Play is something we tend to think of as being for children only, but really anyone with a brain can benefit from play. Play can help release hormones that lower stress, facilitate happiness, prevent depression, and even improve your cognitive abilities. Some studies even show that regularly making time for play can improve your physical health by lowering your risk for heart disease.
We often think of play as an important piece of child development that teaches kids social skills, motor functions, problem-solving, and empathy. Play can provide all of this and more for adults. Not only does play have many mental health benefits, but it also just makes life more fun and pleasurable, and that’s hugely important on its own. Life doesn’t have to be nonstop work and misery. You can make time for play and recapture the joy and freedom you felt as a kid.
One reason that adults don’t tend to focus on play is that it’s deemed a waste of time. We tend to make less and less time for ourselves as we get older, and with all of the commitments of modern adult life, it’s no wonder that people don’t have enough time for play. We all have work, money, families, and responsibilities to think about, and it can be tough to make even the tiniest bit of time for yourself. That’s especially true in our hustle culture, where it’s seen as a badge of honor to be endlessly busy. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
With the increased focus on self-care becoming more mainstream, play is becoming an option for more and more people as adults. Not only is it important to take care of yourself so you’re functioning as well as you can, but it’s also crucial to make time for pleasurable things in life. You deserve to feel happy + safe!
So, how exactly can play benefit your mental health as an adult? Here are 4 ways:
Lower stress levels
When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that keep your body activated and ready for fight or flight. Making time for play can release endorphins into your bloodstream, which help lower the levels of stress hormones, calming you down. Many of us live with chronic stress to begin with, so making time for activities that will counteract those stress hormones can make you feel a lot better.
Play is an important part of the developmental process for kids, but play can also help improve your brain function as an adult. Using your imagination and creativity to think outside the box helps rewire new neural pathways in your brain. You can literally reprogram your brain by doing things you don’t normally do – it disrupts the patterns you normally live in, and your brain learns how to adapt. It’s easier to learn when you’re in a good mood, so making learning fun can help boost your level of creativity and even your problem solving skills.
Deepens social skills
Kids learn how to interact with other children through play, and the same can be true for adults. It can be hard to develop relationships as an adult, and approaching others through play can be easier than bonding with someone over current events or the weather. Play can help you explore your boundaries, increase your communication skills, and learn how to collaborate and work well with others.
Process emotional trauma
Play therapy is a type of therapy that is often used with children. The idea that play can help a child explore their world and feelings is a cornerstone of play therapy, and play can help adults do the same. You can explore the world of your inner child by recreating the things that brought you joy as a child. You can express how you feel about complex situations in your past through an art project or take some time regularly to practice mindfulness.
But how can adults play?
Think about the things that make you feel at peace or full of joy. Maybe for you it’s spending time outside or engaging with a loved one or even moving your body physically. All of these things can be incorporated into play as an adult!
Here are some ways to incorporate play into your adult life:
- Join a local intramural sports league
- Start a hiking group in your area
- Explore trails nearby
- Ride your bike around your neighborhood
- Play fetch with your dog
- Teach your child a game you liked as a kid
- Revisit activities you liked as a child (reading, painting, singing, dancing, etc)
- Have a snowball or water balloon fight (depending on the season)
- Make a craft (paint a picture, color in a coloring book, crochet, collage, etc.)
- Build with legos
- Climb a tree
- Practice an instrument (or pick up a new one)
- Play a language learning game like DuoLingo
- Read a book you loved growing up
- Visit an animal shelter and pet some animals
- Go to a water park or amusement park
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate play into your adult life, our clinicians can help you find what works best for you. Get in touch today.