What is play?
At first glance the question seems straight forward. And then you try to answer it… As a play therapist, I was quite appalled at myself when I struggled to answer this simple question (on a filial play coaching training course I attended recently). I was trying to answer in a way that was inclusive of adult experiences too and I got all stuttery and confused.
Perhaps I take play for granted. Or perhaps amongst the busy midst of working hard and taking on further studies I have lost touch with the concept and what it means for me as an adult. The irony is not lost on me! Sure, I play everyday in the play room and in some aspects of the classroom but it’s harder to pinpoint personal play time, where I was playing for me. We also exist in a culture where “busyness" and productivity is highly emphasized and almost a competitive sport in some circles.
After a few minutes of head scratching I came up with this definition...
So for a child this might mean exploring how to best dress Teddy up or how to build that Lego aeroplane. But for adults, play might look like doodling on a pad, fiddling with craft project or taking a mindful walk on your lunch break. The possibilities are endless!
Here are 5 reasons why we should all be stepping up our play game.
1. Play releases oxytocin a.k.a. the love and bonding hormone
Oxytocin is often called “the love hormone”. It is the hormone released between a mother and her infant when feeding, it also surges from hugs and in moments of intimacy. If you want to strengthen any relationship, bring in some spontaneous play and feel your connection and happiness grow.
2. Play makes you smarter.
Spend even a short amount of time with a young child who is freely playing and you’ll realise how much learning and problem solving comes from play. I once watched my friend’s 18 month old daughter play with a pair of shorts for at least an hour. She must have put her two legs in one hole a hundred times! She kept persisting and trying out different variations, laughing along the way at the “pickles" she got herself into. She soon finally got it. A really complex task when you think of the limited co-ordination and motor control skills of an 18 month old!
Have you ever wondered why you think of that solution when you’re daydreaming out the window? Or why your best ideas come to you when you’re in the shower? When we enter our own creative play space within our minds we activate the unconscious parts of our brain in the right hemisphere. This area, unlike the left hemisphere which tends to work in a linear fashion, works in a more fluid creative manner often beyond our conscious awareness.
3. Play is good for your health
Recent research has found adults that regularly engage in playful and creative activities reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Play helps reset the appetite point in children helping obesity. Societies deficient in play have higher prevalence of depression, violence, addiction and stress-related illnesses.
4. Play is mindfulness made easy
Play keeps us in the present. You can think of play as a state of mind or practice. An attitude of playfulness is an open mind and sense of curiosity. When we’re fully in the moment we are not dwelling in the past or getting anxious about the future. Play helps us re-calibrate and get centered (with practice).
5. "The opposite of play is not work, the opposite of play is depression.” Dr Stuart Brown
Mental health is related and just as important as your physical health. Play reduces stress which is beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing. If you haven’t seen this TED talk about how play is important for our survival, take a little break and watch it here.
Bonus reason: It's fun!
Not to get too morbid, but we never know when our life will be up. Time is our most precious resource so we should spend it wisely. I want to have fun on the way to reaching my goals. Want to join my play train?
So, with much excitement I want to announce a wonderful initiative my friend over at Clear Sky Foundation has started. Introducing #PlayfulMay! I'm challenging myself to bringing play to each day in May. Are you up for the challenge?
Share your playful moments on Facebook and Instagram and remember to use #PlayfulMay. The mission is to spread play, joy and awareness of how important playing is for everyone. Not just kids! Find out more information here.
Follow my challenge!
I'd love your support :) Have you liked our Facebook page yet?
Confession! I've started my play challenge a bit earlier. I'm playing around with Instagram. All very new to me! You can find me at @fullcupplaytherapy
Cheers to life long "players"!
References and recommended reading:
Cozolino, L.(2014). The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain
W. W. Norton & Company
Play and health/wellbeing