Play

I love Michael Jackson.  Here’s one of my favorite Michael Jackson quotes: “I will never stop helping and love people…Continue to love, always love.  Bring on the children, imitate the children – not childish, but childlike.”

From this, I gather it behooves us to live lives filled with an abundance of love and childlike adventure. And, I agree.  From the perspective of wellness, being childlike can take us very far.

Something children do quite well is play.  We can incorporate play into multiple dimensions of wellness.  Physical?  Have fun with cooking and play in the kitchen to create healthy meals.  A great starting point is putting the salad tongs down and using our hands.  Get creative with workouts and play for fitness.  Remember doing cartwheels and jumping rope when you were a kid?  Play also applies to intellectual wellness.  We can stimulate our minds with childhood favorites like puzzles (actually, I’m working on a puzzle now that features…Michael Jackson!).  At work, a passerby may occasionally see bubbles floating in my office space.  Mindfulness practitioners have used this childhood classic as a tool for getting present, and also for de-stressing.  If we blow the bubbles and imagine each of them as a difficulty we faced at work that day, for example, we can sit back and watch it pop.  It’s gone.  Let it go.  It’s a reminder of the transient nature of things.  Art therapy is proven to be successful at managing substance use and reducing anxiety, for example, helping to promote emotional wellness through childlike creativity.  The possibilities of incorporating play into our lives to promote wellness are endless!

If Michael Jackson suggesting being childlike isn’t quite enough to convince you, here are some fun facts on play (developed by Dr. Jeanne Segal; Lawrence Robinson; and Melinda Smith, M.A.; from HelpGuide.org):

Play can:

  • Relieve stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
  • Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.
  • Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
  • Keep you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.
  • Help develop and improve social skills. Social skills are learned in the give and take of play. During childhood play, kids learn about verbal communication, body language, boundaries, cooperation, and teamwork. As adults, you continue to refine these skills through play and playful communication.
  • Teach cooperation with others. Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. Through play, children learn how to “play nicely” with others—to work together, follow mutually agreed upon rules, and socialize in groups. As adults, you can continue to use play to break down barriers and improve your relationships with others.
  • Heal emotional wounds. As adults, when you play together, you are engaging in exactly the same patterns of behavior that positively shapes the brains of children. These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children can also lead to positive changes in adults. If an emotionally-insecure individual plays with a secure partner, for example, it can help replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions.

At PRA, we take play very seriously.  What can you do to channel your inner child today?

Wellness     Whole health

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

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