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The Power of Play: The Antidote to Prevent and Cope With Depression

November 24, 2021

The Power of Play: The Antidote to Prevent and Cope With Depression

With the holidays swiftly approaching, I have been thinking a lot about the purpose of play and rest in our busy lives. There seems to be an endless stream of things on the to-do list, which only increases with the demands of the holiday season. So, why do you feel exhausted even when you have gotten enough sleep and feel you are keeping up with your work-life balance? Why do you struggle to find joy even in those moments when you are intentionally cultivating “fun” for yourself or your family? I would like to propose that the loss of play and downtime in our adult lives has greatly diminished our ability to achieve balance and find pleasure in both our work and personal lives. Many of us crave this regularly, but struggle to name it.

When Fun Became Anxiety

Dr. Brené Brown talks about the importance of play and rest in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. As someone who struggles with craving a sense of control, it feels foreign to carve out time to do something with no quantifiable value, no intended goal, and just for the sake of doing it. But, if I’m being honest with myself, I deeply desire to have this sense of spark and freedom in my life. When I spend time on a hobby for pleasure, it often involves some form of music. However, I have a lot of hang ups associated with music and performance that I never had as a child. This could be because I worked professionally as a singer for a number of years. I took my passion for music and turned it into a vocation, which in some ways was wonderful, but it also quickly became about pleasing others and perfectionism. I lost that original connection I felt when I was younger. It stopped transporting me and became a source of anxiety.   

As a child, for a period of time, when it rained heavily, I would go to the piano and write a new song to match my mood. I remember singing my heart out and sometimes crying, because I felt so moved. Somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of singing. I’m trying to find my way back to those moments at the piano in the rain. Now that I’ve transitioned music into simply a hobby, I still feel intense pressure to get it right, to craft something of value and not waste my time making music which isn’t “perfectly” crafted and well received. All of these critical voices, self-doubt, and performance anxiety start to seep in, and it often stops me before I even begin the process. So, my current aim is to shed those expectations and go back to the basics: simply having fun singing and writing songs again, with absolutely no expectations. You may have those childhood moments of sheer bliss, of being in flow while doing something you love. You just need to find a way to access that again. So much is lost when you don’t allow yourself to take that journey, to be creative just because it makes you happy and brings a feeling of freedom. These moments will enhance your life and may bring back that sense of being more fully alive. In order to do this, you must unlearn a lot of the things you are taught growing up and choose to prioritize it. It is a lifelong process for many of us.

Adult Play as the Antidote to Depression

Dr. Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist and clinical researcher who founded the National Institute for Play. He studied how play shapes the brain, helps with imagination and enhances our lives. Interestingly, he described play as the antidote to prevent and cope with depression. What he discovered is that play brings excitement and newness even to our work lives, helps us master skills, and is a core part of the creative process. Play seems to tap into the deepest parts of our needs and desires; therefore, it is essential whether you prioritize it or not. If you choose to dismiss its importance, you will invariably feel its effects. It is not an optional thing. There are some wonderful articles which highlight the importance of taking self-care days when you need them, the benefits of play in various areas of your life, what play looks like and how to incorporate it into your life. 

Rest and Wellness

Downtime is also a core component of emotional and physical health. So, why isn’t it seen as a higher value by most of us? Perhaps it is because you may be praised for over working and for achieving things that bring greater wealth or status. When people mention feeling tired or a need for rest, it can be perceived as a weakness. This toxic mindset starts to seep in and affect the choices you make. So, why are you surprised to find yourself depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted, and feeling lost?

I have experienced feeling judged or criticized for carving out the time and space for self-care and fun in my life. It is still difficult to practice setting boundaries by saying yes to rest and play and no to the things which I feel will elicit the most praise from others. However, I never regret acting on that impulse and following through on that which my mind and body are longing for. This doesn’t look the same in every season of life. I must continue to check in with myself and ask: What feels right? What is out of balance? Adjusting to what is and being flexible and kind to yourself is an important part of the process.

Play and Rest Checklist

Prioritizing play and rest is a common struggle. My aim is to normalize it and encourage you to prioritize it. Sometimes even small changes can make a huge difference to the quality of your life. Below are some reflection questions for you to meditate on or journal about toward a more restful and playful life.

  • What would it look like to go against the norm and choose to carve out time for play and rest?
  • What are the activities that will bring you fun and joy? 
  • What is on your to-do list that doesn’t need to be there? 
  • What are the things that should take priority in your life and will enhance your sense of spark, joy and rejuvenation?

I hope you have a great time exploring these things and find that the child in you comes out to play, perhaps even surprising you now and again.    

Begin Counseling in Seattle, Washington

Are you feeling burnt out and overworked? Are you struggling with finding joy and pleasure in your life? With the guidance of a mental health counselor, you can begin to prioritize your happiness and wellbeing. Your therapist can work together with you to create healthy habits, combat depression, and improve your mental health. You can begin online counseling in the comfort of your own home. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation today to get started. 

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Author

Crystal McGregor is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Thrive for the People.

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