The Big Book of Stress Relief Games: Quick, Fun Activities for Feeling Better

The Big Book of Stress Relief Games: Quick, Fun Activities for Feeling Better

by Robert Epstein

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These quick games, exercises, and activities are designed to reduce stress wherever and whenever it strikes, in meetings, in front of the computer, or when dealing with difficult people. Psychology Today Editor-In-Chief Robert Epstein has created fifty 1-3 minute games based on STRESS-PROOFING, an original system derived from scientific research that makes stress reduction effortless and effective.

For everyone from deskbound office workers to managers in meetings, this is the latest addition to one of McGraw-Hill's best-selling book series:

  • Helps alleviate high-pressure situations at home and at work.
  • Includes comprehensive life-planning and life-organization activities.
  • Requires less then 3 minutes to play most of the creative, relaxing games.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071787994
Publisher: McGraw Hill LLC
Publication date: 04/17/2000
Series: Big Book Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 203
Sales rank: 1,080,647
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Robert Epstein, Ph.D. is Editor-in-Chief of Psychology Today, host of the magazine's nationally-syndicated radio show, and University Research Professor at United States International University. Dr. Epstein holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and his research has been reported in Time, The New York Times, and Discover. His popular articles have appeared in The Washington Post and Reader's Digest.

Read an Excerpt


Quick, Fun Activities for Feeling Better

By Robert Epstein

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-021866-6




In a Nutshell

Participants learn how to use slow periods wisely by imagining a state of boredom and then exploring the emotions associated with that state.


10 minutes.

What You'll Need

Writing materials for every participant, copies of the overheads on pages 19-20, and a timer or clock.

What to Do

Ask participants to do absolutely nothing for 2 minutes. Tell them that for the next painful minutes, you want them to feel bored.

Observe the participants while you're timing the exercise. Announce the time every 15 seconds, and make your announcements sound dull and flat. When the time is up, ask a few people to tell the group, in as much detail as they can, how they actually felt.

Briefly review some of the basic characteristics of boredom and two strategies for beating boredom, using overheads on pages 19-20.

Discussion Questions

1) How can a lack of demands cause stress?

2. How can repetitious tasks cause stress?

3. What methods do you currently use to fight boredom?

4. What other methods might you use?

If You Have More Time

Divide the groups into Mutual Support Teams (see p. 89) of between three and five people. Have everyone write a brief description of a work situation he or she finds boring. Then give the team members 10 minutes to help each other create Anti-Boredom Plans for eliminating the boredom.

Personal Touch

To fight boredom in your own life, put yourself through the exercise. Then list "inward" and "outward" techniques that you can use to add more stimulation and challenge to your routine (see the overhead on page 20).













Walking, Jogging, Stretching Daydreaming, Visualizing Relaxing, Planning Skill-Building


Seeking More Responsibility, Seeking Promotion, Seeking a New Job



In a Nutshell

This game helps participants learn and practice skills to help control their anger when faced with an insensitive manager or supervisor. Participants role- play scenes in which a manager or supervisor acts insensitively, during which they practice simple breathing or imagery techniques to help them stay calm and respond constructively.


10-15 minutes.

What You'll Need

Writing materials for each participant.

What to Do

For 4 or 5 minutes, lead everyone in the room in a few simple breathing and imagery exercises (such as abdominal breathing). Now, distribute prepared role- playing scenes or have each participant describe a scene on paper. Next, put people into pairs. Ask one person in each pair to be the Beastly Boss and the other to be the Exemplary Employee. Exemplary Employees should, as inconspicuously as possible, practice one or more breathing or imagery techniques during the scene. Have them spend two or three minutes acting out the scene.

Following the role plays, lead the group in a discussion about the effects that the relaxation exercises had on their interactions and, especially, on the outcomes of the interactions.

Discussion Questions

1. How realistic was your role play? How was it like the real situation, and how was it different?

2. Were you able to practice your relaxation techniques during your play? If not, why not?

3. What are the pros and cons of venting your anger with your boss?

4. Why should you practice these techniques inconspicuously during workplace interactions?

If You Have More Time

Have people perform the role plays first before you introduce the relaxation techniques. Then teach the relaxation techniques, have people switch roles, and have them act out the scenes again while the Exemplary Employee performs a relaxation exercise. Ask people from each pair to report on the differences in the two plays.



In a Nutshell

After presenting the participants with some common examples of irrational beliefs, they'll make their own lists of irrational beliefs that may underlie some of the stress they feel on the job.


