As children, playing is natural and easy. Children do not think of play time as an important way to relieve stress, or a great way to burn off excess energy. They do not understand why recess allows them to return to class ready to learn again, nor do they appreciate the glorious wonder of nap time.
Besides having it enviously easy, children are not only allowed, but encouraged, to do all those wonderful things we should be doing. The irony is that children will fight some of these things – like naptime – tooth and nail, while as adults most of us would give our eye teeth to be able to take that nap. How much success would we have if we were able to nap during the day and play in the afternoons? Probably much more than we have now!
In our stressful, grown up lives, we need to remember the importance of playtime and the benefits of naptime. Both of them are things we should incorporate into our daily lives to ensure lasting physical and mental health. We need the decompression offered by strenuous play, the healing of sleep, and the soothing of some quiet time. Most of us, though, live in a perpetual three ring circus. Many of us have even forgotten how to laugh.
• Take Up a Sport – Nothing is better for soothing your soul and making you feel good than a hard workout, where you work up a good, healthy sweat. Prolonged, moderate exercise triggers your body’s endorphin release, and you get a dose of those natural hormones that make you feel good. Endorphins not only give you a boost in spirit, they have actually been shown to relieve symptoms of mild clinical depression.
Playing a sport allows you to interact as part of a team. You build camaraderie in an atmosphere of fun and friendly competition. This provides entirely different relationships than those you have at work, giving you a new perspective on life as you develop new friendships. If you decide to join a team at the office, try not to talk too much about work while you are playing. Allow your mind to rest.
The icing on the cake, of course, is that you will also make yourself stronger and healthier by engaging in a sport. You strengthen your heart and lungs, build your muscles, lengthen your endurance, and provide other many healthful benefits for your body.
• Get a Hobby – You’re never too big to build model cars or planes, play with rockets, put puzzles together, or play games like cards. Much like sports, hobbies provide a block of time where your focus is needed elsewhere, outside of the office. By necessity, you step away from your daily grind for a few moments of enjoyment. Your mind is diverted while you concentrate on the task at hand – gluing model pieces together, sorting edge pieces of the puzzle, or strategizing to kick your friend’s tail in poker.
Aside from games, you can skate, ride bikes, jump rope, throw a Frisbee, or do any number of other things similar to activities you used to enjoy as a child.
• Take Time to Read – For those who prefer quiet contemplation to reckless abandon, pick up a novel and lose yourself in it. Books – especially fiction – provide a great escape. Your imagination carries you off to new lands and embroils you in impossible situations. The stories may be wildly romantic, eerily frightening, or downright absurd. Whatever your preference, your mind is removed from reality for a while, providing you with an entertaining diversion.
Reading, as with many other activities, is a skill. In the process you may unwittingly learn new vocabulary, increase your comprehension, and develop an ability to read faster. Without even realizing it, you may be building skills that will translate into better efficiency at work. Don’t focus on that, though – allow yourself to be carried away in the moment.
The ability to play, whether you already know how or need to rediscover it, is a wonderful way to achieve life balance. Counteract the drudgery of the office, the stress of a career, and the pressure to succeed with some good, old fashioned playtime. Learn to laugh, and find out for yourself just how much happiness playtime can bring, even if you only get a few minutes at a time. So the next time you are at the park and the sprinklers spring to life suddenly, rather than run the other way, try running through them. You will feel ridiculous and you will be soaked, but you will also feel amazingly great.