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August 01, 2019

Digital games may help ease stress better than mindfulness apps, new study says

If you're trying to tap into your ultimate bliss after work, it might be easier to attain that calm by reaching for digital games as opposed to a mindfulness app, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Bath in England examined participants in a two-part study that was published in HMIR Mental HealthIn the study, they looked at three ways participants could unwind from a stressful day: a mindfulness app (Headspace), a digital game (Block! Hexa Puzzle), or a fidget spinner, which was used as a non-media control.

Researchers found that participants felt more energized and relaxed after playing the digital games in comparison to using the mindfulness app and fidget spinner – both of which users actually reported feeling their energy decline with use. 

In both studies, participants measured their job strain, energy, enjoyment, and recovery after the intervention through surveys. 

In the first part of the study, researchers gave 45 students, aged 19 to 36, math tests to produce "work strain." After the participants produced 15 minutes of work, they would then use their app, game, or fidget spinner for 10 minutes.

Researchers found that participants felt more energized when using the digital game, while users of the mindfulness app and fidget spinner reported feeling decreased energy levels.

In the second study, researchers observed 20 working individuals, aged 19 to 58, after coming home from their jobs during a five-day period. Researchers found that people's daily recovery increased over the course of the study among those who played digital games. Those who used the mindfullness app and the fidget spinner experienced a decreased rate of recovery from the stresses of their days.

Researchers note that the digital game's success in recovery and increase in energy levels may come from its ability to teach a new skill, while also being distracting and allowing the user to feel more in control. 

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