15-20 minutes.

What You'll Need

Writing materials for all participants, copies of the handout on page 25, and a flipchart, blackboard, or overhead projector.

What to Do

Identify some beliefs that are "irrational" and then discuss this concept with the group. Review the handout on page 25 for ideas. Then explain how irrational thoughts can lead to stress, and elicit reactions and suggestions from the group on this topic. For example, if someone believes that everyone else at work is incompetent, how might his or her behavior be affected? How might interactions with others be affected? How might feelings of stress be produced?

Introduce the idea of Substitute Rational Beliefs, or SRBs. With the group, generate some SRBs that correspond to a few of the irrational beliefs previously discussed.

For example, if someone believes that he or she is always late, an SRB might be: I'm late for appointments two or three times a week, which is more often than I'd like.

Finally, display a list of irrational beliefs, and ask participants to propose Substitute Rational Beliefs.

Discussion Questions

1. How can irrational beliefs hurt you?

2. Is it possible to harbor irrational beliefs that can actually reduce stress or help you in some other way?

3. How does one go about abandoning irrational beliefs?

If You Have More Time

Have the participants write down three of their own irrational beliefs, and have them generate one or more SRB for each irrational belief. Ask a few people to share what they have written, and lead a discussion about these examples.


I'm always late. I can't do anything right. Everyone around me is incompetent. I'll never get ahead in this job. I always do my best.


I'm often late. I do some things right but not others. Each of my co-workers has strengths and weaknesses. I need to find new strategies for advancement. I perform well in many situations.



In a Nutshell

Participants create and post their own lists of relaxing and stress-reducing activities to make it more likely that they'll engage in such activities during the day.


15-20 minutes.

What You'll Need

Writing materials, and a flipchart or blackboard.

What to Do

Remind the participants that we often let days or weeks or months go by without doing any of the simple things that make us relax and allow us to manage daily stress. Tell them that one simple way to fight this tendency is to create and post a Bliss List—a list of activities that make you feel great.

Have participants spend a few minutes listing as many relaxing activities as they can.

Finally, ask people to make a written commitment to post copies of their Bliss Lists in at least three specific places:

I hereby commit to posting copies of my Bliss List in all of the places I've listed above, with the intention of reminding myself to engage in as many of the listed activities as possible, as often as possible.

____________________ Signature

Discussion Questions

1. Bliss Lists need to be updated from time to time. Why?

2. How can you make it more likely that you'll keep your List up-to-date?

3. Why is it important that Bliss Lists be posted and not simply written down?

4. How could you use your computer to post your Bliss List?

Personal Touch

Sometimes stress hits home even worse than at work. Help beat stress by making your very own bliss list and posting it prominently.



In a Nutshell

Participants learn the "cleansing breath" and are taught ways they might use it during the day to combat stress.


5-10 minutes.

What You'll Need

No special materials are needed in this exercise.

What to Do

Explain the basics of the "cleansing breath." It might be helpful to describe each part of it before you proceed:

First we're going to inhale very deeply—in fact, we're going to take a huge noisy breath in, exaggerating the effort. I'll demonstrate shortly. Second, we're going hold that breath to a slow count of five. And, finally, and this is the good part—we're going to let all of the air out very, very slowly, and, as we do so, we're going to blow away all of the tension in our bodies, until we've blown out all of the air.

Now, demonstrate a cleansing breath.

Have the entire group practice the technique together, slowly and deliberately, two or three times.

Ask people how the cleansing breath makes them feel. Most people will report feeling very relaxed.

Now lead a discussion about how the cleansing breath might be used during the day to combat stress.

Discussion Questions

1. Would you be reluctant to do a cleansing breath at work? Why or why not?

2. What are situations in which the cleansing breath might be useful for you? What are situations where you would be reluctant to use the cleansing breath?

3. What are advantages and disadvantages of the cleansing breath as a stress- management technique?

If You Have More Time

Divide the group into small teams of between three and five people. Half the teams will have a "proactive stress" assignment, and the other half a "reactive stress" assignment. Each proactive team should decide on a single work situation in which the cleansing breath could be used for stress-proofing—fighting stress before it occurs. Each reactive team should decide on a single work situation that's extremely stressful and in which a cleansing breath could be used to shake off stress before it gets out of hand.

Finally, some of the groups should be called on to act out their stress scenario and show how the cleansing breath can be used in that scenario. The audience should be encouraged to react, comment, and have some fun.

