine). You can also search for groups on Facebook or on Meetup.
If you’re more of a homebody and have family that enjoys gaming. a family game night might be a good option for you. Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker has written an article on the importance of family game nights and how to start one. If you don’t have kids, date nights with your spouse or significant other are a great option. Luke at Start Your Meeples has a list of 5 Date Night Board Games To Play With Your Better Half.
None of these options appealing to you? Set aside some time where you can regularly play solo. The 1 Player Guild on Board Game Geek is an excellent place to find out more about solo gaming. It’s something I personally am fairly new to, but have found the community there very welcoming.
2. Board games can be a way of keeping busy.
When I was nearing the end of my hospital stay, the occupational therapist and the doctor who was treating me both stressed to me the importance of keeping myself busy. I found this to be a bit of a struggle when I left the hospital. As Dr. Allan Schwartz writes in this article, “Some people have difficulty finding things to do. They convince themselves that their interests are either, childish, meaningless or, even worse, that they have no interests”. This fit me to a T. However, Dt. Schwartz further writes that “Its [sic] important to remind yourself that, a leisure activity or work activity is worthwhile if it has meaning and importance to you”. That took some time to sink in, but when it did, it affirmed that board games were something that is important to me and are worth pursuing, whether it be playing, blogging about them or researching new releases.
3. Board games can be a distraction technique.
I know this sounds really similar to the last point but trust me, they are different. Distraction, as described by Dr. Mark Dombeck, is “[w]hen you realize that you have become upset, [you] choose to interrupt your negative mood by engaging in something that distracts you from what has upset you”. Distraction is more of an intervention method, done at the spur of the moment, whereas “keeping busy” is more of active choice in a lifestyle change.
I have personally found gaming to be an excellent distraction technique when done right. As Dr. Dombeck writes “[f]or best results, the thing you engage yourself in as a means of distraction should be both absorbing and interesting to you. Doing this thing should either require your full attention, or be so absorbing of your attention that you will forget yourself”. Board gaming, I have found, falls in the former category. For example, I have been playing a lot of Sagrada lately. The game, while on the lighter end of things, still requires a lot of attention towards it, from choosing a die to draft, to placing it, making sure you are complying to all the rules. I think the same could be said for almost any board game.
4. Board games get you away from screens.
The affect of extended screentime on people has been well documented. As written in her article for The Atlantic, in regards to teens, “[r]ates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011….Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones”. I know personally, this is something I have issues with. I spend far too much time on my phone or laptop. Board gaming, I find has been a great way of getting myself away from them.
Most board games are a physical item and require a non-digital experience. Those that do require technological assistance tie up that device for most of the game. Also, if the game is engaging enough, it should eliminate the desire to check your phone. Our Family Game Reviews discuss their rule of banning electronics (unless it makes sense in the context of the game) while playing games in their piece entitled Board Games as a Family Hobby: “It’s too easy for the entire family to get sucked into their individual screens, causing us to interact with each other less than we should. Setting up a time where the whole family can come together that doesn’t include electronics is a much needed break for everyone”.
And that is it for my list of ways board games can help with mental health! What things do you find help you mentally while playing board games, whether they’re on this list or not?