I recently attended a luncheon where Dr. Elisha Goldstein presented on how to create and sustain positive changes in the brain. Dr. Goldstein is the co-founder of the Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles and has published extensive articles, books, and blog posts on the topics of mindfulness, well-being, and happiness. During his presentation he read a quote that stirred my imagination about a concept that has become lost in the adult world. He read,
"The opposite of play is not work, it's depression." - Dr. Elisha Goldstein
In today's society the idea of play appears to be reserved for those ten and under. For children, the concept of play is a critical part of brain development, which enhances emotional, social, and cognitive growth. As children become teenagers the desire to play decreases as the the pressure on the social environment increases in addition to the high demands of academic achievement.
The question we all need to revisit is how can we return to a childlike state of mind where play is not obligatory but a natural priority. As adults, can we once again incorporate play as a natural process of seeing and understanding the world as it helps to enhance emotional regulation, social engagement and relational attunement? When is the last time you spoke about play with your romantic partner? With your boss and colleagues? What about with your family?
Potential benefits of PLAY:
-Telomere lengthening (i.e. slow down the process of aging)
-Higher vagal tone (associated with general well being and lower levels of inflammation and chronic disease)
-Increased BDNF (a protein produced throughout the body that is associated with increased long term memory)
So what does this whole play thing look like? No, it may not be necessary to go and find your favorite toys from childhood but you may want to take a moment and think back to your most fond memories as a child involving play. Who were you with? What was involved? Remembering the social and environmental clues that allowed you to play may be helpful hints on how to recreate play as an adult. Try brainstorming activities that make you feelcreative, at ease, and comfortable in your own skin. If you are still struggling to think of ideas, practicing self compassion and self care may be a good place to tart.
Not only is the data strong on how play affects the brain and body, it also can enhance the relationships we have with others allowing for increased moments of joyful spontaneous interactions. The next time you feel anxious, overwhelmed or overworked think of how you can incorporate play back into your life.