Unless you’re a wellness and mindfulness guru, chances are that you’ve struggled with work-life balance. And you wouldn’t be alone. According to a survey conducted by management consulting firm Korn Ferry, 76% of professionals say that their stress affected personal relationships and 66% say that they lost sleep because of stress.
Given that millions of Americans also suffer from some form of an anxiety or depressive disorder, it’s not wonder that people are turning to wellness and mindfulness advocates to find the right path to a fulfilling life.
There are a lot of ways to thrive, but some experts have found something that might be surprising: play can benefit adults as much as it benefits children.
For Kids of All Ages
English speakers use the word “play” in many ways, but most people associate the word as “recreational activity; especially the spontaneous activity of children.” Yet for Dr. Bowen White, physician and founding member of the National Institute for Play, play is so much more than its dictionary definition.
“Play is so deeply ingrained in terms of our own evolutionary drive to survive,” Dr. White told CNN, “Play helps us connect with other people because we are open in a way that allows them to feel, maybe, this is a safe person to be with and maybe even fun to be around.”
Researchers have noted the importance of play in children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. But with Dr. White’s insight, play might very well be less of a thing that adults must leave behind in childhood and more of something they ought to incorporate in daily life.
How Play Benefits Adults
While it might seem silly and unproductive to go out and play make-believe with toys, play for adults can also take the form of a board game, knitting, volleyball, or a casual improv session. PsychCentral noted that experts like psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown found correlation between play and social skills, emotional intelligence, and strong personal relationships. Here’s a breakdown of how play can help adults:
Sometimes when you’ve been working at a task for too long, you get stuck in a rut. Taking some time to engage in play creates a low-pressure setting where your mind can find new ways to tackle problems or find a worthy project to pitch. Companies have known that creativity fosters innovation and give their employees opportunities to engage in creative activities. Companies like Pixar and Google, for instance, give their employees flexibility in designing their own desks and workspaces.
Improve Brain Function
Although your brain isn’t a muscle, it behaves like one in that the connections in your mind need stimulation and exercise in order to keep operating at 100% capacity. Engaging with puzzles or other kinds of play that challenges your brain can improve function and prevent memory problems down the road.
Too much stress can be kryptonite for productivity at work and lowers life quality. As The Balance Careers noted, stress can cause headaches, backpain, and sleep loss, which makes work difficult. Physical activities like dancing or sports can reduce fatigue, and play in general can trigger the release of endorphins that promote an overall sense of well-being.
Refocusing on Tasks
As we wrote about in our post about whether fidget toys actually work, it’s natural for humans to fidget and focusing on a task for long periods of time can be exhausting. Taking a break at work to play (sketching, cognitive games, even running) helps your mind relax, which will restore energy levels when it’s time to get back to work. As Fast Company noted, there are various ways you can balance work and breaks, but giving your mind a break is important for productivity.
Encouraging Teamwork and Relationship-Building
Whether it’s a team sport or a theatre production, engaging in play helps people foster stronger relationships with each other. Because everyone is working towards a tangible goal (such as putting on a stellar performance or enjoying a game), adults can sharpen their communication skills and build trust with the people they’re playing with. Creating stronger relationships also improves quality of life, satisfying the need for strong social networks.
Even though play is often written off as something frivolous, there are benefits to being a kid at heart. As people aim to thrive in all aspects of life, play has shown to help adults increase productivity, overall life quality, and relationships. The best parts of living are when there's fun, after all; who says that getting older means you have to be old?