Can Tetris Help Alleviate Anxiety?

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Can Tetris Help Alleviate Anxiety?

By Beth Leipholtz 11/08/18

Researchers explored whether Tetris could have positive effects on those battling anxiety.

Image: 
hands playing with Tetris toys to relieve anxiety.

Could an old-school video game help ease your anxiety? New research points to yes. 

According to NPR, Kate Sweeny, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, conducted research into whether the game Tetris can have positive effects for those struggling with anxiety. 

The premise of the game is to rotate and adjust moving tiles so they fit into a flat line at the bottom of the screen.

"Years of my life were lost disappearing into a game of Tetris on my Nintendo system," Sweeny told NPR.

The game, according to Sweeny, can help ease anxiety by allowing players to enter a state psychologists call “flow.”

"The state of flow is one where you're completely absorbed or engaged in some kind of activity," Sweeny told NPR. "You lose your self-awareness, and time is just flying by."

In conducting the study, Sweeny’s team focused on people who were waiting for “uncertain, potentially life-altering news” with the idea that playing Tetris could help their minds focus elsewhere for a period of time.

Specifically, they took a group of 300 college students and told them their peers would be rating how attractive they were. 

“I know, it's kind of cruel, but we found it's a really effective way to get people stressed out," Sweeny told NPR.

While the students were waiting for the results, they were instructed to play Tetris. There were three levels of difficulty assigned to different students: one slow, easy and boring; one fast, challenging and frustrating; and one classic version, meaning the game is adjusted based on the player’s ability. 

While players still reported varying degrees of worry, the group that played the classic version reported slightly increased levels of positive emotions and slightly decreased levels of negative ones. 

"It wasn't a huge difference, but we think it's noticeable," Sweeny told NPR. "And over time, it can add up."

Games aren’t the only way to reach a state of flow, according to Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who studies happiness.

"Think of the activity that grabs your attention and doesn't let it go," Dunn told NPR. "For me, it's mountain biking." 

While Dunn was not involved in the research, she says the results were not surprising.

"I can't say I found this study particularly surprising at all," she told NPR. "Mostly because, based on previous research, it's hard to find a situation where the experience of flow isn't a good thing."

Dunn also noted that the research indicates "that even in tough moments, we should push ourselves to do something challenging to get us out of the moment."

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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