The days of saber-toothed tiger threats are long gone, but we still carry the anxiety that served as a survival mechanism against those threats. Now, our predators come in the form of major life changes, stress from work and family, and the social media that infiltrates every aspect of our lives.
Anxiety attacks us suddenly. When it does, it can be overwhelming. In these times, it’s important to have coping mechanisms to lighten our load.
Not all coping mechanisms come in the form of medication or traditional therapies. You already have access to a few tools right in your pocket.
We’re talking about your phone. That’s right, the very device that allows you to compare yourself to your peers via Facebook and Instagram can also provide anxiety relief. Your phone’s app store is full of games to help with anxiety.
In this guide, we’re giving you a rundown of 10 of these games to start your self-care. Read on, and get ready to turn your phone from part of the problem to one piece of the solution.
What Is Anxiety?
Before we know how to fight anxiety, it’s helpful to know what we’re fighting against.
First, it’s important to know that anxiety is a natural response. It’s your body responding to stress. Everyone experiences anxiety to varying degrees, but when it gets out of control, we experience anxiety disorders.
Some of the most common anxiety disorders are as follows.
- Panic disorder: Recurring panic attacks are a common feature of this disorder.
- Social anxiety disorder: This disorder manifests as a severe aversion to social situations because of a fear of judgment from others.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD: PTSD comes in response to a traumatic event experienced earlier in life.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD: The irrational thoughts one experiences in OCD lead them to perform specific behaviors repeatedly and in an exact order.
These disorders can be debilitating. But as the common saber-toothed tiger reference makes clear, our modern stresses rarely come in the form of external threats to our survival.
Common Modern-Day Causes of Anxiety
These days, there are innumerable sources of anxiety that come with living in a modern society in the 21st century. These sources can occur externally, but they can just as easily come from within an individual.
Brain chemistry is one contributing factor to the amount of anxiety a person experiences in their lifetime. We still have a lot to learn about the human brain, but we know a little. For instance, we know that an abundance or lack of certain neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and serotonin can contribute to the symptoms of anxiety.
Environmental factors are among the greatest external causes of anxiety. This does not refer to negative situations exclusively. Sure, the loss of a job, family member, or friend can be triggers for anxiety, but so can getting married, the birth of a child, and getting a raise at work.
Controlled and illicit substances are other external causes of anxiety. Anxiety is a side effect of some medications, and drugs can contribute to anxiety both whether you’re using them or withdrawing from them.
How Games Can Help
Now that we know what anxiety is and some of the reasons we may be experiencing it, it’s time to get to the good stuff. How can we fight it, and how do video games factor into that fight?
Emily Collins and Anna L. Cox from the University College London Interaction Centre, or UCLIC, published a study in 2014 that measured the stress-reducing effects of playing video games. They used several scales to measure participants’ stress levels and ability to recover from their stress.
There’s a lot of technical language in Collins and Cox’s paper, but we’ll try to simplify their results in terms us laypeople understand. Basically, people who play video games exhibit three traits that display greater resilience in the face of stress than their non-video-game-playing counterparts.
- They don’t have as great a need to recover from stressful work environments, which implies they experience less stress, and therefore anxiety, in those environments.
- Their work life negatively interferes with their home life less than people who don’t play games. Put differently, their work life actually influences their home life in a positive way.
- They recover from stress more effectively.
Companies like Be Structured Technology Group can provide technology solutions that your life less stressful when your computer isn’t working. It seems video games might reduce that stress even outside the office.
These are powerful findings. If games can mitigate stress, which is one cause of anxiety, they can help relieve anxiety itself.
10 Best Mobile Games to Help with Anxiety
Mobile games take many different approaches to stress and anxiety relief. Some stimulate the brain in pleasant, repetitive ways. Others operate in a more purely soothing way.
We’ve selected a cross-section of games that help with anxiety so that you can find one that fits your symptoms of anxiety and methods of relaxation best.
Take a look for yourself.
Coloring has risen to prominence as a simple treatment for stress and anxiety. Colorfy brings the coloring experience to your smartphone screen. The app features an augmented reality function that allows you to look at your pictures as if they are part of the real world.
Like many of the games on our list, Prune is award-winning. This beautifully designed game won Time’s Game of the Year in 2015.
Prune is a simple game in which you grow and shape your own tree. There is relaxing music and sound design to enhance the unwinding experience.
3. Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector
In this game, you collect cats. It’s another pretty straightforward premise. It’s also adorable.
You collect the cats by putting treats and toys in your yard. Then, you wait for the cats to show up, and they become part of your collection. The repetitive play and cute graphics make will bring a subtle smile to your face.
4. Alto’s Adventure
This award-winning game in the endless runner genre follows Alto, a snowboarder, and his friends through an ongoing adventure. The game’s graphics display backgrounds that range from abandoned ruins to snow-covered hills.
Tian wants to know what’s causing the rain in this puzzle game. You use a medallion to turn Tian’s body into different objects with qualities like heaviness, lightness, and bounciness to solve the puzzles. It’s odd but addictive in its little variations.
6. Breath of Light
A lot of games on this list have a zen quality to them. Breath of Light may top them all.
In this game, you guide energy rocks around a mystic garden. After you’ve put them in place, you watch the energy settle into a new flow in the hopes of finding your zen. It’s about as simple and relaxing as a game can be.
Outfolded is another puzzle game in which you unfold various shapes. Knowing the game is endless can allow you to relax into it without the pressure to beat the game.
This is another entry in the puzzle game genre. Are you sensing the pattern? Just like riddles make you feel smarter, puzzles help you relax.
_PRISM is not endless like Outfolded. That makes it appealing because it can be contained, since there’s only about an hour of gameplay total. It also has a relaxing, meditative soundtrack for that entire hour.
9. Monument Valley
Monument Valley won an Apple Design Award in 2014. It offers an appropriately elegant experience, in which you guide princess Ida through monuments and unfold optical illusions to outsmart the Crow People.
What’s more relaxing than collaboration without conflict? Just about nothing, proposes this Australian-developed game.
The object of the game is simple. Just keep calm while you guide two ships.
Of course, there are obstacles the game will throw at you to disturb that calm, but as long as you keep your ships in sync, you’ll survive.
Play the Anxiety Away
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that video games in and of themselves do not constitute full treatment for clinical levels of anxiety. Still, we hope this guide has given you ideas for reducing the anxiety you may feel from the pressures of everyday life. You actually owe it to your loved ones to unwind, and the fact you can use games to do that is a huge bonus.
Once you’ve contemplated your options of games to help with anxiety, check out our other gaming guides and tips.