Why Play's great for mental wellness

Play isn't just for kids! It turns out, it's a vital part of being a human.

This article was originally published in Peppermint Magazine

When was the last time you let yourself play? Lizzie Rose, from creative social enterprise Rumpus, explains why it isn’t just for children – and how to incorporate more time for play into your daily life…

Not too long after we’re born, most of us learn to grasp with our hands. We reach for a pen, pencil, texta or crayon with our chubby, keen fingers, confident in our clumsiness. Soon after this, we figure out this grasped tool can make a mark. It’s exciting! We draw lines, dots – sometimes obsessively – on paper, our bodies, the walls. We draw in the sand, make lines in the steam from the shower; we draw with our food, smashing pumpkin across the table. We are almost primal in our urge to make a mark. It’s something that predates verbal language; we are literally hardwired to draw. So why, then, do we stop?

We get busy and, often without even realising it, we leave playfulness behind.

If you pause and watch a child, the pathway from thinking to drawing is seamless, unfiltered, free and playful. Most of all, it happens without that all-too-familiar voice saying, “You can’t draw, you’re not an artist.” But something happens in our culture when we become adults. We stop scribbling, singing, moving and creating for the sheer fun of it. We get busy and, often without even realising it, we leave playfulness behind.

Sadly, this shift in mindset from childhood to adulthood not only costs us joy, but also mental wellbeing and social connection. For anyone who’s raised kids in the last decade or so, the focus and language around the importance of ‘play’ will be very familiar: we’re told that it’s vital for the development of social skills, creative problem solving and fine motor growth. In a nutshell, it’s a part of our biology that’s as important as nutrition, exercise, safety and sleep. For these reasons, we believe it’s time for adults get serious about the business of playing. Here are a few ideas for bringing play into your everyday…

Find your flow

Play is a curious exploration and a natural state of flow. It is experiential, preconscious and a free experience, engaging the part of our brain that helps make us feel calmer. If you’ve ever been completely absorbed in the moment, or held joyfully in the space of a lost sense of time that can come from walking in a forest, playing music, dancing, planting something in the garden or painting, then you would know the lightness, calm and happiness that can come with this. It’s not a great leap to think that regularly practising these activities can play a huge part in maintaining our mental wellness.

Connect with others (and yourself)

Playful activities or habits ground us into a state where we are more able to connect – with ourselves, others and our community. This connection is fundamental to our human needs, but sadly our communities have never been more disconnected, and the rise of anxiety, depression, stress and burn-out is considered one of the most pressing public health issues of our time. However, the good news is that the evidence shows that just 15 minutes of drawing, painting, craft, mindful cooking, gardening, building or making can decrease stress hormones, regulate our emotions, engage our imagination, and foster mindfulness and the ability to meditate.

Do it on the daily

As an adult with real-life responsibilities, it can be hard to find the time to squeeze play into your everyday. But taking even just a few minutes every day to prioritise play can help build a strong foundation, and turn this new more playful attitude into a lifelong daily habit. Some ideas include…

● Keep a notebook by your bed and write for the first five minutes after you wake up. Write what you see, hear, smell, feel – anything goes!

● Keep an easy to access collection of inexpensive paint tubes. Whether it’s watercolour, acrylic or oil, just a few colours is enough to start practising and getting used to the paint.

● Commit to time once a week to whip up things you love to cook and eat – for the fun of it, not out of obligation.

● Sketch your view each morning while you enjoy your daily tea of coffee: whether it’s a cafe, your balcony or your own living room.

● Learn a new skill: kombucha-making, sewing, bread-making, permaculture gardening, dancing – the list is endless.

The more you allow yourself to play, the more you realise what a valuable – and important – thing it is to do as an adult. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

FURTHER READING

Lunch Break: Creative Habits at Work

Never before has mental health been at the forefront of conversations about the workplace. It's time for normalising self-care at work!

learn more

In the Making : A Podcast!

In the Making a podcast by Makeshift that explores creativity as a prescription for challenging times. Featuring interviews with makers and artists who share their personal stories of how creative practices have helped them through tough times. The conversations are rich, insightful and illuminate the myriad ways that creativity (in all its many forms!) can be a true lifesaver during difficult periods of our lives.

learn more

The Four Obstacles to Creativity

Humans have always been creative. We’ve had to be - our worlds shift and change constantly, and one of our greatest skills is the ability to think of new solutions, try new things and bond together over shared stories.

learn more

Drawing, Making, Dancing: The Evidence for our approach

Growing research proves that creative habits make a big impact on our mental wellbeing. Read about why they make a difference, and how our programs introduce ways to explore this for our own self-care.

learn more

Our Impact: Helping Injured workers 'return to life'

Our Return-to-Life approach of skilling up people to find creative practices proven to regulate and reduce a range of mental health symptoms.

learn more

Our Impact in the Music Industry

Working in partnership with peak bodies in the music industry, we are delivering Mental Health First Aid training to Artist Managers

learn more

Why Play's great for mental wellness

Play isn't just for kids! It turns out, it's a vital part of being a human.

learn more

Delight as an Antidote to 2020

As we navigate the range of experiences of grief, loss and uncertainty that 2020 has brought us, let us turn to delight as an action, a tool for hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

learn more

Always Learning

National Reconciliation week has driven home just how much further we have to go in truly working towards healing.

learn more

Prescribing Creativity

Creativity is innate in all of us. And we are just beginning to understand, as a culture, the power of creative practice as a balm for grief, distress, trauma and pain

learn more

Window of Tolerance

Are you feeling wired, hyper-vigilant and awake? Panicky, fluttery in the belly, a bit shaky? Or exhausted, flat and drained?

learn more

A Dose of Nature

As we try and find a rhythm in this new way of being and living right now, try to remember to include a dose of nature, each day. It will do us all the world of good. 

learn more

Cocooning

The Irish Government are choosing to describe ‘self-isolating’ and ‘quarantine’ as Cocooning.

learn more

On Being Social

Folks, let’s talk about ‘Social Distancing’. Us humans are ‘social’ beings which means we seek and crave companionship and are suited to living in communities, yes? It’s wired into our DNA, our bones. Well, nothing about that has changed.

learn more

What is social prescribing?

“To end loneliness, you need other people—plus something else. You also need to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you.

learn more