How often do you let go of responsibilities and just enjoy an activity for fun? Focusing on something we enjoy rather than what we have to do—playing—is as important for adults as it is for children. Incorporating play into your everyday routine is a proactive way to manage stress. It turns out that stepping away from our responsibilities—for a little while at least—is good for us!
For adults, hobbies and sports are more about either socializing or getting away from the crowds, and less about developing social skills as they are for children.
Hobbies promote mindfulness and flow, or “getting into the zone,” and play is about bonding and communication with others and ourselves. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the many benefits of an active lifestyle include:
- Preventing certain diseases
- Increasing lifespan
- Increasing happiness
- Decreasing depression
- Helping to cope with loss
- Maintaining cognitive abilities
What Does Play Look Like for Adults?
Robert L. Trestman, Ph.D., M.D., chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Carilion Clinic, describes play as whatever we really enjoy doing.
“Play can be alone or with others. It can be a hobby, playing an instrument, getting together with friends," he said. "It often serves as a time to be social in an unstructured way and a great release from the pressure of everyday life.”
Playing results in laughter, joy and excitement, each of which includes health benefits for adults.
"Laughter is an important part of play," said Dr. Trestman. "Laughter tends to reduce stress hormones and enhance optimism and resilience. A playful attitude reaps great benefits in problem solving, creativity and our close relationships."
Managing Stress Through Play
Adults often resist play, considering anything unproductive as a waste of time. While there are programs in place for teenagers and children to help them step away from their daily problems, adults tend to handle stress by:
- Engaging in physical activity
- Taking yearly vacations
- Undergoing therapy
- Practicing meditation
But play takes stress-reduction a step further. It's about taking a break, but it’s also about having fun, in whatever way is meaningful for you. Take care of yourself and the benefits will resonate to all parts of your life.
If you are having trouble even imagining yourself at play or find stress reduction a challenge, a visit with your primary care provider can help.