Often when we think of play, we think of children or our childhood. As we get older, often the concept of play is lost. Most adults don’t realize play is a necessary form of stress relief. Play is an integral part of staying healthy and should be a pivotal component of any wellness plan. One could argue it’s a more enjoyable part of a wellness plan than, say, giving up desserts or eating more kale but it can still be challenging to practice and implement.
Scientists have shown that plentiful play is a must for the appropriate development, not only of children but young animals as well. For example, ravens play tug-of-war, tease dogs, and even swing upside down from branches. When ravens get bored, it causes their stress levels to increase, and they begin to peck their feathers out.
Tara Martin, a faculty veterinarian at the University of Michigan, says an animal that is not allowed to play is pretty stressed. It can affect hormones within their body, it can affect their immune system, and it certainly can affect their brain development.
Studies show that preventing play causes dysfunction in animals, and one researcher even found that most serial killers did not play as children. Adequate play is essential for the development of motor skills, socialization, problem-solving, creativity, conflict resolution, and mental and physical health.
Have you forgotten how to play?
Unfortunately, industrialized nations with long work hours, have lost touch with the importance of play and are robbed of the stress relief it can bring. All work and no play makes us more vulnerable to stress-related diseases, depression, interpersonal violence, and addiction, according to Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, and founder of The National Institute of Play. Brown has conducted more than 6,000 play studies on a wide range of people and says play is a particularly important form of stress relief in downtimes, such as the current stay-at-home situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Have you forgotten how to play? One way to rekindle the inactive play pathways in your brain is to recall how you played as a child, and investigate those activities that sound fun. It could be rollerblading, tossing a Frisbee, shooting hoops, playing pickleball, storytelling, or even playing fetch with the dog. The idea is to have fun and forget you’re engaging in a powerful form of stress relief.
The elements of successful play
Think of successful play more as a state of mind than a particular activity. The health benefits go beyond stress relief as regular play will make you feel better about yourself, stimulate brain activity, enable you to transform negative experiences, boost creativity and imagination, and help you connect with others.
The reality is, regular play can make people happier, and happiness is a great medicine to relieve stress.
According to Brown, and Diane Ackerman, author of Deep Play, genuine play has the following qualities:
- Play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun.
- It is not about improving a time or score or winning at all costs.
- Play has its place, separate from the rest of life (a basketball court, the roller rink, a favorite trail, or even your back yard).
- Play has a prearranged time—it’s essential to make time to play.
- Play is about exuberance, license, and abandon.
- Play requires freedom—you do it because it is enjoyable, not because you’re supposed to.
- Play involves a “make-believe” element.
- Play is enjoyed for its own sake.
Be safe and stay healthy,