Young man with beard playing Tetris on his tablet at home

Playing Tetris May Help Prevent Trauma Flashbacks

Could playing the 1980s video game Tetris prevent flashbacks from traumatic events? Some scientists believe so.  

Tetris is a puzzle video game that was first developed in 1984. It continues to be popular today, especially as developers have adapted the game to be played from smartphones. Its effects on the brain have been studied in many ways and some studies suggest playing the game might increase brain efficiency. 

Now, researchers are evaluating how playing Tetris could help individuals who have undergone trauma, as well as those who have a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

One of the most prominent studies on this theory was published in 2017. Researchers found trauma patients had fewer intrusive memories after playing Tetris.  

In 2020, a group of researchers tested this theory again on a group of 40 patients with combat-related PTSD. They had 20 patients play 60 minutes of Tetris every day during a six-week period and monitored progress by taking images of their brain. The patients also did EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) psychotherapy. 

The researchers found the 20 patients who played Tetris and did EMDR therapy experienced increases in hippocampal volume in their brains, while their 20 other peers in the control group who only did the EMDR therapy did not experience these changes. This meant playing Tetris actively affected the patients’ brain – and ultimately was correlated with reductions in their PTSD symptoms including depression and anxiety. The patients in the control group did not experience these reductions in symptoms. 

Additional studies are needed before playing Tetris can be considered a therapy mechanism; but the existing research points to fascinating connections between how the brain reacts to this type of a video game and observed impacts on symptoms. 

PTSD can be experienced by more than just combat veterans. PTSD is an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the event that can last for many weeks or months after the traumatic event. The symptoms of PTSD fall into three broad categories: re-living, avoidance and increased arousal. 

  • Symptoms of re-living include flashbacks, nightmares and extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the event. Emotional reactions can include feeling guilty, extreme fear of harm and numbing of emotions. Physical reactions can include uncontrollable shaking, chills or heart palpitations and tension headaches. 
  • Symptoms of avoidance include staying away from activities, places, thoughts or feelings related to the trauma, as well as feeling detached or estranged from others. 
  • Symptoms of increased arousal include being overly alert or easily startled, difficulty sleeping, irritability or outbursts of anger and lack of concentration. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms or has another mental health concern including anxiety or depression, help is available.  

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:  

PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382 

  • A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.  

HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982 

  • Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.  
  • Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth.      

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Photo credit: Getty Images

 

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