We all know play is a wonderful thing, and more than just fun it is important for our cognitive development and our wellbeing. As children, play helps us to learn social signs and signals, through playing we build an active imagination, we make sense of our surroundings and we strengthen ourselves both physically and emotionally. But play does not need to stop in childhood! There are many benefits to being a playful adult, and as someone who supports children, if you become more playful yourself, both you and the children will reap the benefits. Play is fundamental for a healthy brain, so why do we tend to stop playing when we become adults?
When you are tasked with a never-ending list of responsibilities, and you’re busy keeping everyone clean, meeting assessment targets, managing staff, or simply managing a shopping list, its hard to feel playful. Flopping on the sofa in front of Netflix often seems more inviting than the effort of doing something playful. Whilst remembering to be playful as an adult can be another thing on the to do list, play itself is not effortful, it is energising!
I take play very seriously. On Thursday evenings I can be found, come rain or shine, in the grounds of my local university alongside a small group of people from all walks of life making up a game to play. It is silly, ridiculous, joyful, fun and I love it. Each week we make up and play a new game. Normally there is an object to start us off, we’ve had a ladder, a melon, even scented candles, all can be inspiration for a game. Since the start of lockdown we have adopted social distancing into our games, there’s always lots of wacky rules so keeping two meters distance just adds another element to our play.
I recognise that the exuberance of my Thursday nights is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I know from experience that even the most serious of people, if willing to give a playful approach a go, will reap physical and mental benefits from an investment in being playful.
I have turned being playful into a profession; one of the ways I do this is through running laughter workshops. In my workshops I teach people techniques for generating laughter. I do explain the science behind my approach, but nothing is a more powerful than the experience itself. I’m always excited to witness the transformation in participants from the start to the finish of a workshop. People arrive uptight, sceptical or anxious, and leave with a huge smile on their faces, feeling lighter, relaxed and more connected with one another and with themselves. I was once candidly told by a participant “I did not want to do this, I felt awkward doing it, but I feel SO much better now.” Their willingness to give it a go was what made the difference for them.
The difference between a stressed person and a person at ease is palpable. I am often told by workshop participants that the effect of an hour’s play lasted for days. Some insomniacs have told me they have been able to sleep more soundly, others report a release of physical pain or tension in their bodies. Of course, just as lockdown has adjusted my Thursday night games, so it has changed the way I run workshops and I’m currently offering workshops online via Zoom.
Play aids creativity; if you’re struggling with a mental block about a piece of work, taking a break to play is probably going to be more effective than sitting at your desk and trying to fight your way through it. Play isn’t outcome dependant, which is one of the reasons it is so useful for gaining a better perspective of a problem and finding solutions for it.
Playing with others strengthens our relationships. You will know how true this is for children, but it is equally true for adults. When we play, we have to let down certain barriers; I love it when a manager of a team really throws themselves into the activities on my courses; you can see the people they manage looking at them in a new light and the team goes away with a better understanding of one another. It’s like a night out but without the messiness of alcohol.
So how can you play more? Well you could turn up to your local park with a melon and some scented candles and see if someone wants to make up a game with you! Or you could logon to one of my online Playful Presence workshops. Or, if you want to approach play a little more gently, try adding in one or two of the following into your day:
Getting out of your head and into your body is a great way to feel more playful. When we connect with our body we remind ourselves that we are a living thing, not just a collection of worries. You can add movement into your day in small doses, just getting out of your chair now and jumping up and down a few times counts. Or dancing whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, lunging to open the door for the delivery person, celebrating a finished task with a click of your fingers, a punch in the air of a high five with someone!
Be alert to novelty in the world and revel in it. I saw a dog wearing a baseball cap earlier this week! Try to spot the peculiar things and delight in them.
Take an aspect of your routine, like putting your shoes on or making your toast and do it differently. I am currently getting out of bed differently. I’ve been rolling onto my tummy, scooting my legs out of the blanket and standing up like that, or I’ll get out of the bottom of my bed instead of the side, I’ll roll the blankets up like a sausage and do a kind of crowd surfing move over them. You cannot start your day stressed if you’ve just crowd surfed your own duvet! Taking ourselves too seriously is one of the biggest dangers in adulthood.
Play is even more important in a time of crisis; we need to build our emotional resilience in order to endure difficult periods in life. Being around playful adults helps children to feel safe and secure. So why not join me in a workshop, or give my playful tips a go? You’re bound to feel the difference!
Katie Rose White is a Laughter Facilitator and founder of ‘The Best Medicine’. She works predominantly with carers, teachers and healthcare professionals - teaching playful strategies for boosting mood, strengthening resilience and improving wellbeing. She provides practical workshops, interactive talks and training days - fusing therapeutic laughter techniques, playful games and activities, and mindfulness-based practices. The techniques are not only designed to equip participants with tools for managing their stress, but can also be used and adapted to the needs of the people that they are supporting.