How many times have you described your life as "busy"? We all get carried away with the necessities of living and caring for our families and friends. We go to work, when we're not at work we have kids, parents, and/or spouses to give energy to. We have to find time to care for ourselves, and often this isn't as ideal as we would like because we run out of time. Whatever time is left is reserved for sleeping, eating, hygiene, and finding space to connect with loved ones. But what about the thing that occupied a majority of our time as children? What about play time?
In elementary school, recess was structured into our day. We had multiple breaks to go outside and run, swing, build a fort or imagine we are landing a spaceship on a foreign planet. Play time was important then and guess what - it still is. Let's look into why:
Play and exploration trigger the secretion of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), a substance essential for the growth and maintenance of brain cells. Studies have shown that BDNF is increased after periods of rough and tumble play, and that school children demonstrate better academic focus after they've had a recess. We learn a new task better when we're in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate the imagination, helping us adapt and solve problems.
Play relieves stress - experiencing fun can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Play improves energy levels - George Bernard Shaw said "We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." Play can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you function at your best.
So what type of play do you like? What's the best category of play for you?
Rough-and-tumble play like batting, tug-of-war, capture the flag, scavenger hunts, kickball, and dodge ball are all ways to play actively. Through this form of play we develop emotional regulation as well as cognitive, emotional, and physical mastery.
Chess, board games, and activities or sports with set rules and structures all fall into the world of ritual play. It is in ritual play that we can create, strategize, design, and engage in activities that bring us together for a common purpose or goal.
Remember when you were a child and had so much fun living out your fantasies and letting your imagination run wild? This is what imaginative play is all about. Things like storytelling, painting, drawing, crafting, and acting all foster our imaginations through play.
Body play is a spontaneous desire to get ourselves out of gravity - Yoga, Pilates, hiking, whitewater rafting, riding roller coasters, mountain climbing, surfing, and snorkeling all fit the mold of body play.
Object play brings us back to childhood - building with Legos, playing with Jenga blocks, building fortresses, and having snowball fights all involve the manipulation of objects, building, and designing.
Even though our lives are jam-packed with work tasks and school projects and doctor's appointments and endless chores, making time for play will ultimately make us better at showing up for all those things. Take a few minutes each day to play fetch with the dog, color a picture with your kids, or even better approach your daily tasks with a playful mindset. Laugh with your coworkers and smile at the grocery clerk. Call a friend and share a funny story, or jump rope during your lunch break. Life will start to seem a lot less serious, your stress will decrease, and your mind, body and soul will thank you.
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