Play is something that tends to go by the wayside as we get older. Our brains are more focused on work, paying the bills, and practical day-to-day routines. Yet, play is an important part of mental health. It’s not just for kids.
Play brings a sense of freedom and flow that, as adults, we do not typically tap into on a regular basis.
Flow is the sense that time stands still, as we are so engaged in with what we are enjoying in the moment. In our busy day-to-day lives, we have created a false story that play is a luxury, when in fact it is a necessary part of self-care. It actually helps our brain function, connection to others, and connection to ourselves. It is something that we must make intentional time for in order to practice and get better at it. For children play is their work. For adults, work is their value.
Society has evolved into instilling the belief in adults that play is not productive.
However, play can help decrease stress, which can have a positive effect on work productivity while creating a balance for self-fulfillment. How many dying people look at their family members and say, “I wish I would have worked more?” Not many, I would imagine.
There are many kinds of play, such as engaging in imagination, building, improvisation, creating new roles, art, sports, crafting, music, dancing, storytelling, creative writing, and game playing, to name a few. Play is active and engages the whole self, including the right side of the brain, which is not utilized as much in adults as its logical left-brain counterpart.
Play can even be at the center of healing.
The profession of drama therapy uses play to tap into a person’s different roles, connection and innate sense of spontaneity. Using role, imagination, story, and improvisation, drama therapists are able to help people step into their stories, past experiences, and future dreams. It allows people to address, deconstruct and reconstruct old narratives as well as create new stories that they would prefer to be in, in a non-threatening, playful way to address mental health concerns and increase emotional wellbeing.
Play should be fun. Yet, we turn our back on play when it asks us to join it. We reject it, telling it we are too old, too busy, too tired. It looks at us with a sparkle in its eye inviting us to let down our inhibitions and dance like no one is watching. When we’re done, we feel different. Maybe not significantly at first, but it’s a start.
So where do you begin? You might start by asking yourself, what did I love to do as a child that I don’t do anymore? Maybe it was singing or dancing or kicking a ball. Think about the feeling you had when you engaged in these activities. As you think, notice what is happening in your body? Do you feel warm? Are you noticing a smile on your face? Do you feel joy? Notice the feeling. With this in mind, is there something you can do each day to practice play to keep feeling this way?
If you haven’t been exercising your creative brain, it may take a while to get into the habit of playing regularly.
Start with small goals like dedicating time to play twice a week and working your way up. When you enjoy what you are doing, your pleasure center will light up and your brain will thank you.
You might start with singing in the shower, dancing in your living room, or creating a picture of how you feel in the moment. Maybe you watch a YouTube video on how to do origami or how to knit. The great thing is that no one else has to see it but you! Laugh. Smile. Get new shoes and run like you did when you were a kid when you got new shoes and felt like you could run so much faster now. You are only limited by your imagination.
Please note that this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from a doctor or mental health professional.