People’s stress levels nowadays are through the roof. Anxiety is up. Relaxation is down. Now more than ever, it is important to find fun stress relievers, and the best stress reliever I know is playing.
Everyone knows that playing is a pivotal component of childhood. Kids need to run around and test their limits, use their imagination, explore, and socialize. It is of such importance that their is an entire field of psychology dedicated to it. But what if I told you that playing was just as important for adults?
The Importance of Play
In order to determine the results of a play-less life, a study conducted by Brown and Webb looked into the lives of abandoned children living in a Romanian pediatric hospital. The children were tied to their cots, left dirty and hungry for a majority of the day. They had minimal opportunity for human contact, let alone play. The results were upsetting to say the least.
These children were in emotional turmoil, often staring into space and rocking back and forth. Their gross motor skills were delayed and their fine motor skills were lacking almost entirely. They were entirely incapable of meaningful social interaction and were extremely agitated by the smallest disturbances.
Brown and Webb’s team worked with the children in the hospital over the course of a few years. The children were introduced to what is known as the Playwork Project: the children spent their days playing with each other and the researchers. Progress was slow at first, but by the time the study concluded, the children’s gross and fine motor skills had improved drastically, they were engaging in social interaction with each other as well as the adults, and their emotional and physical health improved exponentially.
All of those changes happened simply because the children started to play. The power of play is undeniable.
But, I’m Not a Kid
As adults, we look at playtime as something strictly for children. Adults need to be mature and well-behaved. Playing doesn’t have to mean heading to the playground to play on the jungle gym (although it totally could). For adults, it can be reading a book, going to the gym, taking pictures, and so much more. Playing is anything that engages you and brings you happiness.
Growing up doesn’t have to mean giving up your inner child. I’m lucky. I get to work with kids every day, so a huge part of my job is playing games. Board games, make-beleive games, video games, and all kinds of games that involve me using skills I woefully lack (e.g., 1 on 1 basketball games). I let my inner child out everyday so going to work is an absolute pleasure.
But, even when I’m not at work playing with my kids, I still find plenty of time to play on my own. Studies  show that engaging in play activities as an adult can foster healthier, more cooperative relationships, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve creativity.
Experts in the field of play (yup, it’s actually a career) suggest that, in order to figure out what type of play is best for you, you think back to what you used to do as a kid. For me, that was LEGOs.
LEGOs – An Unconventional Stress Ball
When I was a little kid, my basement was covered in LEGO and K’NEX creations. I built ferris wheels that actually played music and turned. I put together a really awesome red Ferrari and even a snowboard hill, complete with jumps. Then, as many of us do, I put all of those things away in the pursuit of maturity and adulthood.
I went through high school completely fine, but when I got to college…BAM. I was stressed 24/7. Classes were difficult. Being a D1 athlete was difficult. Trying to live on my own and make new friends was difficult. Everything was difficult and I was coming apart at the seams.
Then, on a routine trip to Walmart (the only store for miles at Bucknell) I happened to wander into the LEGO isle. I spent awhile reminiscing about my childhood fun putting together amazing creations. The sets I looked at were all too easy for me now and wouldn’t really hold my attention. That was until I saw my first LEGO Architect set. I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed it and headed home.
The complete and utter peace and relaxation I felt for the next few hours while I put together that set was parallel to none. I was completely absorbed in what I was doing so the rest of the world just melted away. I wasn’t concerned about assignments or training, all of which was not getting done because I was way too stressed to think, I was focused solely on completing the set.
When it was finally done, I felt a wave of accomplishment and satisfaction. My concentration level was up and I was ready to tackle my actual work. I was amazed at how productive I became.
From then on, whenever I found myself too stressed to work on an assignment, I broke out my LEGO set, broke it down to individual pieces, and started again. It never failed to relax me and center me enough to finish my assignment.
This is not true just for me but for major companies as well. Google, NASA, Coca-Cola, and Toyota all have LEGO programs built into their companies to help their employees brainstorm new ideas, work through existing problems, and blow off some steam during the workday.
It’s Not a Waste of Time
Everything is so competitive nowadays. We all want to be the best in what we do. We push ourselves beyond our limits, never letting up, just to try to be the best. You know what’s more important than being the best? Being happy.
Kids have more homework than ever. Adults are working longer and longer. Everyone is pushing themselves beyond their limits and it is having detrimental effects. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that an estimated 31.9% of adolescents age 13-18 had an anxiety disorder of some sort. The NIMH also estimated that 19.1% of US adults ages 18 and older had an anxiety disorder. If we keep going the way we are going, those numbers are only going to rise.
Something needs to be done.
What needs to be done is taking more time to play. Playing helps adults reduce stress and anxiety, work more cooperatively, solve problems easier and with more creativity, and model lifelong play skills for children.
Go Out and Play
We need to switch our focus from killing ourselves trying to be the best ever to trying to be our best and happiest self.
I am not chasing the goal of being the best in my field. That doesn’t mean I settle for mediocrity. It means I strive to be the best that I can be. I try not to compare myself to others harshly, but rather to learn and grow. I continue to educate myself so that I may improve but I have no interest in trying to beat everyone else. It’s far too stressful.
I would much rather reap the benefits of play. Wouldn’t you too?
So, next chance you get, grab those LEGOS, or that game, or that book that you have been neglecting and give it a go, maybe even head to your nearest jungle gym. I promise you that when you’re done, you’ll feel so much more relaxed and ready to tackle your next challenge.
Before you go, let us know what your favorite way to relax is by leaving a comment below.