“stress” (CC BY 2.0) by Brittepit (Don’t let stress rule your life)
We all know that keeping our bodies healthy is important. Whether it’s a brisk walk three times a week or powerlifting, physical exercise is important. Unfortunately, what most of us fail to realise is that our mental health is just as important. Although the level of awareness among the general public has improved over the last decade, the average person is still a relative novice when it comes to psychological issues. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 “Stress in America™: The State of Our Nation” report, we’re more stressed than ever.
As per the report, 59 percent of Americans feel that daily life is causing them stress. Now, what we know about stress is that it’s psychosomatic. In other words, when we experience high levels of mental stress, it has an impact on the body. For the majority of people under some level of stress, the physical effects might be as simple as a headache. However, things can get more serious than that. Increased blood pressure, stomach issues, heart problems and even other mental disorders such as depression can all come from stress. With stress seemingly at a critical level, experts are now urging people to consider their psychological health. To this end, strategy games have been touted as a way to de-stress. The natural assumption is that chess would be best for stress because it’s tough to master and involves a lot of skill. However, the game is fairly mechanical. In practice, if you want a game that’s creative but still capable of testing your mental faculties, poker is perfect.
Poker Helps Improve Your Focus
“…in the small thingie.” (CC BY 2.0) by DaMongMan (Learn to focus on the small details)
In poker, concentration is crucial. Learning how to three-bet effectively or bluff on the river is easy to do if you read the right books and watch some training videos. However, if you don’t know when to put those moves into practice, this knowledge is useless. Because of this, it’s important to remain focused at all times. From watching opponents for signs of weakness to tracking the amount of the money in the pot, poker forces you to concentrate. In fact, what’s interesting is that today’s players are required to focus more than ever thanks to the rise of mobile poker. For example, in a fast-fold variant like SNAP, players are moved to a new table each time they fold. This not only increases the speed of a game, it means you have less information on your opponents.
The upshot of this is that you need to really zone in on the action so you can look for any sort of advantage. Naturally, when you’re playing poker on a mobile, the likelihood of being distracted increases. On the one hand, having instant access to cash games, tournaments and fast-fold SNAP tables whenever you want is fantastic. However, as you’d expect, playing poker on your iOS or Android device while riding the bus is more distracting than playing on your computer at home. Therefore, in this instance, paying attention is paramount. Poker players that can understand this fact can then go on to improve their focus in life. People often get stressed because they think about too many things at once. By concentrating on a single task, especially one that you enjoy, your thoughts become less confused. This, in turn, can reduce stress levels.
Poker Strategy Forces You to Think Objectively
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Another benefit of playing poker is that it requires you to look at situations more objectively. In poker circles, experienced players know the game as one that involves the pursuit of a perfect move using imperfect information. In a standard Hold’em hand, your opponent’s cards are secret. However, you can see the community cards, bet sizing, an opponent’s tendencies and more. Using these variables, you can start to think objectively about what your opponent could be holding and put them on a range of possible hands. For instance, if four of the five community cards were diamonds and your opponent made a bet, you could assume they don’t hold two spades. Of course, they could be bluffing and pretending they have a diamond flush.
In this situation, you would have to weigh up everything else that’s happened up until the bet. If the available information suggests they aren’t bluffing, you can assume they have a diamond in their hand. Skilled poker players go through this type of thought process every time they play. Eventually, it gets to a point where they start applying these techniques to real-life scenarios. So, instead of focusing on their own point of view in an argument, skilled poker players think about the other person’s position and the situation as a whole. Doing this is not only a great way to diffuse a situation but alleviate stress. Studies show that conflict is a major cause of stress, so any way you can avoid an argument by thinking logically is beneficial for your mental health.
Patterns and Rules Help You Compartmentalize Your Life
“ruled” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by timlewisnm (Don’t get caught short by not following the rules)
The final reason poker is a great way to de-stress is because it forces you to learn a set of rules. Everyone at a poker table must know how to bet, when to bet and what certain phrases mean. Of these rules, the most important is knowing when to act. By declaring a move out of turn, you not only disrupt the flow of the game but you give away vital information. For example, let’s say you have a pair of aces and get so excited that you raise out of turn. Skilled opponents will read this as a sign of strength because novices often get a rush of adrenaline that forces them to make a mistake. Therefore, in this context, it’s important to follow a strict pattern of play so you don’t give away your hand.
The benefit of learning to play by the rules is that it forces you to compartmentalize your life and plan things out. According to data from psychologist Robert Epstein, planning is the best technique for overcoming stress. Surveying 3,000 people in 29 countries, Epstein noted that people feel less prone to stress when they have a clear set of goals. In his words, having a plan is the key “fighting stress before it starts.” As a poker player, you need to follow a specific pattern of play and the same is true in life. If you can take this lesson and combine it with an ability to think logically and always stay focused, you’ll not only become a better poker player but, in theory, less stressed.
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