Health

Find Inner Peace The Fun Way By Playing “Cards Against Anxiety”

by Kate Ryan

July 27, 2016
Credit: Cards For Calm

If you’ve ever played “Cards Against Humanity,” then you know the drill: the key to victory is personalizing your jokes to get your friends crying from laughter. But what if we flipped the script on our typical Friday night activity and made it about sharing our feelings and addressing mental health instead?

That’s Stuart Fitzwilliam’s idea, and it could change the way we think about dealing with anxiety. Cards for Calm is a game designed to help people address negative behavior patterns both on their own and in the company of friends and family. GOOD had the chance to talk to Fitzwilliam about his new product, which is currently available for pre-order on Kickstarter.

What gave you the idea to create this card game and start a crowdfunding campaign to support it?

The whole thing sprang out of my own experience. Almost exactly two years ago this month, I began treatment for depression. I [have been] in remission for over a year and a half now and all of the techniques that essentially went into the cards are various things I learned in therapy and things I’ve used since recovery to help me stay on track. One of the issues is always that little active negativity and habits can sometimes spiral… leading to relapse. So these are all things I use just to manage my own symptoms.

I wanted to come up with a way that would help people think about these things and help them deal with their own personal issues and anxieties

One of the real things I’ve found, especially before I found treatment, was that people don’t tend to talk about things like depression. Especially if you look specifically at the male demographic, we’re traditionally encouraged to not talk about our feelings. So I wanted to come up with a way that would help people think about these things and help them deal with their own personal issues and anxieties. But also try and find a way to let them either deal with it themselves or sit down with friends and create an environment where people would feel safe sharing little things that they wanted to work on about themselves. And that’s really where the idea of the card game sprang from.

How does it work and how do you use them?

There’s two variances of it for the one deck. So there’s a single player version and you can use that on a daily basis. The best way I’ve found to start is to shuffle the deck at night right before you go to sleep, and put the deck on top of the screen of your phone. Because we all wake up in the morning and the first thing we do is reach for our phones. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. It’s not the healthiest habit, so that way, putting it on the screen gives you the option of ‘oh, maybe I’ll take a card or maybe I’ll take a minute to myself to think about what I want to do today.’

The idea is that in the single player version, you can play however many times you want to in a day. It’s almost like a solitaire type of game I suppose where you keep track of the score—just of the number of cards you play—per day… It is a really good way of tracking how many times a day you’re creating these moments for yourself.

So, just to break it down, when you actually play a card, the deck is split into two. So there are behavior cards and action cards… Each behavior card has a corresponding action card, and the action card helps you think through your situation a little more and helps you think of creative ways to try and resolve it. And those ways can be either real-world actions you can take to try and resolve that or creative visualizations that help you reframe the situation.

What’s the benefit to making it a game and not another self-help book?

[Self-help books] work really well, but they tend to be things that I read once and I think, ‘That’s really good,’ and then put it back on the shelf or back beside the bed. And then I never quite remember to pick it back up, because if something’s 200 pages, it’s not always easy to jump in and grab the one thing that you want… But a deck of cards is the kind of thing you can carry with you easily. It’s a much more accessible format and the kind of thing where people can… flip over a card and read that while waiting for a coffee at Starbucks.

According to Newsweek, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental health problems in some capacity each year. Why do you think people still have hang-ups talking about mental health when it’s something many of us experience?

I mean, certainly the stigma around mental health is decreasing and people are getting generally a broader understanding that caring for your mental health is not dissimilar to caring for your physical health. But there is still so much overt and covert social pressure on men in particular that thinking about feelings isn’t something you do. There’s the phrase you hear a lot that you should just ‘man up,’ and it’s implicit that trying to deal with these things is in some way the antithesis of what you should be doing as a man. And those stigmas are beginning to slide, but they’re kind of endemic in our culture and I don’t see them going away for a few generations yet.

there is still so much overt and covert social pressure on men in particular that thinking about feelings isn’t something you do

In an attempt to change that negative aspect of our culture, would you encourage people to play the deck with other people?

There is a multi-player version, which is kind of like “Cards Against Anxiety”… In that scenario, each person takes turns controlling the deck… They read the behavior card along with the corresponding action card and, along with the other players, explain as much as they’re comfortable the problem they have. Each of the other players takes a turn trying to think of some kind of creative way they can deal with this… When each player’s made a suggestion, whoever’s controlling the deck awards the card to the player they feel made the suggestion that was most helpful to them… With the multi-player version, the way you win is by offering as much help to your friends as you can.

I think a game scenario is really something where people will sit down and talk about these things. It can be relatively minor or it can be something more deep and personal... but it’s a great way for people to begin to explore talking about their feelings.

At the very least, it’s nice to think of doing something with your friends and family that doesn’t revolve around screens. Do you have any other suggestions for people who are trying to disconnect more often to give themselves a mental break?

Sometimes it’s as simple as putting the phone in the other room, or if I’m at home, just pulling the power cord out for the Wi-Fi. I like that you have to physically make an effort to reconnect everything… I use Trello quite extensively just to manage everything going on in my life, and I found it really helpful when I made a self-care Trello board, which was just a list of six or eight tasks to do daily. And the goal was never to do each of them daily. If I could move over at least half of these cards each day from “to do” to “done” then I know I’ve made a reasonable amount of time for myself. And they’re things like doing yoga, going for a run, reading, sitting outside—things that are obvious that sometimes we miss. Just that simple little list… I found really beneficial.

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