Thursday 15 December 2022

Let’s Stop Playing Down Play: The importance of being playful in our adult lives

Emily talks about how being playful beyond childhood is crucial to our mental health, emotional and social well-being, and developing our transferrable skills.

Emily Askew

When we think of play, being playful, playing, we tend to recall a vignette of LEGO sets, wooden train tracks, and joyfully noisy instruments bashed to our heart’s content (and our grown-ups’ vexation!). But, we don’t grow out of play like we do with an old pair of shoes: we seek out play in a ‘bigger size’. Playful interactions have been proven to have immense benefits to our social and emotional well-being, way before our nursery days. Playful activities can take a multitude of forms: experimenting with a new recipe, playing with pets and dancing in the kitchen all contribute to our sense of well-being through the exploration of senses and patterns of relaxation. Whilst activities that are traditionally ‘game-like’ are perfectly acceptable avenues of play - family board games, consoles, and outdoor games - it’s important to recognise the ‘playful’ in the everyday. You’re so much more playful than you think! 

Here are some ways that I like to add play into my day:

1: Take some time for yourself. 

Life can be busy but it’s important to take a small slice of time just for you. This could be 15 minutes before you get ready for your day to complete a daily challenge, like the wordle challenge that sent everyone into a linguistic frenzy. 

2: Get Creative! 

Creativity is one of the best ways to expand expression and get a dose of fun into your day. Why not try to use pictures and colours when writing out your day’s to-do list? If you’re still in the stages of revising, playful methods for revision can actually be surprisingly beneficial to memory! Instead of using revision cards, create a bespoke game of snap to play with your coursemates. By making the revision playful, you engage different parts of your brain that make it easier for you to recall information when you need it (and it makes studying much more exciting too!).  I liked to make ‘snap’ cards to help me to revise: the time I spent creating the cards was fun and really helped me to remember the content I needed to know - playing the games, later on, gave me a fun way to consolidate that knowledge!

3: Throw away the rulebook. 

There are some situations in adult life where following a manual really might help. Putting together a new chest of drawers, for instance, or fitting new windscreen wipers. We live in a fast-paced society where little time is given to ‘getting things wrong’ and this in itself does a huge disservice to what it means to explore. You can do this in the simplest tasks of the day to try something in a new way. For example, could you take a different route to school or work? I like to rearrange my room frequently to keep me thinking and to keep the ‘daily’ things stimulating!

4: Give yourself opportunities to just ‘go with the flow’ and see what happens next. 

It might be that you turn the Sat Nav off for a while to see where the road takes you or try a new podcast without reading the summary of what to expect. Giving yourself new, unpredictable opportunities means you are being playful with your expectations and pushing away from always following your ‘norm’. You may find a new love! I found this a lot within my reading lists at university - it gave me chance to explore new genres that I’d never have considered before. Venturing out and listening to new points of view can be more enlightening than you think. 

5: Be prepared to experience. 

Many of the interactions we have in our daily lives can be perfect examples of play… if we give them the chance. For example, have you ever taken a moment to feel the textures of ground coffee when you scoop them from the bottom of the cafeteria? Or play with the bubbles when you wash the dishes? Taking a moment out of the chaos of the day can be challenging but these deeper sensory experiences bring moments of emotional release and release all sorts of calm, happy hormones.  

Play is such an important part of our lives and it deserves far greater recognition for the role it plays in supporting our mental health and well-being.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.

I'm Emily, a volunteer on the Student Minds Blog. I'm an Early Years Teacher who specialises in working with babies 0-2 and am extremely passionate about sharing my love for play as something amazingly valuable for everyone to get involved with!

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