When last did you Play?

As we grow older, we tend to get flabbergasted in the spin of adult responsibilities and commitments.  We hectically run around, focussing on family, money, work and all the other things that keeps us busy all the time.  We forget how to have fun and how to incorporate fully joyous moments into our lives.  Basically, we forget to have fun.  When we initiate “me-time” into our lives, it is often just to have a quiet moment to zone out and unwind after a crazy day, but between those hectic moments, did you have any playful and fun times?

If the topic interested you, you might have done some research and reading on how play is important to infants and toddlers, but did you ever think that play could be just as important to you as an adult?  Before I get to the benefits of play in adults, I thought that it would be a good idea to briefly list some benefits of play for the children in our world.  Play is vital to their development.  It contributes to their emotional strength, social interactions, physical mastery and cognitive well-being.  Play helps with the development of their imagination while they explore and interact in their own world.  It helps them to master their world and gives them the tools to learn self-advocacy, turn-taking and decision-making skills.  As you can see, there are so many benefits to free child-centered play and with appropriate and affective adult relationships (parent-child play), these benefits could grow even more.

We often overthink things and cling onto the fear of being ridiculed and embarrassed.  Some might even perceive play as unproductive and petty.  What if people start labelling us as childish?  Would that really be that bad?  If you think about it, children are creative, constantly in the process of learning and unbelievably inventive at the best of times.  Personally, I think that these qualities are wonderful to possess throughout adulthood.

As adults, no actually, for people of all ages, play can simply add joy to your life.  But wait, that is not all, here are a few more on how play can benefit you:

  • Relieve Stress: Play releases the natural feel-good hormone which is called endorphins.  Not only does it help with the overall feeling of well-being, improving brain functionality and relieves stress in the body, but it can also relieve pain temporarily.
  • Improve Relationships with Others: Play teaches us to cooperate with others as it drives towards positive socialisation.  When you do something that you have not done since you were a child, it allows you to break down barriers, foster empathy and compassion.  You start to form relationships on another level and when the mind-shift takes place, you can adopt a playful attitude where you can break the ice in stressful situations and loosen up a bit to be able to form new relationships.
  • Heal Emotional Wounds: Play can predict positive change in adults, especially when you replace negative feelings and beliefs with positive actions and assumptions.  If you allow yourself playtime with a secure partner, trust builds, relationships mend and communication channels open a little wider each time you interact.  Social interaction with others can even ward off depression.  Through studies, play has proved to lessen the risk of stress-related diseases, mental health issues, addiction and interpersonal violence.
  • Develop and Improve Social Skills: This will only work if it involves at least one other person and does not involve electronic gadgets.  Because social skills often involve the give-and-take principle, you refine your cooperation, communication and body language skills through play.  You allow yourself the opportunity to learn more about your own boundaries while keeping your connection with others fresh and vibrant.  Who knows, this might even help you overcome the dreaded getting-to-know-you phase and could deepen intimacy in relationships.  The great thing is, that if you continue with group play activities, you can build and maintain relationships on an easier level.
  • Improve Brain Function: When we play Monopoly or Jenga at home, all types of strategies come out.  The planning and execution of plans becomes evident and at the end of the day we even enthusiastically encourage each other, even though we are on opposing sides.  Have I mentioned that there are a bunch of really competitive people at home?  I am not even going to start on Chess, but the point is, all these games help with the prevention of memory problems.  We learn better when we are relaxed and having fun.  Play stimulates our creativity; help develop problem solving skills and even encourage communication skills.
  • Keeps us Young, feeling Energetic and Rejuvenated: Have you heard the quote “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”, George Bernard Show said this.  Play can energise and vitalise you.  It might not keep you young, but it can make you feel younger and rejuvenated.
  • Make you more Attractive: What is your reaction when you see a playful, happy person who can enthusiastically laugh at themselves, are curious and have fun?  Researchers identified four types of playful adults that are more attractive to others.  These four are (1) those who outwardly enjoy fooling around with friends, colleagues, relatives and acquaintances (2) those who are generally light-hearted and not preoccupied by the future consequences of their behaviour (3) those who play with thoughts and ideas, and (4) those who are whimsical, exhibiting interest in strange and unusual things and are amused by small, everyday observations.
  • Help with Physical Wellness: Did you know that play is a natural healer?  It provides us with positive feelings, energy and adrenaline that directly benefits our physical health.
  • Prevents Burnout: It is impossible to remain happy all the time, every day, but we can boost this happy feeling by partaking in playfulness.  Whether we play while at home, work or outside of work, it can help to relieve stress associated with certain activities.

Before we get to the different ideas on how you can incorporate play into your life, there are a few ingredients necessary for play to be beneficial.  A researcher, Stuart Brown put this wonderful list together of the seven ingredients:  (1) it has to be apparently purposeless (2) voluntary (3) possess inherent attraction (4) freedom from time (5) a diminished awareness of self, improvisational potential, and (7) a desire to continue.

