The Path To Wellbeing May Be Paved With Play

How to connect to your inner child.

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When you refer to play therapy, it’s most often in reference to children, but the whimsical and spontaneous elements of play can be beneficial for adults too, The New York Times reports. While it might be more difficult for adults to engage in play, the outcome may well be part of the path to essential wellbeing. “Play is enormously important,” Catherine Price, author of The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, told Shondaland. “We’re such perfectionists, so to find a context in which you can let down your guard, it’s incredibly freeing and very conducive to fun.”

Defining play
Play therapy is a technique that originated in the field of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, where a trained therapist observes a client while they engage in play and follows their lead, according to Medical News Today. This approach is rooted in the belief that children communicate subconsciously through play, unwittingly disclosing information about themselves.

As children learn how to interact with the world and develop skills through play, it serves as a natural form of self-expression for them. During play, a child may act out their emotions either directly or symbolically, providing a therapist with valuable insights into their emotional state. By playing together, a safe and non-judgmental environment is created, enabling individuals to express themselves more freely.

Playfulness is an attitude and action that can lead to a more lighthearted and enjoyable daily experience, and it can be cultivated by anyone, explains Price to Shondaland. According to Price, the benefits of fun are significant. Fun, defined as a combination of playfulness, connection, and flow, can reduce stress, promote intimacy, encourage relaxation, and enhance creativity. These qualities can also help decrease chronic inflammation, which is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and cancer.

Although fun may appear to be an impractical focus, it is, in fact, a valuable health intervention. “It has the opposite effect on your body physiologically than when you are feeling lonely, isolated, or emotionally stressed out,” Price adds.

Finding your inner child
Playfulness thrives when perfectionism is absent, as it requires surrendering to the present moment. To let yourself become flexible and open to opportunity, ask yourself, “What's the worst that could happen?” When approaching a fun activity, Price advises Shondaland. This simple question can cultivate a playful mindset, one that embraces absurdity and the ability to laugh at oneself. A "yes, and" approach, inspired by improv comedy, can also be helpful, where you build on whatever suggestion is presented to you, whether it's by a scene partner or a friend or child.

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, emphasizes to Shondaland that play is fundamental. By letting go of expectations and pressure, you can increase your chances of truly enjoying yourself.

Brown suggests that to start feeling playful, you need to identify your “play personality.” The eight archetypes that he’s identified, based on more than 6,000 interviews and clinical observations, can connect you with activities and opportunities to find your playful self. The archetypes include the creator, who finds joy in making things; the collector, who enjoys assembling objects; the storyteller, who plays with imagination through words and images; and the joker, who plays through silliness, humor, and practical jokes.

In pursuit of true fun
Fun isn't synonymous with everything that claims to be enjoyable. “There are a lot of products and activities that are marketed to us as fun,” Price told Shondaland, “but if you actually think about the feelings they produce, they’re not playful [and] connective, and therefore they’re not fun. It’s fake fun.”

Social media is a prime example of such products. Although there are important benefits, and it appears to be a fun leisure-time activity, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health, according to the Mailman School of Public Health.

Understanding the difference between true and fake fun helps individuals to determine how to spend their time and what to limit. Price suggests that true fun can happen unexpectedly and in small doses, such as having a brief, funny conversation with a stranger while walking your dog.

Another way to experience true fun is to pay attention to small delights like a blackbird singing in the early morning or a cup of tea bringing warmth to your hands on a winter day, and then sharing these moments with friends. 

Feeling playful, connected, and in the moment, even for a brief period, is genuine fun. Playing can lift your spirits and boost your overall mental health. 

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