A Super Fun Way to Blow Off Steam After Work

Tough day at the job? Stress relief may be a digital game download away, says new study.

by Stephanie Stephens Health Writer

After a long day at the office, you don't have to hit happy hour to relieve stress and unwind. There are healthier ways to recuperate after work, like having fun playing a game—specifically, a digital game like the type you can download to your phone—says a new two-part British study published in JMIR Mental Health.

The research, conducted at University College London and the University of Bath, aimed to determine whether playing digital games could be more beneficial for post-work recovery than mindfulness practice apps, which focus on bringing awareness back to the present space in order to feel happier.

The study’s lead author Emily Collins, Ph.D, of the University of Bath School of Management defined “post-work recovery” as a specific kind of process that includes relaxation, psychological detachment (aka no longer thinking about work), a sense of mastery or knowing that you have skills outside of work, and a sense that you are able to control how you spend your spare time.

Most important: You need to be able to enjoy the game, she said.

The Role of 'Energetic Arousal'

In round one of this small study, researchers worked with 45 university students, ages 19 to 36. First, participants took a math test that would induce work strain and a need for recovery. Then they either played a "shape-fitting game" called Block! Hexa Puzzle or they used a mindfulness app, in this case, Headspace, for 10 minutes. A control group got a fidget-spinner, a ball-bearing toy that users spin on their fingers.

Researchers looked for what they called "energetic arousal," or how invigorated participants felt. The shape-fitting game users reported more of this, along with less fatigue, while fidget spinners reported less energetic arousal.

Part two of the study utilized 20 working professionals, ages 19 to 58 years. For five days in a row after clocking out of their jobs, the individuals in one group played the shape-fitting game, and the other group used the mindfulness app. The shape-fitting game users felt less stress and more energized at the end of the week than the mindfulness-app-using group.

The researchers concluded that digital game players got a bigger post-work perk-up than those who tapped into a mindfulness app after their 9-to-5. They also found that activities may impact differently depending on the demands of the day, and that having a specific time for playing digital games could be especially effective.

More Smart Ways to Stress Less

If you feel the need to decompress after work, you're not alone. A November 2018 survey from the global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry found that work stress is on the rise. Two-thirds of respondents say they're under more stress at work than five years ago. And that’s not all. Three-quarters of those surveyed said work stress negatively impacts their personal relationships. Others blame workplace anxiety on lack of sleep and the reason they quit a job altogether.

Self-care really can help you manage stress, say the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. They're a temporary fix, but not healthy long term.

  • Find support. Ask friends, family, your doctor, or religious counselor for help.

  • Connect socially. Don't go at this alone. Reach out and "do things" with others.

  • Take care of yourself. That means healthy eating, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, frequent breaks, and maintenance of a normal routine.

  • Stay active. Keep moving--help others, volunteer, or just go for a walk.

Stephanie Stephens
Meet Our Writer
Stephanie Stephens

Stephanie Stephens is a very experienced digital journalist, audio/video producer and host who covers health, healthcare and health policy, along with celebrities and their health, for a variety of publications, websites, networks, content agencies and other distinctive clients. Stephanie was accepted to THREAD AT YALE for summer 2018 to author and produce an investigative series. She is also active in the animal welfare community.