As the world continues to spin in a COVID-upended reality, virtually every person on the planet has experienced an increase in stress and/or isolation as a result of the last fifteen months. Without healthy ways to abate those negative forces, people experience deterioration in their productivity, emotional or physical wellbeing, mood, and quality of life.
While most adults are aware of that reality, what is not as commonly known is that a simple but powerful antidote exists that doesn’t require medication, doctor’s visits, therapy, or expensive interventions: Play.
What is Play?
Play has many definitions, but a common theme identifies play as any activity engaged explicitly for enjoyment rather than performance or production. “Adult play includes anything that promotes amusement, is stimulating, or creates interest for the sake of pleasure versus productivity” says Allison Forti, Ph.D., LCMHC, NCC, and Associate Teaching Professor and Associate Director of the Department of Counseling Online Programs at Wake Forest University. Play can range from incorporating an outing or hobby into a day of the week to momentary reframes of normal activities that make them new. What children do inherently that we often entirely give up as adults can cause significant and long-term benefits if we’re willing to engage in play.
How Does Play Benefit Adults?
Play can create a number of positive outcomes for adults:
- Play increases our capacity for problem solving. “Micro moments of imagination and creativity train the mind to solve problems, connect with people, and relate to ourselves in positive ways” says Forti.
- Play improves our creative thinking. “Play is an important part of refueling and rekindling creativity” says Anamara Ritt-Olson, Ph.D. and Clinical Assistant Professor in the online Master of Public Health program at the University of Southern California). “Its very nature encourages us to think outside the box and to employ our imaginations in ways we often aren’t encouraged to do in other activities.”
- Play boosts our emotional resilience. According to Dr. Forti, “Play buffers adults against the challenges and stressors of life… Play softens the expectations of being productive all the time and invites adults to enjoy the present moment, to find flow, and to be mindful.”
- Play strengthens our social connection with others. Social isolation and loneliness, though different from each other, can both cause significant strain on our cognitive health. Play can provide a powerful platform for increasing and diversifying our social connections with other people. Social interaction improves our motivation and lessens our social isolation.
Ideas for Incorporating Play Into Your Life
Many outlets and strategies exist for incorporating play into your life that can help you combat stress and increase cognitive health. These range from momentary, spontaneous choices to significant lifestyle changes that can reorder and regenerate your daily life. Even the most minute strategies or changes can create results. Not yet ready to jump into the deep end? Start small.
Simple Play Techniques Anyone Can Incorporate
If the idea of learning how to play sounds daunting, feel free to keep it simple. “Play can be as simple as taking 15 minutes to play a game on your phone,” says Ritt-Olson. “Or if you have children, take time to engage and play with them.”
Another approach is to gamify your work assignments. Treat yourself to rewards for a job well done. Make up a story on your drive to work. Try learning a new skill or hobby just for the fun of it. Challenge yourself to incorporate play in at least one small way per week.
Larger Lifestyle Play Ideas
Once you’ve practiced simple play techniques and habits, you might find yourself looking for more substantial changes you can make to increase play’s effects on your quality of life. Think about the following ideas for integrating play into your rhythms:
- Get a pet. A huge spectrum of research supports the concept that interaction with animals and the process and routine of taking care of a pet can be hugely beneficial. Plus, pets are fun. They provide social and playful interaction and can significantly impact your quality of life.
- Join a weekly gym class or sport. Lack of exercise and physical movement negatively impacts our cognitive health. Conversely, incorporating even casual gym or sport involvement into our regular routines can have a strong positive effect on your overall wellbeing. Physical activity alone, like going on walks, can increase your cognitive health. Add to that physical activity the added social benefit of group workouts or classes or playing a team or group sport and you compound the positive benefits you’ll experience.
- Take a day away. Play includes anything enjoyable done devoid of ulterior purpose or production value. Thought leaders across a variety of arenas tout the value of taking time off. Whether this looks like actually taking your vacation days or simply taking a Saturday away from the normalcy of routine and work and chores, getting a break from having to be productive or taking time to rest or enjoy something else entirely every once in a while can do wonders for your cognitive health.
Guest Author Bio
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.