Mental games to manage stress, discomfort or pain

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Mental games are a way of controlling stress, discomfort or pain. They turn your attention away from stressful feelings by keeping your mind busy with another activity. Your mind is kept busy with another activity so that it isn’t available to think about the pain, discomfort or stress.

Learning how to play mental games

Below are some examples of mental games. You may have already played these games to help pass time during a long road trip.

  • Alphabet games: Think of any category of interest, such as sports, cars, teams, animals, or countries. Try to name as many as you can that start with the letter A. When you’re done, move on to the letters B, C, and so on through to Z.
  • Try to remember all the words to your favourite song.
  • Count the number of tiles on the floor or dots on an area of the ceiling.
  • Count backwards from 100, by any interval you choose. For example, count backwards from 100 by fives, 100, 95, 90, 85, and so on, until you get to 0. Counting by other numbers such as 7 can be more difficult and so more distracting for some people.
  • Look for faces or animals in the clouds.
  • Choose an object in the room and create a riddle that would help another person identify the object. Share your riddle with the next person who walks in.
  • Play "This is Not": Find a familiar object such as a pencil, fork, pillow, set of keys – anything really. In this example we’ll play with a pencil.
    • ​The first person holds the pencil and says, "This is not a pencil. It is a microphone." and acts out using the pencil as a microphone. (It doesn’t need to be a microphone, it could be anything.)
    • The pencil is passed to the next person, who repeats "This is not a pencil or a microphone (do the action). It is a _________ ." and makes a new action. This continues until someone makes a mistake. That person is out of the game. The last person to make a mistake is the winner!
    • You can also play "This is Not" by yourself. To do this, choose an object, challenge yourself to come up with 10 different things it could be, and then remember them all without writing them down. As you get better, try to remember 15 and then 20 things and try to remember them all an hour later or the next day.
  • Secret notes: Have another person think of a secret message. They will then spell out that message by drawing the letters on your back with their finger, one at a time. You have to guess the letters and eventually spell out the message. After you guess the message, switch players. This game has the bonus of being really relaxing. An extra challenge could involve having the person scramble the letters so the message is harder to decode.

Can you think of any other mental games that you could play?

Last updated: September 3rd 2019