Personal Touch

This cleansing breath is also effective when you are at home. Let the deep, refreshing breath be part of your morning routine to prepare for the day ahead.



In a Nutshell

Participants learn to use imagery and composition to reduce the anxiety associated with problems and challenges at work.


20-25 minutes.

What You'll Need

Writing materials for each participant.

What to Do

Explain to the participants that this exercise is based on a technique therapists call "flooding." In flooding, you help someone overcome their fear by having them imagine an extreme, almost absurdly fearful situation.

For example, if a woman is afraid of being criticized, you may have her imagine that a hundred people are standing around her in a circle, all shouting insults at her simultaneously. You might then have her imagine more extreme variants of this situation. Perhaps the shouts grow louder until the building begins to shake and the walls fall down. Then the shouts stimulate a massive earthquake, until the whole city is in ruins. These fantasies often end with the world blowing up in a puff of smoke. They make one lowly criticism seem pretty small and insignificant. In other words, they put things back into reasonable perspective. After all, many of the challenges we face each day—although irritating—aren't really very important in the grand scheme of things.

Now, distribute writing materials, and have participants list three irritating problems or challenges they face at work. Then have them outline their blowup fantasies. Have participants close their eyes, focus on one of the fantasies, and imagine it unfolding in detail.

Have them imagine the real problem with which they started, while you coach them through a simple relaxation exercise (such as the cleansing breath or a muscle relaxation procedure). Finally, have people share some of the blow-up fantasies with the group.

Discussion Questions

1. How can putting things in perspective help us fight stress?

2. Do you find yourself getting upset over small matters? When does this happen and why?

3. How can the blowup technique be used proactively? Reactively?



In a Nutshell

Participants are taught how to use common objects to help them perform a simple relaxation exercise.


5-10 minutes.

What You'll Need

An assortment of four or five common objects that can be used to help people relax. Suggested: a small pillow, a piece of paper, a working clock that has a second hand, a pencil, a magazine photo of a tropical scene, and a red push-pin.

What to Do

Show the participants some of the objects that you've brought with you, and engage the group in a discussion about how these items might be used to promote relaxation. For example:

Pencil. Can be used as an aid in an eye-movement exercise. Can also be used for drawing or scribbling.

Magazine clipping of tropical scene. Can be used to launch a visualization exercise.

Red push-pin. Placed inconspicuously on the wall, this can be used as a "focus point" for imagery or breathing exercises.

Discussion Questions

1. What objects, materials, and supplies are on hand in your work setting that could be used for relaxation?

2. What objects, materials, and supplies could be added to your work setting to promote relaxation?

If You Have More Time

Here are some other objects that can used to help people relax:

Small pillow. Can be placed on one's chair in the small of the back to help attain a more relaxed posture. Can also be placed on the floor to support the head, back, or knees during a breathing or visualization exercise.

Blank piece of paper. Can be used to launch a visualization exercise, for drawing or scribbling, or as an aid in a simple meditation exercise.

Excerpted from The BIG Book of STRESS RELIEF GAMES by Robert Epstein. Copyright © 2000 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Getting Ready. The Games. The Anti-Boredom Game. The Beastly Boss Game. Beliefs That Can Kill. The Bliss List. Blowing Away the Tension. Blowing Up the Company. Building a Relaxation Machine. Capturing a Daydream. Compu-Relaxation. Coporate Space Oddity. Corporate Telephone. The Co-Worker from Hell. Dancing with your Eyes. The Glittering Roof. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Gravity Magic. Hands that Heal. Hour Power. Keeping the Fires Burning. The Laugh Graph. A Little Help from My Friends. The Make-a-Fist Technique. Make Me Laugh. Making It Personal. Meditation for the Impatient. The Nirvana Room. One Minute in Hell. The Place of Perfect Peace. Popeye Puffs. Punch That Pillow! Reach for the Sky. Ready, Set, Sit! Red, White, and Very Blue. Run for Your Life! The Seek and Kill Game. Stacked to the Ceiling. Staying Cool, Getting Hot. Tangerine Trees. The Ten-Year Planner. The Terrific Tummy Technique. This Perfect Day. The Time-Tested Ten Count. Turn, Turn, Turn. The Turtle Technique. The Twenty-Eight-Hour Day. The Warmth of the Sun. What D'Ya Know? The Whoosh Game. Within You, Without You. The World is Round. Index. About the Author. Index. About the Author.

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