Throughout the years I’ve had a turbulent relationship with play. Being an all or nothing type of person I’ve gone from ‘all play and no work’ in my twenties to ‘all work and no play’ in my thirties. In recent years my desire to progress in my career has led to a more ‘all work and no play’ approach, which has admittedly been fuelled by my perfectionism.
After some discussions with my therapist I realized that neither approach had served me very well. If I wanted to increase my resilience to stress when it arose and reduce the possibility of burn out, I needed to introduce more play into my life!
Of course I am no stranger to stress management but I felt fantastic being highly driven and super productive – after all, I was experiencing no obvious signs of stress. My therapists argument however, was that my lifestyle was simply unsustainable. And she was right. Although I didn’t get stressed, shortly after our session I developed anxiety as a result of pushing myself too hard and realized that my ‘all work and no play’ approach had none the less taken its toll.
I rationalized that although I knew fun and relaxation were just as important as work, if I could just finish the task at hand, I would get around to it. I am embarrassed to admit that for a while, ‘getting around to it’ just didn’t happen. Keen not to indulge my inner critic, I accepted that although I should maybe have known better I had learned a valuable lesson – the kind of lesson that sometimes only direct life experience can teach.
For those of us that don’t have much play in our lives the costs can be awful. A rigid and inflexible approach to life’s constant changes, mild but persistent depression and even decreased stress resilience can all result from a life without play, causing us countless problems.
For example, constructive criticism in the workplace may be perceived as outright malicious targeting, causing stress (which you’ll already be less resilient to) and even depression. The person who has play in their life will be more optimistic, flexible and adaptive and, as a result, far more likely to see the value in the constructive criticism and able to alter their working style in line with the feedback. As you can see, having play in our lives is essential if we are to limit the problems we face in life.
We know that children play all the time, but adult play is often a foreign concept. So how do grown-ups play? Dr. Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play cites play as art, books, movies, music, comedy and joking, flirting, sport and even daydreaming. (Please see below under ‘further resources’ for a link to his excellent book on play). Adventure can also be an integral part of play, with novelty often adding to our sense of fun and enjoyment. In essence play can be defined as something we do for the sake of it, where the means or process is valued greater than the outcome.
As well as reducing the negative effects of a lack of play, play has many benefits too. Dr. Brown asserts that a life with play leads to greater light-heartedness, empathy, flexibility, adaptiveness, optimism, hope for the future and produces a sense of belonging. Play even promotes our being open to new ideas and increases our creativity.
These benefits create more fulfilling relationships and social bonds, increase our aptitude to change and allow us to have a positive view of life – both as it is happening and in relation to the future. As a result of his research, Dr. Brown found that play was actively present in the lives of those who were very successful and had many accomplishments. I found this discovery particularly encouraging given my highly driven nature and my ‘all work and no play’ disposition.
Stay tuned – next week we will look at the different types of play and I will share a list of all the types of popular play to give you ideas about how you can incorporate more play into your life.
Do you think play is important? When you have played in the past, what were the benefits that you noticed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
- List how many times you engage in play each week.
- Evaluate whether you are reaping the rewards of play and, if not, whether you have enough play in your life.
‘Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul’ by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan