Smartphone Games Vs. Stress: A Better Decompress Than Mindfulness?:
So we’ve talked about Stress before, and it’s a killer. Worse than sitting.
And so part of the normal hygiene you’d go through for your life is to find a way to clear that out. A popular choice is Cardiovascular Exercise.
But one of the best approaches a person can take is… more than one approach.
Attack a problem from several angles. You aren’t a one-dimensional person, so why act that way?
And for Stress, the reduction procedure most-associated with side-benefits is Meditation. Except there’s a problem…
What’s In Your Head?:
There is no doubt about it, Meditation is fantastic.
It can turn on, or change the expression of thousands of genes in your body, even if you are a recent-novice.
-And more if you’re an expert or Shaolin Monk.
But the short answer for the recent study shows that specifically Mindfulness-type Meditation is difficult for a lot of people,
It may not produce results quick enough, and in many cases, simple smartphone games help even more, just in a different way.
Read on to find out more…
The Problem With Meditation, Difficulty:
If you had to rank Meditation-types in order of difficulty,
Specific-Visualization of a predetermined thing not of your own creation would probably be the hardest.
By-contrast, Mind-Wandering/Creative Meditation would probably be the easiest.
And only slightly less difficult than specific-visualization is Mindfulness.
To try to focus on the present-moment exclusively and tune out all mind-chatter & distraction is an intense and very tough thing to do.
Our minds were largely not built to do this, even though there are proven immense benefits to it, like a short-circuiting of the mind’s “Default Mode Network”,
And definitely-increased Happiness of even its reasonably-skilled practitioners.
But anyone who’s drifted-off in History class, looked out the window drooling, and imagined themselves as Spaceman Spiff knows keeping the mind from being distracted is not easy.
And That’s Where The Study Comes In:
So then how can an average person de-stress faster & more-effectively becomes the question.
Well, the study authors at UCL thought the same thing.
They even gave subjects a guided-meditation app to help them out during the practice.
Now this might not be the same thing as going to a meditation-temple and being led through a specific set of procedures in a structured-class by an expert,
That is a fair critique.
And you also have to be someone who really wants to practice Mindfulness and motivated toward its rewards.
It’s harder than not thinking of the pink elephant, when I say, “Hey you! Don’t think of a pink elephant!”
So to test what worked best under most normal circumstances, the researchers did two things:
1) They helped out one group of subjects by giving them the guided-meditation app from the list a while back called Headspace.
2) Then to test the opposite idea, UCL’s team gave other subjects a few different smartphone games.
The Study Results, Do Smartphone Games Beat Meditation For Stress?:
And over the course of 5 days after either a 15 minute math test, or a full day of work, with 45 and 20 university subjects respectively,
The researchers found that after the stress of the test or their jobs,
Subjects who took the math test and then played block-fitting smartphone-games reported feeling more energized and less tired.
Those in the other 2 groups of a) Control, playing with a fidget-spinner and b) Mindfulness meditators on Headspace, were less so and reported their energy tapering-off quicker.
It even appeared that the Headspace application became Less Effective with time.
Because more-strangely, the people playing the smartphone game reported greater relaxation & stress-reduction scores by the end of the week than people who continued to use the Mindfulness-Meditation app.
-Which is striking, because not to say that Mindfulness Meditation is hogwash, but the existing studies say that the longer you practice Meditation,
The better you get at it, and the easier and quicker results come with that practiced-skill.
So Is Mindfulness Meditation Just Ancient Snake Oil?:
So what’s happening here? Is this the end of Mindfulness?
It’s more-likely an instance of right-problem, right-situation, right-actor, right toolset.
And it’s looking more like you have to be the right type of motivated person to actually get the most & continuing results with Mindfulness.
It’s probably something that doesn’t work for everyone,
And may be Specifically-predicated on the Choice & Dedication to do it.
Not just something that everyone picks up casually.
Also, let’s be honest about smartphone games.
They are Dopamine Factories of electronic-addiction.
One of the easiest-results you can get is to complete a task in a system that’s been gamified.
Hey! You just completed Level 26! Good Job!
-BOOM! Dopamine! Reward! Achievement!
Dopamine & Gamification, And How Can You Measure Meditation?:
How do you measure that in Mindfulness Meditation?
The metrics become WAY less immediately-obvious in that regard.
So let’s blow out the study even more.
