An estimated 19.1% of Americans currently suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 31% will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Coupled with the stress of COVID-19, experts predict that to intensify as more people live in isolation.
With no end in sight for social distancing rules in many cities, people have turned to physical and digital games to relieve stress and anxiety. Call it a comeback — or a means of necessity — but games are now helping us creatively, intellectually, and emotionally cope with the current times and focus on the future.
Why More People Are Playing Games
During this pandemic period, puzzle sales have soared over 370%. This tells us that games and puzzles are not a pleasure anymore; they’re a necessity to help people get through tough times.
During quarantine, we have to not only keep ourselves sharp mentally and physically but also find healthy ways to interpret the world we’re facing. Playing games helps people break away from their work while still engaging in social activities with others. Games also help people experience escapism. Whether it’s a video game, board game or puzzle, we can take a break from the world and focus on the task in front of us. Playing games provide a unique personal experience and mental break.
The Health Benefits Of Playing Games
While playing a favorite board game or putting together a puzzle, we may not realize the positive psychological benefits we are experiencing. Health benefits of playing games include:
• Increased memory and cognitive skills: At any age, games help build cognitive skills like problem-solving and memory through the activation of the prefrontal cortex. It’s also been discovered that games help children’s mental growth and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
• Reduced stress and anxiety: Playing games helps people unwind from the outside world through laughter and distraction. Over time, this activity can help fight against stress and anxiety for a more positive experience.
• Enhanced creativity and self-confidence: Games are great tools for people looking to tap into a creative side in a nonintrusive way. By developing a strong sense of individuality, we can boost our self-confidence and feel more “noticed.”
With its many health and psychological benefits, the importance of playing games is even more apparent in our lives.
How Employers Can Help
According to the American Institute of Stress, the workplace has been identified as the No. 1 source of stress for American workers, costing U.S. businesses $300 billion annually. Beyond that, many employees are finding that the pandemic has been the most stressful time of their entire professional career. So, it’s more critical than ever for companies to help employees relieve stress and reduce anxiety.
Even before COVID-19, companies were keenly aware of the need to support their employees in stressful times. Airbnb provides weekly yoga classes for its employees. Apple allows 30 minutes a day for employees to meditate, and Nike offers access to relaxation rooms. And numerous companies provide ping pong tables and grant their employees permission to bring their dogs to work.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, over 164 million adults in the United States play video games, and 78% of players report that games help relieve their stress. So with the massive increase in U.S. employees now working from home, it’s time that companies adopt games as part of their employee stress relief support programs.
The Best Games For All Ages To Play
Employers can help workers ease stress and maximize their cognitive abilities by allowing and encouraging them to take breaks or unwind after work with a variety of games. Here are a few skills and that can be improved by playing the corresponding games:
• Language: Word scrambles such as Scrabble or Wheel of Fortune.
• Visual-spatial: Mazes or jigsaws puzzles.
• Problem-solving: Chess or sudoku.
• Memory: Trivia games like Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit.
• Concentration: Match games such as Candy Crush and endless jumpers such as Doodle Jump.
During these challenging times, games can do more than make us laugh with friends and family. Whether alone, quarantined with a loved one, or in a virtual meeting with colleagues, games may help reduce stress and anxiety by increasing our emotional, intellectual, and creative outlets.
Every mental or physical challenge provides us a way to learn more and better ourselves for the future. Games offer that outlet to not only create a more positive environment but also promote self-growth.
First Published for Forbes Human Resources Council by The Game Agency’s Head of Creative Strategy & Innovation Stephen Baer as a member of Forbes Councils Member