Neuroscientists from The City University of New York have developed an app based game which they believe will immediately reduce levels of stress and anxiety when played.
The game which is called Personal Zen (iOS only) involves tracing a trail of grass between two characters, which quickly disappears. One character has a neutral face and the other has an angry face, and the trail of grass always leaves the neutral face. Having played the game several times I was totally oblivious to these details.
The researchers asked people with high levels of anxiety to play this game for 25 minutes and then present a video recorded speech (an anxiety provoking situation for the best of us). Compared to people who played a placebo game, people playing Personal Zen thought that giving the speech was less stressful, and they displayed fewer anxious behaviours during the speech.
The game is based upon a cognitive principle known as attention-bias modification training. Before the speech a typical anxious person would usually be paying attention to numerous negative thoughts whizzing around their head about the speech, affecting their ability to cope with this stress, making them progressively even more anxious. The aim of playing Personal Zen is to take your attention away from these negative thoughts and make space for positive ones, helping you to feel less anxious and putting you in a position to cope with a stressful situation more effectively.
Having played the game myself several times I can see how these principles come to action when playing Personal Zen. The game is still in its beta mode and is incredibly simple, but provides me with a sense of relaxation from anxiety that I’ve never gained from angry birds or super Mario, and I’m pleasantly surprised. I think this is a simple and effective coping strategy that any person with anxiety should have in their tool box. When played for at least 10 minutes it provides a great distraction from the vicious cycle of thoughts, behaviours, and physical responses which would usually ensue from an anxiety provoking situation, and is an easy strategy to use whenever you feel these symptoms.
Faye Prior (Researcher)