Digital games relieve stress more than mindfulness app, study says

Digital games, typical of those used on smartphones, may relieve stress after a day's work more effectively than mindfulness apps, according to a new study published in the journal JMIR Mental Health.

The first part of the study was a lab experiment in which 45 students between 19 and 36 years old were given a series of math questions to induce a sense of work strain and then spent ten minutes either on the digital game, fidget spinner, or a mindfulness app. In a survey before and after using the game, app or toy, they rated on a four-point scale how tired and energetic they felt.

In the second part of the study, a different group of 20 participants were asked either to play the shape-fitting game or use a mindfulness app after arriving home from work for five days in a row. The game and app were installed on participants' phones. After completing the activities, the participants were asked to fill in an online survey.

While no differences were found between the two groups in terms of how energized participants felt, the shape-fitting game appeared to offer increasing benefits throughout the week in terms of "recovery experience,” to what degree participants felt relaxed, detached, in control, and able to improve their skills. Additionally, participants who followed a beginners' course on the mindfulness app scored progressively less well on this measure throughout the five days.

The researchers noted that digital games appear to fulfil four criteria necessary for post-work recovery. They tend to be relaxing, they provide opportunities for mastering a new skill, they are highly immersive and distracting, and they allow people to feel in control.

The authors also noted that the level of enjoyment of the digital game was correlated with the amount of benefit it offered in terms of post-work recovery.