hands moving chess pieces on board

When you're stressed, the idea of focusing on something other than the cause of your stress may seem difficult. At the same time, one of the best ways to decrease your anxiety is to shift your attention to a different task and tune out distractions. Focusing your attention can eliminate the jumbled stream of thoughts in your mind that may be worsening your stress.

Many types of games and hobbies can be effective de-stressors because they help you redirect your focus, while also stimulating your mind. Stress relief can also come from laughter, as well as from creative problem solving and aerobic exercise. Here are some ideas for games and activities in each of these areas that can help you achieve mental calm:

Games to Make You Laugh
Laughter soothes tension by causing physical changes in your body that cool down your stress response, stimulate circulation, and aid muscle relaxation. Focusing on games that make you laugh isn't just for fun--it's for your mental health.

There's no limit to the number of games and activities that can bring out your sense of humor, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Games involving a combination of physical skill and mental concentration, like hula hoop or charades
  • Musical games and activities that involve singing and dancing, such as antakshari or musical chair, as well as music video games such as Dancing Bug or Dancing with stars.
  • Team games such as ludo.
  • Games you can play with children, such as Snakes and ladder or carrom board.

Games for Creative Problem Solving
Developing your problem-solving skills can help make life more manageable. Games that require concentration and strategic thinking can activate your problem-solving capabilities and move your mind off of your troubles. These include:

  • Strategy games such as chess, checkers, bridge, or Monopol
  • Word games such as Scrabble
  • Puzzle games such as crosswords or Sudoku

Games that Involve Physical Activity
Nearly any form of exercise can serve as a stress reliever. This is because physical activity boosts the production of "feel-good" chemicals in your brain, called endorphins, to give you an increased sense of well-being. At the same time, exercise helps refocus your mind on your body's movements.

If you choose a sport or workout that you enjoy, you'll be more likely to turn to it when you need help moderating your stress levels. Having a variety of physical activities to choose from provides you not only with a toolkit for stress management but also helps you avoid boredom.

Here are a few possibilities to include in your bag of stress-relieving tricks:

  • Team sports. Whether you prefer volleyball, basketball, cricket, hockey, tennis, or cycling, there's a team sport for you that can help you shift your focus off of daily stressors. Check with your local gym or health club for other organized options.
  • Group workouts. There are many opportunities to make exercise more fun, including group workouts. Working out with others provides a social outlet which can further reduce your stress levels. Check out gym classes, running or biking groups, yoga clubs, and team workouts.
  • Aerobic exercise. You don't need a crowd to benefit from the focusing power of exercise. Just choose an activity you enjoy! Get moving with activities such as jogging, swimming, walking, biking, and using fitness machines at the gym such as a treadmill or crosstrainer.

Whatever game or activity you choose, remember that taking time out to play isn't just a diversion. It's a way to keep your stress in check to improve your health, relationships, and quality of life.