The Power of Play

“Play is the mediator of the visible and the invisible.”(Dora M. Kalff, Jungian Psychologist)Finding Fun Those of you who listen to my blogs on SoundCloud know that I end each recorded blog by saying, “Take care of yourself, care well for others, and go find some fun.” This isn’t just a nice idea. We need counterbalancing hormones to restore us on the cellular level so that we don’t wear completely out.

We go through our days with varying levels of cortisol, adrenaline and/or norepinephrine flooding. Someone cuts us off in traffic, we’re surprised to find our bank balance is lower than we expected, our beloved pet decides to act in totally obnoxious ways, we get hungry, angry, lonely, tired —- all of these stressors ask our bodies to produce stress hormones. They can be helpful in the moment but they have a bad habit of staying too long, wearing out their welcome and our resiliency in the process.

Happy Hormones In order to come into healthier balance, we need what some refer to as the “happy hormones:” These neurotransmitters help to regulate mood, pleasure, and overall well-being. The main feel-good hormones are:

  • Dopamine (Promotes pleasure, reward, motivation, and reinforcement.)
  • Serotonin (Regulates mood, happiness, and feelings of well-being. It helps to stabilize emotions, promote a sense of calmness, and regulate sleep, appetite, and digestion.)
  • Endorphins (Natural painkillers and mood boosters that can create a sense of euphoria and help alleviate pain or discomfort.)
  • Oxytocin: (Released during positive social interactions, it promotes feelings of trust, connection, and emotional bonding.)Endocannabinoids: (Help to regulate mood, appetite, pain perception, and stress response. They can contribute to feelings of relaxation and well-being.)

The Experts You know who typically does this balancing act most expertly? Kids. Unless they go through experiences that shake up their natural rhythms, or if they have medical conditions that disrupt the process, kids have an impeccable ability to step away from stressors and rebalance themselves with play.

I learned this in my first professional counseling job, as a Bereavement Counselor in Hospice. When the families of the dying or recently deceased included children, many adults would express concern that their children “weren’t grieving,” because they didn’t seem sad, or would go and play or laugh at times when the rest of the family was struggling.

These kids taught me so much about humaning. They managed hard emotions when they could tolerate them, and then bounced off into play. They very often would make some kind of sense out of what was going on through their fantasy play, and drop that line of thought altogether to indulge in something utterly silly and just plain fun. I didn’t lead them - I followed them. They were brilliant.

Grown Up Kids I find that members of my generation and the generations older than me can be quite judgey toward Millennials and Gens Y and Z accusing them of playing too much and not working hard enough. Candidly? I think the elders are jealous. I believe the youngers are wise on this account.

Many people younger than me see the futility in the rat race that my generation fell into blindly. The idea of working to the point of physical and mental illness for the sake of more money, status or things seems really daft to them. They have a point.

The United States most recently ranked 6th in the world for labor productivity. Luxembourg ranks highest. Luxembourgers take a minimum of 25 working days off for vacation each year and work an average of 27.4 hours a week. Four of the other five countries who rank higher for labor productivity than the US work less than we do on average. Greater work-life balance is apparently more successful.

Video Games, RPGs & —-Cons Many of these youngers in the US (and some elders,) play video games, and/or participate in board based or virtual RPGs (Role Playing Games.) Some attend conventions like Comic-Con, (comic books,) GenCon, (board games like Dungeons and Dragons,) FurryCon, (animal-human beings,) or even Star Trek Conventions. (There are many more.) These endeavors are opportunities to have fun, explore other ways of seeing and being, and to connect with others in ways that can be easier than what we experience in our daily grind.

It’s a way to return to the wisdom of play in childhood, as adults.

This Is Life Lisa Ling covered a Furry Convention in the November 2018 episode of her former show, This Is Life,

(season 5, episode 8. You can stream it on Max or through Amazon Prime Video.) The people Ling interviewed talked about trying on different parts of their personalities there, safely hidden inside a costume. People who struggled to assert their limits and their desires in real life felt fully empowered to do so at the convention. It turns out to be a great way to gain practice with taking risks and asserting more of who we are with others.

I have multiple clients who regularly participate in various RPGs. Those games often become places where adults can safely do the kind of unfiltered exploration of identity, values, existential beliefs, hopes and aspirations that kids so often do. It’s a place to test out possibilities in the context of community. I have seen these explorations become powerful assets for people both in balancing their stressful lives, and in owning a fuller version of themselves.

What About You? Perhaps these kinds of play are not your thing. What is? Where do you play? And where do you play with others? It could be a sport, a hobby, an artistic endeavor. It could be that you do your freest play through sex.

Prioritizing play is part of being an alive, resilient, creative, balanced, inspired and inspiring human. It feeds us all the way down to our cells. If our lives are a plant, play is the water that helps to keep it alive.

How can you honor play in your life today? Let’s support some healing hormones!
Are you feeling overstressed and out of balance?

Contact Tiffany today.

Let’s figure out ways you can find more play in your life!