This is one of my favorite bricks that I’ve added to my healthy road. We have so many ways to protect our physical bodies from harm – coats to wear when we’re cold, lip balm for our chapped lips – but this handy little trick is a way to protect our minds from bad experiences, something that nothing else I know of can do.
There was a study published in March 2017 that showed playing the game Tetris (available as an app) reduced the potential PTSD from a traumatic experience. This can be helpful not only for bigger events like a car accident, fight with a friend or a scary movie, but also for smaller life occurances like a bad image that slips through your social media filter or even just watching the news some days.
Why does this work? The Washington Post explains: our brains can only process one image at a time, so the bad images (of seeing your car totaled or your arm hurt) are forced out by the images in the game that we must focus on in order to play the game: colorful friendly-looking shapes (made of brick, heh).
Can other games work too? The psychology professor who authored this study told the Washington Post that other random games, particularly non-visual games, would not work as well, if at all. Tetris has no language, requires you to stay focused or else lose the game, and has one specific goal for you to achieve. Other games also might have subliminal visual effects that Tetris wouldn’t. For example, if you’re angry with the person who hit your car and they were wearing a bright red shirt, viewing the bright red Angry Birds character might not be the best thing to get away from that imagery.
Tell me more: After I read about this study, I started using this method every time I’ve had a bad experience. And it has absolutely helped me. When you want an image out of your head, this really does work. Not instantaneously, but the few times I’ve needed to do this it only took a few minutes before I thought “What was I upset about again?” (and then remembered and had to go back to playing and remind myself not to try remembering next time – derp). In the study, patients were instructed to play the game for a minimum of 10 minutes, so I always follow that guideline as well.
The most recent experience I had with this was incredible: something that normally would have deeply upset me all day (and likely for a long time after when the memory resurfaced) was gone from my mind within a few minutes and hasn’t bothered me since. I can’t explain how grateful I am to have this life hack at my disposal. And it’s Tetris! I mean, everybody likes Tetris anyway, so now we just have an extra excuse to play it – score!
Is the sound important? Neither article mentions the sounds of the game, but I try to play with the sound on whenever I can just in case it might increase the effectiveness. Sounds are mentioned in the original hypothesis for the study as being a part of triggering PTSD symptoms, so I do think the sound of the game is important. If you can’t play with the sound on, you still get the visual benefit however, which is noted in the study as being the most important part.
Can it work after the fact? The people in the study were given the game within 6 hours of the traumatic experience (in their case, a car accident). However, it’s certainly worth a shot to try any time. If I was upset about a memory of something that happened years ago or awakened by a bad dream, I would definitely try this.
How to start playing Tetris? If you don’t already have the game, it’s available for free in the Google Play store and the Apple store, or can be played (also for free) on their website at Tetris.com. You can also find it available for many gaming devices and consoles. I like to keep the app on my phone so that it’s with me wherever I go.
Is there anything else that can help? A warm cup of herbal tea can be soothing – chamomile is the most well-known sleepy-time tea. Avoid caffeinated teas or caffeine in general, which will stimulate your body to release more of the stress hormone, cortisol, according to a 2008 study.
Please bookmark this page and come back to leave a comment about how this works out for you!