While too much smartphone use can be harmful and possibly cause anxiety, some apps and games may do the opposite and ease it.

Many of us spend hours on our smartphones each day. Our phones are where we keep track of our busy day-to-day lives.

There are apps that help us stay productive, ones that keep our schedules organized, and even those that help us decide on what to have for dinner.

But can they also be stress relievers?

When used in moderation, your smartphone can help you participate in activities such as gaming that may help ease tension.

Smartphone games can be used to refocus and ease tension during or after a stressful experience.

A 2018 review suggests that excessive use of mobile phones can affect mental health, including causing stress. But that’s not always the case.

In fact, a 2021 study involving nearly 80 undergraduate students found that playing certain video games for a short amount of time may be used to reduce stress and improve mood. But the study notes that these results may have not been accurate due to factors such as participant expectations.

A 2016 study found that whether or not playing video games, including those on a mobile phone, could cause stress may be determined more by the type of game being played.

In the study, researchers examined nearly 150 psychology students for the effects of smartphone gaming on their mental health. They used self-reported scales before and after playing to determine emotion ratings and record the following perceived factors:

  • challenge
  • threat
  • demand
  • video game skills
  • ability to cope with task demands
  • lack of stress management

Cardiovascular stress responses such as heart rate and blood pressure were also monitored. Higher blood pressure showed increased cardiovascular stress response, indicating higher stress levels. Researchers found that fighting games caused a stress response while puzzle content did not.

Different content and other factors can lead to differing stress outcomes.Other differences contributing to differing results included the play time and how much the participant practiced. The reason for playing and preferred genres could also affect the results.

This study was limited and more research is needed to determine whether playing cell phone games can help ease stress.

Even when playing calming games, try to be mindful of how much time you spend on them. Too much gaming can cause stress no matter what you’re playing.

The following games may help ease stress and improve your overallmental health.

Personal Zen

This game app was developed by neuroscientists to help exercise the brain and improve wellness and brain health.

The Association for Psychological Science found that playing this game for 25 minutes helped to reduce stress and anxiety. This game teaches you to eliminate negative thoughts and focus on positivity instead.

More research is needed to determine if a shorter playing time is beneficial.

Stress management apps

There are several free apps that may be helpful for managing stress such as those that focus on:

  • mindfulness meditation
  • deep breathing
  • visualization and imagery
  • health and fitness
  • music

Puzzle games

Puzzle games have been shown to lead to a lower cardiovascular stress response than fighting games, even at high intensity levels.

These types of games require organization skills and challenges that help you unwind. There are several puzzle game apps that may be helpful, including crosswords, card games, and tile-matching games.

Jigsaw puzzles

Like other types of puzzle games, a jigsaw puzzle may help relieve stress. It requires you to sort the pieces, move them around the board, and fit them together.

These actions can help you challenge negative thinking and relax your mind. Once you start forming the recognizable object, it gives you a feeling of satisfaction and determination.

Smartphones can be good for mental health when used positively and in moderation. Mindless scrolling through social media or playing violent games could increase stress.

Avoiding those issues and finding positive ways to use your smartphone can make it a relaxing way to destress.

Smartphone gaming can be addictive, so try to limit your time. Research from 2019 shows that there isn’t a set timeframe that works best, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your:

  • coping abilities
  • self-esteem
  • social life
  • work performance
  • healthy eating habits
  • sleep schedule

You also might be using it too much if you start to prefer solitude so that you can be left alone with your smartphone.

If it causes stress or begins to affect your daily life, consider cutting back on how much time you spend on it.

Smartphones can relieve stress if you choose puzzle-type games and remain mindful of your time.

Remember that too much time playing games can be harmful, no matter what type of game you’re playing. So, try to limit your time on stress-inducing apps, and be aware of anything that affects your overall well-being.

A word of caution

Games may be a good stress reliever in the short term, but they aren’t an effective treatment for chronic or long-term mental health concerns.

If stress or anxiety is affecting your daily life, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They will be able to determine if any underlying issues may be causing your symptoms and recommend treatment if necessary.

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