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When you’re living with chronic illness, you often find yourself in need of distraction. You want to take your mind off the pain, fatigue, sadness, worries and boredom. And that’s when mind games can come in handy.
Now you’re probably wondering: why on earth would I need ‘mind games’ when I can simply grab my phone and browse social media, read blogs and watch funny videos to distract myself?
Of course, there’s wifi everywhere nowadays. But online entertainment as a way to cope with physical symptoms and emotional difficulties does have some downsides.
If you’re struggling with mental health, the things you’re reading and watching could trigger anxiety, FOMO or body image problems. And even today there are still times when turning to screens isn’t the best option. For example, the blue light coming from electronic devices inhibits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Not ideal when you find yourself staring at the ceiling and you’re hoping watching series will help you drift off.
Distracting yourself online can also be difficult when you’re in extreme pain and/or sensitive to light and sound. Anyone suffering from migraine, ME/CFS or sensory overload knows what it’s like to lie in a dark room with no other distractions than your own thoughts. And what about those times when you’re undergoing scary medical tests and treatments and you could really use a mental escape?
In these cases, it’s just you and your mind.
In theory, meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises would work great during these times. But, if you have enough focus and mental energy to try these practices in the first place, you probably can’t keep yourself entertained like that for hours on end.
What’s more, it turns out that most people would rather shock themselves – literally! – than being left alone with their thoughts. So when it’s just you and your mind, what can you do to pass the time without going crazy?
Try these 8 mind games when you’re in need of distraction!
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1. Visualize your perfect day
If you had all the time, money and energy in the world, what would your perfect day look like? Where would you go and who would you spend time with? Which activities would you do and most of all, how do you want it all to feel?
In this mind game, the sky is the limit. Let your imagination run wild: visualize how you wake up, have breakfast and practice yoga on the beach, before spending the morning walking the streets of Florence, admiring all the Renaissance beauty the city has to offer. Next, you could imagine having lunch with your best friends and going on a shopping spree in New York. Finally, vividly picture the warmth on your skin and the sound of the fire crackling as you have dinner with your loved ones around a camp fire in the woods.
Your visualization doesn’t have to be realistic, it can be whatever makes you happy and fulfilled. If you love a slow and simple day, that’s fine too! Just try to engage all your senses for the best results: which colors, sounds, textures and sensations do you notice?
Fantasizing about your ideal day can be calming and uplifting when you really need a positive distraction, like in times of distress. What’s more, this mind game can give you the motivation to slowly work towards your dreams and goals despite your struggles.
2. Make top 10 lists
It’s a beloved game around New Year’s Eve: what were the best movies, books and songs of the year? If you’re stuck in bed or killing time in a waiting room, you can play your own version of this.
Mentally make “Best Of” lists. In your opinion, what are the top 10 novels you’ve read? Who are your favorite actors of all time? What are the 10 most memorable music videos of the decade? If you could recommend 3 podcasts, which ones would you choose? Which 5 documentaries have made the most impact on your life? If you could have a fantasy dinner party, which 4 people would you invite to the table?
If you want to take this mind game to the next level, get yourself a copy of My Listography – My Amazing Life in Lists.
3. Come up with interesting questions
Most of us were taught in school to search for answers. But have you ever learned to ask the right questions?
Leonardo Da Vinci filled his journals with all kinds of questions that filled his mind. Why do some clouds race by while others slowly drift along? How is it possible you can find shells on certain mountains? Thanks to this natural curiosity and inquisitive mind, Da Vinci made major contributions to the fields of anatomy, botany, physics, engineering and of course, art.
That’s why Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, suggests you make a (mental) list of 100 questions that are meaningful to you. You don’t have to ask yourself scientific questions – it can be any wondering that sparks your interest. From reflecting about yourself and observations from daily life to philosophical problems, just keep the questions flowing. Do you notice a common theme in your wonderings?
The key is that you don’t feel like you have to come up with answers or solutions. The point of this mind game is to let your mind wonder and associate freely. This mind game actually works quite well when you have trouble focusing – you might even make more interesting mental connections that way!
If you would like to take this mind game one step further, you could take a leaf from James Altucher’s book and make yourself come up with 10 wild ideas. What are 10 ways you could make 100K in one year/save the planet/meet your favourite celebrity in real life? This will surely take your mind off your own worries for a while.
4. Take a mental walk
If you close your eyes, can you vividly picture your favorite places? If so, your body may not be able to escape your current situation, but your mind can go for a walk.
Imagine you’re opening your front door and stepping outside. Picture exactly how you’d have to walk or drive to a familiar spot, like your best friend’s house. What do you see along the way? Can you visualize how the ground feels beneath your feet, what the grass smells like?
You can also take a mental walk through your city, the nearby park, the zoo or a natural area you know well.
This mind game, especially combined with deep belly breathing, can calm you down and help you drift off to sleep.
5. Know your ABC’s
Need to take your mind off unwanted thoughts or do you want to fall asleep? The alphabet mind game has helped me through many sleepless nights.
The rules are simple: you chose a broad category – e.g. animals, foods, countries, brands – and then you work your way down the alphabet. A is for apple, B is for banana, C is for cherry, and so on. You can give yourself a pass for difficult letters like X and Q if you like. When you can’t come up with an answer for more than 3 letters, you’re out.
To keep it challenging, you can go for a second round in the same category, in which you cannot use the same answers from the last round. But usually I’m fast asleep by the time I reach Z for zucchini!
6. Write a haiku
Have you ever heard of a haiku before? A haiku is a short and eloquent verse originating from Japan, written in a very specific 5-7-5 structure. The first line consists of 5 syllables, the second line of 7, and the third and final line is made of 5 syllables again.
Could you come up with your own haiku? Check out these 10 English examples for inspiration. Playing with words like this should kill some time!
7. Quiz yourself
Let’s pretend you’re in charge of organizing a pub quiz or a Trivial Pursuit night. Which questions would you come up with?
You could come up with one easy and one difficult question in different categories: history, geography, science, art, news events. And don’t overlook fun acts about Friends episodes or reciting the names of all the Brangelina kids!
Some people make themselves do math calculations or memorize things to pass the time when their body needs to rest but their mind’s still active. Which topics spark your interest?
8. Create a mental museum
Picture a huge, empty space. The walls are completely white – the perfect blank canvas for you to mentally create your own museum. What would you exhibit? Would you showcase famous paintings? Or rather classical statues or modern art installations? Or are you more interested in dinosaur skeletons and other historical items?
Your mental museum could also have a theme. For instance, “The Natural World” with fossils and taxidermic animals, but also botanical paintings or sculptures. And obviously an eclectic collection of the things you find most beautiful would work too! Mentally visiting your favourite art work can be soothing when you’re in pain.
“Distracted from distraction by distraction.” – T.S. Eliot
I’m well aware that when you’re really unwell, even playing these mind games might require much more focus and mental energy than you can summon. I know how crippling pain, fatigue and emotional problems can be. But you don’t have to vividly visualize every minute of your ideal day or search your mind for interesting facts to reap the benefits of positive distraction. This list of mind games is simply meant as inspiration on how you can take your mind off your problems whenever you need to.
For 120 more ideas on how to keep your mind entertained while your body needs to rest, sign up for weekly health sessions in your inbox and get The Bored & Sick Guide for free!
Do you ever play mind games to entertain or distract yourself? What works best for you?
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