Stress-Relief is great.
An app that lets you quickly unwind with some of the components of meaningful-work,
3) Reward Commensurate With Effort
4) Working Just At & Maybe a tiny bit past your abilities
-All without actually BEING work, is going to be a hit.
But that’s Dopamine. (or “Digital Drugs”)
The game is releasing the go-go Reward-system hormone.
Mindfulness is not the same thing.
Each Practice Has Different Deliverables:
Regardless of the difficulty of the Meditation discipline and the ease of a Tetris-style game,
Unless you are an unbelievably-thoughtful person with universes bubbling up through your mind as the “busywork” part of your brain gets distracted,
A simple game is unlikely to deliver you the kinds of things Meditation can:
4) A Window Into Your Subconscious & Your Psyche
5) Greater Connectedness
Now it’s fair-play to bring some critique to 3) & 4), because in at-least a few studies, subjects practicing Meditation didn’t get the “Mental Vacation” they wanted,
They just ended up focusing-on, or even Discovering unpleasant personal thoughts.
Revelation is great, don’t get me wrong.
But you have to want it.
And anyone could sympathize with a person getting the exact-opposite of what the whole procedure was supposed to deliver and hating it because they got MORE stressed-out instead of Less.
We all need tools to shift gears that Work in the way intended.
You can go for the Insight AFTER you de-stress first, and you’re somewhere where you can take meaningful notes.
So What Can I Do To Improve Meditation? Scheduling, Physiology, Locations:
So then, the best thing I know is to plan to do it for a set amount of time. Did you do your 10 minutes? -BOOM: Achievement!
Do it to fill a certain Time-Slot in your day. That’s a type of achievement, too. Even if it’s just a Scheduling one.
If you’re looking to Relax yourself, put your fingertips to your cheek or tape the sensor of an outdoor-thermometer to your left index finger.
If your fingertips feel warm to your cheek, or they measure above 90 degrees F with the thermometer, then you have successfully relaxed yourself.
One other trick that the Visualizers do also is to go to an imaginary space in your mind that you think is healthy, peaceful, energizing, and cool.
It could be anywhere at all, -even fictional; just let your imagination guide you to one it thinks is good and use that as the “Cool Place” you go to in your mind.
If you can successfully “visit” that place and describe every single thing you see to yourself in your mind, no talking needed, then you’re getting somewhere.
Constructive Affirmations, Standard Practices, Lower The Bar:
You could even add something positive and restorative to say to yourself in your mind when you are there.
This would be borrowing from the guided meditation guys.
Any set of helpful, healing, & optimistic sayings or affirmations, whether they’re your own or other people’s, they can still work.
Go through a standard list to complete. When you’re done with that, it’s an achievement, too.
Also, read the Industry-Standard works on the space, and make-sure you’re well-informed on the procedure; that you then tailor to yourself.
The standard in Mindfulness for years has been, “The Power Of Now”, by Eckhart Tolle.
Another thing you can do is to not put yourself under Research Study conditions, and Lower The Freaking Bar.
Just start with VERY small baby-steps and build gradually on small-successes.
Believe me, even 5 minutes of full-focus concentration can feel like 50 if you’re manic & stressed.
So go easy on yourself.
When in-doubt, don’t try Mindfulness, just do the easiest Type of meditation instead,
Which is the Creative/Mind-Wandering style, and maybe throw in the visualization from above as a routine.
Horses For Courses:
But remember, the benefits of Both de-stressing and meditation are generally huge.
If newbies can change the expression of so many genes, and experts can change more,
You know it’s doing something good and that’s why people have pursued it for thousands of years.
Also, remember one of The Big Keys to meditation,
That a recent study also found eventually Forces you to relax?
So don’t write-off the benefits of meditation so quickly, even for de-stressing.
Hell, deep-breathing even works for people having anxiety attacks, so there has to be something actually effective about one of meditation’s core-procedures.
But either way, at-least you know that you can choose.
There’s no reason to be snobby about games.
If a little digital block game on your phone helps you de-stress in some circumstances better than your current meditation skills, that’s ok; just use the right tool for the job when you need it!
Photo Credits: “Woman shooting ocean sunset”, by Ben White
• Source: UCL
• Source Study: JMIR MentalHealth – Digital Games and Mindfulness Apps: Comparison of Effects on Post Work Recovery