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As kids, we always played games. From Jacks to Tag, Marbles to Hide ní Seek, we knew how to have fun and lose ourselves in play. As adults, weíre often too busy to play games, but donít underestimate the stress-relieving benefits of a quick game to take our mind off the daily grind. A recent poll showed that 88% of game players derive stress relief from playing casual games and 74% cited mental exercise as an additional benefit. Being faced with a boring and repetitive job that takes little or no thought can cause your mind to wander and become irritated by the lack of things to do. When this happens some people tend to lose all concentration, while in a similar situation others may become tense and agitated. Clearly, an enjoyable way to escape from tedium can prove a valuable tool for stress relief.

Playtime Pursuits
Todayís demanding society places strain on both body and mind. Working five days a week and taking care of family and home can cause our stress levels to escalate quickly. It may sound silly, but playing a game can dramatically decrease the amount of stress and the tension that burdens you. Hereís some ideas:

  • Playing any physical sport uses up the stored energy and gives your mind time to relax and forget the problems of the day by diverting all that unspent energy that makes you restless and edgy and adds to feelings of stress that you may already have. For example, baseball with your children or your friends is the perfect way to wind down after a hard week at work; you get enjoyment with family and friends along with some exercise. Even jogging with a friend, throwing the Frisbee with your dog, and yes, good old-fashioned tag with the kids all can be a joyful release.
  • Indoor active games, such as racquetball, water polo, and ping-pong, are equally as good as outdoor games and being more strategic, target the pent up energy and frustration in your mind as well as body. Both physical and mental games can help to relieve the stress that accumulates throughout the day, so find a game that you enjoy playing and play it as often as you can.
  • Some of the more well-known stimulating board games give stress relief (watch that competitive edge!) with a group. There’s the traditional Chess and Checkers, and who among us hasn’t been immersed in Monopoly or Scrabble, trying to figure out a cunning move or unknown word without losing an imaginary fortune. And don’t forget good old card games, such as Blackjack or Poker - a stress relief diversion that has been known to not only relieve players of their stress, but also their wallets!
  • There are many books, magazines, and sections in newspapers containing all manner of puzzles and brainteasers, some easy and others as challenging as any wartime espionage cryptogram. Soduku, the popular Japanese logic-based number placement puzzle, has become our latest brain-stretching puzzle fad.
Digital Diversion
With computers came stress and also a way to relieve it. Science wonít be denied in escalating the technology of entertainment; the simple Pong video game of years past, with its white square bouncing from one side of the screen to the other, has been supplanted by 3D realistic virtual worlds, with their own laws, currency, businesses, and yes, even wars! There are exciting new developments in the gaming world that certainly offer diversion and more:

  • Sensor-driven games - virtual tennis and golf, dance pads that challenge your disco fever, and more give a stimulating physical element to videogames.
  • Online gaming – the caution here is that the game involvement can cause stress, rather than relieve it as players spend long nights battling collective foes, staging massive digital assaults, and mounting electronic armies for conceptual campaigns. However, online there’s also single player, simple games specifically tailored for diversion and recreation some of which actually include a "Zen Mode" to relax the player and put him in a meditative state of mind and place no demands for achieving a certain score or level, no time limit and no sense of competition. These casual games are further distinguished from traditional "hardcore" video games by the relaxed, stress-free mental state in which they often place the player.
  • New Interest in brain exercise is revolutionizing the video game industry, says Nintendo of America's Perrin Kaplan. "It's kind of already starting," she says. This is evidenced by Brain Age, the first of a planned series of brain games from Nintendo. It includes word and number puzzles, connect-the-dots exercises and other challenges and most of the activities are timed, so that when the player is finished, the game issues a "brain age" that is graphed to show progress over the weeks and months the brain-exercise regimen is completed. The goal is for the brain age to be at least equal to or below the player's actual age. The game taps into a growing body of medical research suggesting that brain teasers and problem-solving games can improve memory and brain function in older people, even those with dementia.
So we now can not only have stress relief with games, we can stress about our brain progress also. Perhaps itís best to stay with the simple Crossword Puzzle!
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