As an adult, I can agree that it is challenging to find time to relax after a long day of work commitments, house admin and perhaps other obligations such as having a family, taking care of your pets, or social engagements. Or perhaps your day is filled with all these things and then on top of that you feel that stress and anxiety is eating you alive. Even writing all of that, prompted me to take a deep breath. Yes, these days, our society is more exposed to mental health and we are advised to create a work-life balance, make time for self-care and then also learn to spend more time in nature. It sounds like a lot at times… Now, you read this article about incorporating play into your daily life as well. How on earth? Well, breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds and release through your nose, for four.

Let us start slowly, and first look at what I mean by “play” so that you can see if it might be accessible to you, and see why it may be important to your wellbeing.

What does play look like in adults?

Well, think on what aspects of life make you as a person feel engaged, excited and creative? It could be anything that you do recreationally that might spark a flare of joy and ease. For some people this might look like dancing, writing poetry, singing karaoke with a group of friends, or playing catch with your dog. It will look different for each person, but the golden thread that connects these activities is that feeling of catharsis or liberation around it. It might feel like you have free rein to laugh and enjoy yourself, or to explore your inner child – who loved to dance, sing and play imaginative games. Putting aside some time in the week for your own personal play-time, can have momentary and long lasting benefits for your wellbeing. Perhaps you do incorporate some play and creativity into your daily routine or over the weekend, to help you relax and also to add some needed zest and passion to your life. For those of us who actively add some play and for those of us who don’t have motivation, time or information to do so, read on, and see what you can do to give yourself a little piece of mind.

What are the Benefits of Play in Adulthood?

First let’s realise the significance of play by taking a look at what research has to say. Research supports that play is a vital ingredient for a fulfilling and healthy adult life; showcasing that embracing playfulness in adulthood, can have a profound impact on our overall well-being, stress management, physical health, and relationships. Moreover, playfulness and creative expression can support connection to our true selves, and may contribute positively to healing from trauma. Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, writes that play is an innate force as fundamental to our health as sleep or nutrition. Humans, are designed by nature to flourish through play.

Brain Function

Let’s delve a little deeper into the mechanics of play. Whether you are learning new dance choreography, playing a game of chess, or body surfing along a magnificent wave, these acts have the ability to shape our mental capabilities. These acts of play provide a cognitive workout, whereas surfer analyses which wave is the safest, a chess player analyses which chess move is the wisest, and a dancer analyses which movement is next in the sequenced choreography. This cognitive workout, supports memory function, fosters adaptability, stimulates imagination, and enhances mental durability for problem solving.

Stress Reduction

Play is most advantageous in adults, in its ability to counteract stress levels. Engaging in recreational activities provides a delightful respite from the demands of our daily routines. A study completed in 2013, shows that adults who incorporated play into their daily routines, reported reduced stress levels. The study also revealed that these adults tended to have a more positive outlook on life, and also showcased greater proficiency in employing healthy coping strategies. This is important and falls under the category of stress alleviation, because, if a person is able to cope better, accept a situation easier and have the skill to reframe a crisis event as positive, then stress levels would have a hard time flourishing. Therefore, play has the power to equip us with the skills to manage stress more effectively. I would say that this sounds quite endearing and I for one am happy that swimming in the sea, or building a puzzle can contribute to preserving my emotional well-being.

Physical Health

Of course this one feels like a no-brainer, as it is well known that physical activity is important for our health. If doing exercise starts to seem like a chore, play can be very useful and embracing play can transform exercise into an enjoyable experience. According to research, when physical activity is infused with some fun, play and creativity; individuals are more likely to lead active, instead of sedentary lives. Moreover, a 2019 study revealed that daily play had numerous benefits for people with type 1 diabetes, from improved mood to enhanced communication and support within relationships. Play, it seems, has the potential to boost our physical health and well-being in ways we may not have realized. I personally enjoy taking my dog for a walk, and finding a park to play fetch in. The experience becomes more joyful and feels more effortless.

Other Benefits of Play

The benefits of play are broad, and as previously stated play has far reaching effects into other emotional regions of our lives. Play does not only lead to having a more positive outlook on life, but playfulness extends into the realms of joy, humour, spontaneity, creativity and my favourite; hope. I feel that play allows me to have more of a zest for life and an appreciation of beauty. I also find that I recognise moments of aw and wonder better, when I feel the childlike joy of play. When I think of playing as a child, I imagine playing with other children and laughing with other children, showcasing a strong element of relationship building. Play in adulthood is no different and can improve and help create strong bonds with others. Moreover, playfulness fosters empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy in our connections with others. It’s a versatile tool that can improve personal, professional, and social relationships. Therefore, in essence, play breaks down those barriers we feel between ourselves and others, and it strengthens our bonds with our loved ones, colleagues and friends.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Play instils us with vitality, boosts our energy, and fortifies our resistance to disease, allowing us to function at our best. In essence, it is much more than just child’s-play and playfulness can contribute significantly to living a balanced, fulfilling and healthy life. So, what does play look like to you and how will you incorporate it into your daily life?

Author: Anke Kühn

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