I hear it now: “Play!? You are nuts, Eileen. Don't you know how stressed we are with lockdowns, anxiety, and insecurity?”
Got it. Even more reason to find an outlet for pent up emotions and a brain on overload. As we begin to come out of this COVID-19, we’re going to need to move into crafting our work and life in ways that reflect a new reality. Yes, it will take work. And that will require play!
According to psychiatrist Stuart Brown in his book, Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens The Imagination And Invigorates The Soul, play is what will unleash creativity, calm anxiety, and allow us to focus on what matters most. To Brown, the opposite of work is not play - it’s depression!
Brown has conducted more than 6,000 play studies on what goes wrong when people do not play—studying everything from serial killers to career-driven CEOs. Given the current plethora of economic turmoil, negative news, layoff paranoia and growing unemployment lines, the notion of taking time to play sounds like a childish daydream. But if Brown is right, we could become a nation of stress-filled, hypertensive individuals who suffer far more than we need to and—at the very extreme—become downright dangerous to ourselves and others.
Brown is not original in his assertion. Anacharsis, a 6th BCE philosopher insisted that we are to, “Play so that you may be serious.” Even in the Hellenistic world, play gave rise to scientists, writers, philosophers, and builders of great civilizations.
If you consider that the task before us is to rebuild our cities, our enterprises, and our global community, then play becomes the non-chemical stimulant for channeling stress into productive outputs.
Play takes many forms. The trick is to find one that resonates with you. Consider these examples:
Marc, a job-hunting, highly skilled communications expert in the entertainment field, would coach lacrosse when he was not interviewing.
Although sidelined now because of the corona virus, he remains connected virtually with his team. In fact, he appears calmer and more confident since he started helping youngsters succeed in his favorite sport.
Glenna, a recent widow and entrepreneur, has started dance lessons via You Tube and added Bible study to her spare time. Her laugh comes easier now and she’s discovering new ventures for her skill.
Tom, faced with early retirement, collects Japanese postcards from the 1900s.
Neil, the CEO of a consulting company, goes to an organic farm, wearing a mask, and helps his wife prepare scrumptious vegan meals.
Eunice, a vice president in an international organization rides her Icelandic horse at every opportunity.
And if you think about stress, recall how a president named Obama would unwind with a game of hoops. Never mind the score—just play. (It does make me wonder if we might have some different outcomes if President Trump knew how to really play.)
Think of these examples and you’ll note that play is as much a state of mind as it is an activity. It is a mental release that reduces stress levels in the body and engages the brain in a totally different type of thinking.
Take these three steps to enter the world of play:
Give yourself permission to play. Put a play date with yourself on the calendar and treat it as sacred as the meeting with your most important client. Remind yourself that you’ll be refreshed and thinking more clearly if you play.
Find the play that best suits you. Start a Play diary, writing down moments of well-being. It might be something that occurred during the week. It might be as simple as walking the dog or as complex as taking an eco-adventure tour. It might be a romantic night with your best beloved or a sweaty 10-mile bike ride.Whatever it is—in the doing, you feel a sense of contentment and joy.
Pass play along. Encourage others. Make sure you’re not the driver who keeps employees chained to their virtual desks but rather, lead the way. If you’re in a position to do so, create a Fun Friday where everyone takes a turn at coming up with something that evokes joy, laughter, and contentment. Bring the team together via Zoom or another platform. And when you return to the real office, do what one organization did prior to the lockdown: It forbid e-mail on Fridays between anyone in the building. Instead, messages were sent via paper airplanes!
Martin Buber, German Jewish biblical scholar believed that “play is the exultation of the possible.” Isn’t that what we all are looking for now—what is possible?
Go play… so you might be serious.