Our smartphones can often be a source of tremendous stress and anxiety — particularly if you’re someone who’s constantly checking email or social media (let’s not name names, shall we?). But, ironically, mobile devices can also be a useful tool to relax and unwind.
I’m not a big mobile game player: I have never crushed a candy, and only had a brief Pokemon Go phase (you know, for research). I so, however, have a few games in folder that I tap to pass the time (during takeoff and landing, while I’m in a doctor’s waiting room, etc). Most games really stress me out (save that princess before the clock runs down, Mario!!!), and honestly I really don’t need that kind of anxiety added to my day. The games below are all kind of chill and meditative, and can help me calm down as well as any meditation app. They’re all quite beautiful, designed with soothing graphics and tranquil music that provide a truly palliative experience. According to one study, the more you play (and, ideally, improve at the game), the more the gaming experience becomes associated with feelings of comfort, progress and achievement. Another study suggests that playing certain video games can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (which is handy information to have the next time someone barks at you to get off your phone).
Of course, let’s be real: These are free games that are designed to throw some gentle barriers at you eventually that will inspire in-app purchases. Expect to hit a wall somewhere and be tempted by extra lives and other helpers that cost money. If you can just let the journey be the destination, and not let winning eclipse the calming aspects of playing, you’re set (and your wallet will thank you).
Ready to take a deep breath, put yourself on DND, then download one of these games?
My personal favorite. There’s a reason why Dots game is a classic: It’s one of the simplest games to play. Ever. Draw lines vertically or horizontally — or make a square if you want extra points — to connect dots of the same color, and before you know it hours will have passed. It’s mindless fun and yet still manages to make you feel productive (albeit, let’s be honest, only slightly productive). And if you’re not impressed by the original, try one of the recent upgrades: Two Dots or Dots & Co.
Koi are associated with perseverance in Chinese, Japanese and Korean culture, and that’s exactly the goal of Zen Koi: to continually grow, breed and collect Japanese koi as they make their way to mythical dragon form and persevere in your task no matter what stands in your way. The peaceful, soothing visual and auditory features of this game lull you into a meditative state — which is a really positive way to say the game can get a little boring. But there’s something about Zen Koi that’s just challenging enough to keep you engaged.
No matter what you think of the concept of this popular but strange game, you have to admit that the ink-wash painting and hypnotic music of Prune is downright stunning. The object? Grow and shape a bonsai tree, helping it to reach its full height. As you advance, the levels become more complex but the pace remains relaxed and absorbing. And if your virtual tree dies you simply begin again, which is WAY less pressure than the real thing.
Breath of Light
This artful puzzle game will seriously make your life better. Okay, slight exaggeration, but the bright, serene and totally mesmerizing Breath of Light is like a breath of fresh air. Your goal is to guide beautifully flowing energy by moving rocks around a mystic garden while gorgeous, hypnotic music plays. It’s so relaxing that I just… what was I doing again? Oh right! Get this game!
If you’re someone who likes to unwind by exercising your brain, Zen Sand is a physics-based game in which players create angled bamboo stalks that guide slowly falling sand into vases. The graphics and music are lovely, and the atmosphere is relaxing and zen-like as the individual grains of sand flow gently into the urns. But don’t be caught dosing off — these puzzles manage to be relaxing and challenging all at the same time.
Happify isn’t a game, but rather a series of small games, quizzes, exercises to help you achieve a greater sense of happiness, cope better with stress, build self-confidence, and achieve more mindfulness. Sound like a tall order? Even the skeptical say they work (myself included) to help you focus on the positive and be a bit happier with just a bit of game play each day.
Ready to download some of these and play your way to a calmer state of mind? Let me know in the comments.