These seem like particularly anxious times (I had trouble concentrating on my work yesterday, did you?). But even when they are not, there is always plenty to worry about. Fortunately, according to some scientists, playing Tetris can help. They proved this in a kind of silly sounding study A better distraction: Exploring the benefits of flow during uncertain waiting periods., published in the Journal “Emotion,” where they made people anxious by telling them they were going to be rated on their attractiveness and then had them play Tetris while they were waiting to be assessed, if indeed they were ever assessed because the playing Tetris part was the actual assessment.
So why am I telling you about this? I don’t even like Tetris, myself, though I realize it has many fans. But what interested me about this story, which I heard on NPR, , was that the scientists picked Tetris because playing it at the right level puts you into a flow state, which Kate Sweeny, UCR researcher, defined as, “”The state of flow is one where you’re completely absorbed or engaged in some kind of activity. You lose your self-awareness, and time is just flying by.” And that’s what they were actually trying to study—whether being in a flow state would reduce anxiety. Their conclusion was that, yes, it does.
“The Tetris study is key because it experimentally manipulates flow and shows effects of that manipulation, which provides convincing evidence that flow actually causes well-being during waiting periods, not that it just happens to coincide with well-being.” —Kate Sweeny
And I remembered from Ram’s post Positive Psychology vs. Yoga Philosophy what a flow state is and how he concluded that yoga was the perfect way to get into that state:
“The breath work, concentration, precise alignment, the controlling power of how hard you’re pushing yourself—all of this puts an individual in a flow state. It was as though Patanjali designed the entire yoga philosophy to provide a flow experience.”
Of course, I have been saying for ever so long that yoga can help with negative emotions, including stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, etc., partly because the mindful way you practice provides a break or distraction from the difficult emotions you are experiencing in your everyday life. And distraction is exactly how the scientists identified the benefits of playing Tetris. Here’s a quote from the abstract of the study itself:
“A worrisome period of uncertainty frequently precedes important life events, and many of the coping strategies people employ during such waiting periods are ineffective. Distraction can be efficacious, but individuals awaiting uncertain news often fail to lose themselves in a sufficiently diverting activity. Across three studies—two observational and one experimental—we test whether flow-inducing activities provide a better distraction and improve the waiting experience.”
The thing is yoga offers so much more than just distraction, including improving physical skills (strength, flexibility, balance, and agility), stress management, brain health, cardiovascular and heart health, and pain management and other medical benefits, not to mention increased equanimity and contentment. So, yoga seems like a much more effective choice when you need distraction from anxiety and worry, especially because of its long-term benefits. However I do admit that getting into a flow state with Tetris is a bit more portable than yoga because while you can practice everywhere and anywhere, it’s not always possible to get into a flow state while you are, for example waiting in line to vote or at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or even on a plane while you are crammed in between two strangers. In those cases, Tetris might be a good option, so if you love Tetris, go for it!
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