Board games are experiencing somewhat of a golden age at the moment. I’m not just talking about classics like Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo. If you go into your local Waterstones for example, you’ll find the type of board games that used to be consigned to the dusty shelves of specialist hobby stores – Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, and Pandemic are all now hugely popular. The mix of people playing board games is widening, and there’s a whole world of youtube channels, web pages and podcasts devoted to the hundreds of new board games released each year.
I feel that getting together with groups of friends, such as when playing a board game, is supportive of your mental health. BoardGameGeek.com has a depression, anxiety and gaming support group, where people share their stories and support each other, amongst discussing the board games they love. In this vein I thought I’d look into the benefits of board games from a mental health perspective.
Board Games keep your brain younger for longer
Playing games, especially as you get older is beneficial as an active brain is at lower risk of cognitive decline. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that playing board games was associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The old adage ‘use it or lose it’ seems to have some truth after all.
Board games help with children’s cognitive and social development
Useful social skills can be taught through board games, skills that can lead children to happier and less isolated lives. Games teach social skills such as following rules, taking turns and sharing with others. Board games support cognitive skills, from simple number and pattern recognition to the most complex calculations and estimations. In some games you’ll use a mixture of logic, mathematical skills and abstract thinking, whilst also planning out your next moves, and coming up with ways to counter your friends’ actions. With so many different types of board games, there are thousands of ways to give your brain a workout.
Board games help reduce isolation
Most board games are designed to be played with a group of people. Having a regular group of people to play board games with helps stave off loneliness, and builds positive relationships with others, all things that are associated with good mental health.
Isolation has been shown as a contributing factor in worsening mental health, and those with mental health issues tend to report increased loneliness. However, it can be difficult for those suffering with issues such as depression and anxiety to step out and make new friends. Board games solve a lot of these problems as they offer a structured way to meet others. Instead of needing to strike up a conversation from scratch, having a game as the focus of the activity allows friendships to build slowly in a less formal or pressured way. Board Game Cafés are springing up around the country and all you need to do is turn up, talk to the staff and you’ll soon find someone to have a game with. Even for those that struggle to leave the house there is an online board game simulator on ‘Steam’ where you can play hundreds of board games with others online.
Board games help family cohesion
There are now hundreds of board games out there aimed at families, or that are sufficiently well designed to be enjoyed by adults but simple enough for your 10 year old to get to grips with (and then beat you mercilessly).
A board game is an opportunity for the family to take part in something together. Board games offer the opportunity for more face-to-face interaction with others, which in itself is supportive of mental health. All too often in family situations, while everyone is physically present, the focus is either on the TV or individual mobile phones, tablets or laptops. While playing a board game, whether competing or collaborating you’re engaging with each other actively in person. Families who spend time together on enjoyable activities have a better emotional bond, and better communication between family members.
Board games help to reduce stress
A study from Realnetworks Inc showed that games help us to reduce stress, support mental balance and help with relaxation. I imagine this is because board games offer escapism, a chance to take leave your daily worries behind for a while and do something completely different. You can build civilisations, construct railways, control vast armies, hunt zombies or even try to take over the world. There’s no need to worry about the minutiae of life for a few hours, or perhaps the structure of a clear set of rules is a safe bulwark against the chaotic world outside.
Board games are a great way to connect with others, to take you away from the normal troubles of life for a few hours, and to give your brain a workout. Why not see if there’s one out there that will suit you?
Chris Mounsher is a BACP registered humanistic counsellor working in private practice in Brighton and Haywards Heath. He offers both long term and short term counselling and has particular experience working with anxiety, addiction, depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties.
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