Rely on a mindfulness app to help you wind down? This study could make you think again

From bothersome blue light, to the constant ping of WhatsApp messages and email alerts, we’re constantly being told that reaching for your smartphone is the last thing we need to do to promote our health and wellbeing.

But now the findings of new research seem to turn this idea on its head, revealing that a short spell of time playing a retro-style game on our phones could actually re-energise us more than a similar session of mindfulness.

Yep for those who’ve been chopping their carrots slowly and drinking their tea meditatively ever since mindfulness became a wellness buzzword, this may come as a blow, but let’s see what the study found out.

Published in the JMIR Mental Health, the study recruited 41 people who were asked to play a Testris-style wall building game called Block! Hexa Puzzle on their smartphones after work for 10 minutes or to spend 10 minutes on a mindfulness app. The latter involved focusing on their breathing and the feeling of their body.

The research revealed that participants felt more recovered — feeling detached/relaxed from work — after playing the game, over the mindfulness app, and that this feeling of recovery actually increased over five days for the computer game group. In contrast, those who practised mindfulness saw their recovery levels —based on answers to questions such as whether the activity felt like a ‘break’ from work or felt like ‘leisure’ — fall away over the same period.

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One of the study participants was quoted by researchers as saying, “Even if you had a lot racing through your mind after a busy day at work, it was a good way to actually switch off from that, and once you’d finished the game, you felt as if you were actually relaxed and actually out of that work zone.”

Professor Anna Cox, a co-author of the study from University College London, said, “It may be just differently shaped bricks dropping down, which someone is trying to fit into a space, but a game like Tetris is simple to play and does not take much time.

“We need to stop making people feel bad about playing games on their smartphones because they can really help people detach from work and relax.”

Lead author Dr Emily Collins, of the University of Bath, who started the research while at UCL, added, “To protect our long-term health and wellbeing, we need to be able to unwind and recuperate after work. Our study suggests playing digital games can be an effective way to do this.”

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