With that said, here are a few ideas on how you can incorporate play into your life:

  • Host a regular Game Night: Go for it, dust off the various game boxes that has been lying in the cupboard for months or even years.  Check if all the cards are still in the playing deck and get the chips and dip ready.  You could even design new games to play.  Invite some friends and family who are positive and playful to enjoy a fun afternoon or evening with you.
  • Play with a Pet: Puppies are usually more willing playmates than older dogs, but a gentle and loving hand is still required no matter what age they are.  Be warned, you might get a few sloppy wet kisses all over your face.
  • Goof around with Friends and Children: What if you get the perspective of a child when it comes to the joy of play?  If you do not have young children of your own, arrange a playdate with nieces, nephews, grandkids or other young relatives.  Interact with them through their activities, like playing ball, splashing in the pool or running in circles for no apparent reason.  Do not be scared to let your hair down and get silly.  When we can play tug-of-war again, enjoy the little competitive happy interaction again.  You could even invite some friends to take a trip with you to the magic store.  Stay curious, push yourself and give your creative mind breathing space to see what new things you can come up with.  Storytelling, acting and crafting are excellent examples.
  • Schedule time away from Home: If you are fortunate enough to live close to the beach or a park, please do not hesitate to take a trip to these places.  Take some friends with you, throw or kick a ball, fly a kite, pick up some shells to create something later.  Feel the air, the grass, the space, the joy and the beauty of nature.
  • Give yourself Time to Play: Give yourself time to find your inner child.  Remember what it felt like to run around like a lopsided cartoon and laughing from the bottom of your stomach.  Even though play should be spontaneous, schedule some time in your hectic day to do something that you love and enjoy.  Just by doing this, can be so rejuvenating and rewarding.
  • Do not take Exercise so Seriously: Not everything should be competitive.  Sometimes exercise can even be daunting and the adult thing to do, but if you give your body a good releasing shake and forget a bit about the correct instructions, you might discover a bit of silliness and playfulness.
  • Change it Up: You might get bored by doing the same thing over and over again.  This repetitiveness can be demotivating.  Include some new activities or routines into your life.  Get a bit creative and might I say, a bit daring (but still safe).
  • Play like a Kid: Do you remember that swing in the park that creeks?  Go for it, try it out for size and take a swing.  Borrow a hoola-hoop from the neighbours’ kids or do some jumping-jacks.  Even if you feel a bit foolish at first, remember to have fun and to get your body moving.  Remember, exercise and fun should not be age restricted.
  • Get Crafty: Is there a store close to you that sells discounted art supplies?  Get creative and try a new project.  There are so many possibilities.  Give your creative mind wings and see what you can come up with.  You can draw or paint whatever you want, do not give it much thought and let it flow out of you.  Try to keep to the playful principle, because at the end of the day, you want to feel elated, relaxed and a bit more like yourself as you discover lost memories from your childhood playtimes.
  • Invite Music back into your Life: Maybe during lockdown you discovered your old musical instrument in the deepest corner; forgotten and dusty.  If you took it out and started to play again – well done!  It is never to late to start learning how to play an instrument.  Not all of us are quite note proficient, but at least we can have fun while the house members stuff earplugs in their ears.  Hopefully soon, we will be able to attend music shows again, but in the meantime, we can put the radio on and listen with love to the beautiful music sounds from our favourite musicians.
  • Make Time to Rest: It is okay to zone out for a while and just relax.  Good sleep is restorative and enhances brain function.  Because play touches all our senses and makes us feel alive where we can see endless possibilities, it is important to rest so that we can function properly.  Take the time out and embrace sleep as a way to success.
  • Therapy: If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issues, please do not hesitate to reach out for help.  We have studied hard to be able to help you and do not want you to feel alone.  Remember, help and support is out there.

Here is a challenge for you; experiment a bit.  See what works for you and keep it up.  As adults, we could really use a bit of playfulness in our responsible lives and who knows, it could even cause us to spontaneously laugh more often.  Give yourself a chance.  Make a conscious decision today to appreciate life.  Please do not be hard on yourself if you do not get it right the first time, or even the first few times.  Be patient and kind to yourself and have fun.  Live your absolute best and most positive life today.

As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following might give you a bit more insight.  The first one is from Richard Feynman who said, “Play is hard to maintain as you get older.  You get less playful.  You shouldn’t, of course.”, and this one from Henri Matisse who said, “Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.”.  As a little bonus, here is a last quote from Carl Jung who said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”.

As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video Calls, Zoom Video Meetings, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible.  I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time.  Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health as we face these challenging times.

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to info@gemtherapy.co.za and remember to have a look out for a new blog every second week.

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