Dangers of playing as an adult. Warning: Serious side effects!
I first got hit with a serious play bug at the end of April when my friend, and fellow play therapist, Sophia proposed the #PlayfulMay challenge. Playing at least once each day throughout May. Read more about the back story behind this over at Clear Sky Foundation, and how I got involved here.
I'm delighted to say I made it! 31 days of play! Simple, fun, but not always easy. Especially in our current work focused productivity obsessed culture. As a play therapist it would look terribly bad if I failed this though, wouldn't it?
From my personal experience and observations there are some dangers and side effects you need to be aware of should you too expose yourself to habitual "play" as an adult.
For me it took action in 6 progressive stages:
Stage 1 (Days 1-6): Negative Affect. Doubt, guilt, fear and insecurity.
When you find yourself prioritizing play even if just for 5 minutes, don't be surprised to feel waves of guilt (I haven't finished my to-do list), doubt (Am I doing this right?), insecurity ("me-time" makes me selfish), fear (if I take a break now, I'll be overwhelmed when I get back to work), & insecurity (What will others think of this? Will they lose respect for me or find me annoying?). This will continue on for 3-7 days until you realize that stressing about play is counterproductive.
Don't worry this is natural. We've been trained to belittle play as trivial and non essential (probably since the industrial revolution. Damn those wealthy factory owners). This should change once more people become "infected".
Stage 2 (Days 7-11): Neuro-biological change from new neural pathways in the brain. Relaxation, joy, connection, increased bravery, synchronicity & insight
Finally the opiates and oxytocin kicks in! This happened around day 7 for me. I would have never posted a video of myself dancing (in my slippers, no less) on social media before. I felt too happy to care how others may judge me. I just wanted to share the joy.
Synchronicity may not affect all but for me it did. I noticed an unusual song follow me around from a mountain top to a unplanned get together. No offence to those who are, but I am not a Miley Cyrus fan so hearing one of her old songs was odd! "The climb" popped into my head whilst climbing a mountain. "Sweet lyrics" I thought."What am I, a tween?!"
Then, I kept noticing ladders in shops and on the streets. The next day, we got pulled into a neighbour's house unexpectedly, that song was playing. It was amusing to see my neighbour blushing and shuffling quickly towards their laptop. "How did that come up?! he said. Ahem. An hour later we played wood workshop and made an impromptu ladder for a tree-house. Whether you believe in coincidence or not, the theme of climbing & ascension got my attention and made me think about the meaning behind the "climb".
Leaving more space for play, leaves more space for experiencing new things. A change in our outer world can trigger an inner process where we get insight into ourselves or a situation.
I felt like a got an extra wink from the universe when one of my idols Kris Carr acknowledged me and liked one of my posts on Instagram. Me? 6 day Instagram newbie?! Cue another celebratory dance, extended & offline this time ;).
Stage 3: (onset Day 12-13) Slight remission of play behaviours
A rapid transitory stage. It's common to slip back into old ways and leave play until the last minute when you're already burnt out. I figured out that lack of play = cranky pants. Had I become dependent? I'm not a quitter so I kept on the play regimen.
Stage 4: (Day 14-20). Challenge & strength
People start to notice something is definitely different about you by day 14 and some may feel a little jealous. Comments like "I wish I had time to do that" and "I'm too busy to play". This was hard for me. I've long prided myself on my strong work ethic. I wanted to contest "no, I'm very busy and important too" but this challenge was (partly) to help me unlearn the busy addiction behaviour. We are all important but we're likely not as important as we think we are. Nothing terrible happens when I don't complete everything on my to do list.
Then, I wanted to downplay my play. I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed and too busy. I don't want to make others feel bad. I'm glad I didn't succumb. By playing, I give others permission to play too!
This very thing happened on day 20. An old friend I hadn't heard from in a while piped up in the comments section of my post. " Your post made me think so I am logging off at 5 as well tonight so I have energy for the rest of the week.Xxx"
Knowing that I had helped spark her self care on that day made my play challenge efforts even more worthwhile. Even if that's the only outcome of this.
Stage 5: (Day 21- 24)Improved cognitive performance
With play and subsequent relaxation, the brain moves away from fight or flight responses and makes use of both hemispheres helping creative problem solving. I felt I was in the flow, creative solutions came easily. Remarkably I was more productive with less effort and time. I also had strong calls to be outdoors.
Stage 6: (Day 25-31) New neural pathways cemented. Feelings of expansion.
I'm in full play swing. Improved courage, spontaneity and sense of adventure. Strong feelings of gratitude and presence in the moment. An abundance of laughter, at times I felt a case of "Positipsy"*(My new favourite word I heard from the lovely Marie Forleo. *=Drunk on positivity!). Pronounced self awareness and affection. For the last day, it took me the longest time to post. I wanted to finish strong but I had a hard time choosing which play to mention. I'd become a habitual player! With play it's really not what you do, but how you do it. Play was spreading to even the mundane.
The absolute best symptom of play is that it's contagious! It's pretty obvious now at the end, my play bug became my play medicine. That's why even though May is over, I will continue to play daily. If I'm not bringing a playful attitude I'm going to put some kind of play on my to do list. Will you?
Did you come down with a case of play flu too?
Are there days you find it easier to play (or more difficult) to play than others?
Which one of my daily posts spoke more to you? Any favourites?