I spent a chunk of last week wallowing in crankiness. I wanted to pick fights and complain. Deep down, I knew what the problem was, but I came up with all kinds of excuses, mostly surrounding the need to work harder and get back into the swing of non-travel routine. What was my problem? I hadn’t had any play time.
The subject came up over dinner last week, and instead of continuing to give it lip service, JB and I did something about it. We left the dishes on the table, grabbed a couple of golf clubs, and headed to the golf course. We chipped balls, putted, and laughed. My tension evaporated and the next day was more productive than the entire previous week had been.
It’s no surprise that I get cranky when I’ve been deprived of play, nor should it be surprising if you feel the same way from time to time. We are conditioned by society to believe that work should be our top priority, and that time spent with loved ones should be quality time, while play time is meant for competitive activities or only allowed while we’re on vacation. We get trapped by these rules, even though they really only exist in our heads.
The truth, however, is that when you don’t allow yourself to play, when you actually deny those normal impulses to engage in play, it’s bad for your well-being, and can actually lead to stress, fatigue, and depression. At the risk of sounding too clinical, let me share the words of Stuart Brown, from his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, “The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.”
It’s time, then, to break those mental rules and remember that if you want to live life in the zone you have to let your inner child out to play on a regular basis.
How do you do that? Think back to when you were a kid. What did you do for fun? Devote an hour this weekend to exploring one of those favorite activities, or if you’re at a loss for ideas, try one of these:
Embrace your Inner 4-year-old
Buy a bottle of bubbles, sit on your back porch, and go through the process of dipping into the bottle, not caring when your hands get slimy, and blow bubbles. Let go of who you are from 9-5 and watch your bubbles float into the atmosphere.
Be in 1st Grade for an Hour
Purchase yourself a fresh box of crayons and a pad of manila paper (or a cool coloring book) and color. Make a collage by cutting out pictures from magazines and gluing them on a poster board. Use your hands to create a piece of artwork just for the fun of it. And when you’re done, hang on it the fridge.
Listen to the Voice of Your Grandmother
When I would spend time at my grandmother’s house, inevitably I would become mopey and bored. And when I became bored, I would talk to her incessantly while she was watching her “shows.” She would look at me and say, “Debra, go outside and play.” I would go into the yard and pick up cool rocks. Or climb the tree in her front yard. Or run as fast as I could from the back porch to the fence. I got outside; I got active without a specific plan. I got sweaty, scraped my knees, and got dirty. GO OUTSIDE and bum around for half an hour. And when you’re done, come inside and have a cold glass of lemonade to cool off.
Honor Your Inner 12-Year Old
Do you remember the days before you had your driver’s license? I sure do. The way I got anywhere was to ride my bike. Drag your bike out of the garage, hop on, and go for a ride. Don’t go with the idea of logging a specific number of miles or getting your heart rate to a specific number, just go for the pleasure of being outside in the fresh air. Let the wind caress your face. Listen to the sounds of nature around you. See where the road takes you.
It’s All About the Game
Do you remember playing basketball with your friends at the playground? Or escaping the summer heat with board games like Monopoly and Sorry? Grab a friend and play a game. It’s not about who wins or what your score is; it’s about the camaraderie and laughter that evolve when you play a game with a friend. Shoot some hoops. Go to the driving range. Drag out the Scrabble board. JB and I have cards, Backgammon, Monopoly and Chess. Some of our best weeks seem to begin with a weekend spent playing games.
Spend Time In Your Own Little World
I loved two things when I was a kid: books and Barbie dolls. I would spend hours going on fictional adventures with Trixie Belden, and my Barbie dolls not only had cool houses and a camper, but lived in a vivid and exciting world created in my mind. Spend some time in solitary activity that makes your creative juices flow. Pick up that romance novel from the library, write a story starring your favorite fictional character, or build a model airplane. Lose yourself in the richness of your imagination.
Go Back to High School
Do you remember your first boyfriend? There were excuses for brushing against you. Holding hands was a thrill. And you got butterflies when he kissed you. Go on a date with your partner. Hold hands. Talk. Laugh. Flirt. Connect. Make out like you won’t be going further than 2nd base. Don’t go in with a preconceived notion of anything, just go and enjoy the thrill of connecting with the person you love. If you want to jump forward in time at the end of the evening and make love, by all means do! Just don’t plan your date with the goal of sex, it’s about having fun with your partner without expectations.
Whatever form of play you choose, remember that playing is done for its own sake. It’s voluntary. You experience freedom. You open yourself to creative exploration. When you finish, it leaves you wanting more. Play helps the brain adapt and improvise when unexpected challenges arise. Playing will allow you to release stress, gain energy, and be more productive. When you find yourself overly tired and more than a little irritable, remembering to add some playtime into your life will allow you to soar into joy.
What about you? What favorite childhood activity do you want to bring back into your life this week? How do you want to spend your playtime?