When we talk about the importance of play, we typically talk about ensuring younger children have access to recess or free time during their school week, but play is an essential part of our well-being at any age. Unfortunately, busy schedules for teens and adults can cause us to put off playtime indefinitely as we rush around putting out fires in our daily lives. In our go-go-go world, play is often seen as a frivolous and unproductive activity. We have a tendency to feel guilty for indulging in playful activities when there are tasks to be tackled. But having time to play is essential to leading a healthy, productive life in the long run. A raucous game of kickball may not help you cross anything off your massive to-do list, but it’s a more productive use of time than you might think.
Play releases endorphins, which relieve stress, anxiety and lift your mood in general. It also improves brain function by boosting memory, problem-solving skills and creativity. Play helps you be fully present in the moment, providing you with a much needed break from daily stressors or worries. And playing with others strengthens relationships, fosters empathy and trust, and can be an effective way to overcome past hurts. Family play encourages bonding - making family relationships stronger and increasing family resilience. Play is an important tool you can use to increase your overall sense of well-being, as well as to nourish the important relationships in your life and increase the wellness of those around you. Consider making it a goal to work more play into your life by:
- Giving yourself permission to play: Acknowledge that even when faced with many other obligations, you deserve the opportunity to care for yourself. Tapping into the rejuvenating nature of play is one way to do just that.
- Finding your own kind of fun: Know that play looks different to different people, and follow your own interests and passions.
- Scheduling play: Actively reserving space in your week for play can help keep other obligations from sidetracking your fun.
- Invite others: Strengthen relationships by playing with friends and family, and build community by finding others with similar play interests.
- Arrange outings dedicated entirely to play: Trips to the pool or park, where you can’t be distracted by things that need to get done around the house, or technology like iPhones and televisions (which can get in the way of more fully-involved play) help you give playtime the priority it deserves in your life.
- Explore an interest or revive an old hobby: Give yourself the gift of time spent doing something you love, or exploring something you're curious about. Remember that play isn’t about the product, but the process, so it’s okay if you turn out to be the world’s worst knitter as long as you enjoyed the experience.
- Adopt a playful attitude: Be open to joking with co-workers, or even strangers waiting in line with you at the post office. Sometimes even a small personal connection while running errands can bring an unexpected amount of joy into your day, as well as someone else’s.
- Seek guidance from the masters: Feel like your play skills are a little rusty? Younger children and animals are usually more than happy to remind you how to embrace playtime in your life.