DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. So you're awake, and it's a Monday. And if you're beginning the week stressed out, here is some unusual advice from psychologists. Try a game of Tetris. That's right. A new study suggests that the classic video game can really help with worry. Maanvi Singh explains how this works.
(SOUNDBITE OF GAME BOYS' "TETRIS (GAME VERSION)"
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: If you've ever played Tetris maybe on your 1980's Game Boy or maybe just on your iPhone, then you know lining up those blocks can be addictive. Psychologist Kate Sweeny at the University of California, Riverside can relate.
KATE SWEENY: I can remember years of my life that were (laughter) lost to disappearing into a game of Tetris on my Nintendo system.
SINGH: Well, maybe not totally lost. Her latest study found an upside. The game can help during anxious times.
SWEENY: We brought people into the lab. We set up this kind of silly but stressful experience where we tell our undergraduate participants that they are being evaluated on how attractive they are.
SINGH: And while they waited for their ratings, they played Tetris. Some played a really slow easy game. Some played a version that was frustratingly difficult. And some played the classic version, which got them into the psychological state of flow.
SWEENY: The state of flow is one where you are completely absorbed or engaged in some kind of activity. So the whole rest of the world kind of falls away. You lose your self-awareness, and time is just flying by.
SINGH: Study participants who achieved flow reported higher rates of positive emotions and lower rates of negative ones. The results line up with a growing body of research showing that flow can help boost mood and manage stress. And Tetris isn't the only way to get there. Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn studies happiness at the University of British Columbia.
ELIZABETH DUNN: Think of the activity that grabs your attention and doesn't let it go.
SINGH: For you, that could be table tennis or ballet, spin class or chess. And it could be the perfect solution for tomorrow.
DUNN: When you're anxiously awaiting, say, election results, it's tempting to want to do nothing but, like, pay attention to, you know, the latest tidbits of news that are coming through or maybe to just do something undemanding like, you know, painting your nails or reading a book.
SINGH: To preserve your nerves, a better option is to try a distraction that's challenging but not frustratingly so.
DUNN: Go mountain biking or rock climbing or, you know, have, like, a games night with your friends where you're playing really challenging games.
SINGH: And if all else fails, there's always Tetris. For NPR News, I'm Maanvi Singh.
(SOUNDBITE OF BONVI BAND'S "TETRIS THEME KOROBEINIKI")