10 Mental Health Benefits of Playing Board Games

At some point during the process of growing up to adulthood, we lose the essence of play. We succumb to a hectic, possibly stressful, life filled with family, social, and work commitments. However, as adults, most of us do not realize the overarching mental health benefits of boards games as an outlet.

Current research and studies show that “play” or “having fun” is a life necessity for our mental and physical well being. One of the biggest misconceptions is that board games are “kids stuff,” and that is far from the truth! In fact, many adults are big fans of board games and use them as a source of connection and stress relief. In fact, 34% of adults in a recent study found board games very enjoyable.

So what are the mental health benefits for adults to play board games? The reasons below will clue you in to the facts:

  • Helps with Connecting to Loved Ones

The main foundation of board games is to enjoy them with others. A well crafted board game is possibly the star of any reunion, family gathering, or game night with friends. Right now our family favorite at the Therapy Pub is the many iterations of the Settlers of Catan. Board games can provide a healthy environment for cooperation and competition. Lots of connections, new friends, and possible romantic relationships have started with a board game.

  • Excellent Exercise for the Brain

Many board games are considered a true test of intelligence as well as critical and cognitive thinking. Take chess for instance, developed over 1500 years ago, it is a game that emphasizes quick, tactical maneuvers. Playing board games that use critical thinking skills are excellent mental exercises to stimulate brain health. According to many studies assessing brain health and its relationship with games, stimulating brain cells for memory and thinking helps in preserving mental and cognitive health and even reduces the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Reduces Stress

            Today, people’s screen time has increased tenfold with spending majority of their business and personal time using computers and smart phones. This is a lot of blue light exposure caused by       LED screens and it adds to daily stress. Playing board games allows us to break away from the     screens and unplug from the larger world to enjoy the moment with others.

  • Teach and Strengthen Various Skills

As mentioned earlier playing board games is a great way to preserve cognitive function and increase mental health. In addition to that, some board games also employ other skills such as mathematics, risk assessment, strategic thinking, social skills, and more. These skills are beneficial outside of game play in everyday life.

  • They Do Not Need Electricity

While some more modern board games can have an electronic element, like sound effects, app based game mechanics, or visual effects, the vast majority of board games do not need electricity. This makes board games a perfect “fail-proof” event that people of all ages can participate in without worrying about a power outage. Alternatively, board games are quite popular while camping outdoors. Some of my fondest memories are play Yahtzee with my family out in the woods.

  • Creates Unforgettable Memories

Laughter is a powerful and popular side effect of play board games no matter how competitive. Our brains are hardwired to hang on to memories and reward us with various “happy” hormones. When we are happy and laughing our brain produce serotonin and dopamine, which helps in fighting depression and improves overall mood for a few days.

  • Great way to Promote Interpersonal Effectiveness

In some mindsets board games are seen as a competition, while they can promote a healthy competitive spirit there are several cooperative board games such as Pandemic. These games are an excellent way to bond with others regardless of how different the players are in real life. You are united under a shared purpose and a set of rules.

Personally, as a relationship therapist, I use board games to point out communication issues and to demonstrate problem solving. Also useful in workplace counseling to encourage employees to understand each other and to work through conflicts. This improves efficiency of projects and creating a healthier work environment.

  • Gives a Sense of Control and Accomplishment

One of the things that adults learn as they age is life is full of ups and downs, which is quite different from worlds created within the boundaries of board games where everything is controlled under the rules of the game. For example, in Settlers of Catan you get to decide where you place your settlements to produce resources. This can give a sense of control and security, especially after completing a game.

  • Enhances Creativity and Self-confidence

Playing board games is a perfect opportunity to connect and open up; it also helps to display a creative side of personality in non-intrusive ways, which can be beneficial for quiet individuals. Board games are an amazing tool for shy children and timid adults. Playing helps them to develop stronger senses of individuality and creativity. This leads to greater self-esteem and a feeling of being included and seen.

  • Makes Socializing Easier

While some possess an innate talent for embracing every social situation, others find it difficult to socialize with people–even if they have known the person for several years. But, when you are playing a board game, it provides a social world in itself.

Any high-quality board game can remove the bad stress from a social situation, while allowing the good stress of friendly competition to remain. Board games do this by offering social settings with people of your choice, and by implementing a structured set of rules and protocol for the social interaction that takes away the burden of improvisation that is present in other such situations. Interacting with other people as you are playing a structured game can help you develop and refine your social skills without resistance.

Final Thoughts on Benefits of Board Games

Living in the aftermath of the Pandemic, which caused isolation world wide ,one constant in our family was game night. Now board games are helping people work through their agoraphobia and dust the rust of their social skills. Studies have shown socializing with other people and experiencing human connection is the most effective way to lead to a happy and fulfilling life.

One of the best things about playing board games is that there are no restrictions or pressure behind this activity. Board games can be played at any time and really anywhere you happen to be. With endless possibilities of the variety of board games available, you always have a chance to play something that interests you and connect with like-minded people.

Patsy Evans
Author: Patsy Evans