Play your way to wellbeing
Updated: Feb 26
A few years ago someone asked me what I did for fun. Innocent enough question. My response: "ummm.........*crickets*......"
What the holy guac! I actually could not answer the question!
At the time I was a very tired new mum, whose husband worked away. I needed every ounce of energy I could muster to look after my toddler and get through my work. (Fortunately I worked from home so most days I didn't need to expend any energy getting out of my pyjamas!). My favourite game to play with my toddler was Hospitals, because I got to lie *micro-nap* on the couch while she peered into my ears, listened to my heartbeat, and whacked my knee with a novelty reflex hammer.
Being unable to answer that question was certainly a jolt. While I could think of things I enjoyed doing with my child that were based on her needs / wants, and apart from a (challenging to schedule) catch-up with my besties or Netflix binge, I couldn't think of anything that I did for myself that I personally found fun. Even more concerning was that I found it hard to imagine things I might like to do!
As well as feeling like a total bore, it's no coincidence that, at the time, my psychological wellbeing was suffering. While you have likely heard about the benefits of play for child wellbeing and development, the strong positive link between leisure play and adult wellbeing has also been extensively studied. Findings have shown that social, active and productive leisure activities positively influence areas of well-being such as pleasure, social-emotional health, mental stimulation, reinforcement of self-concept, self-esteem, self-efficacy and sense of purpose.
While this is good to know, it is all too easy to let the pressures of our busy lives take priority and neglect to schedule that vital time to play. What have you done in the last week that was solely for your enjoyment? Please take this as a call to schedule in your next leisure activity. Extra points if your activities are creative, active and social!
Two things that changed my life for the better were going to a series of beginner art classes and joining a social netball team. The art classes reignited a past passion and I have since painted many a picture at home in the evening, glass of wine in hand. Joining a sport team meant I knew others were relying on me to show up each week, not flop down on the couch after a tiring day. I've since joined an additional team as it's such a fun way to exercise, build skills and socialise.
Here are my self awareness questions and tips for introducing more play into your life:
Recognise that play and leisure are vital ingredients to your wellbeing!
Have a think about the things you loved to do before life got crazy - how can you reintroduce these into your life?
Is there an activity that you are putting off until retirement? Don't! If you can start it now, do it!
Set firm boundaries around your work. Put in your best during work hours and then CLOCK OFF.
Are the things you currently do in your free time really benefitting your wellbeing? Are you wasting valuable hours scrolling or binging Netflix - what else could you be doing that would be more uplifting and satisfying?
Ask the people in your life for support. Schedule the sharing of child care with your partner or a friend so you both get opportunities to do fun things for yourselves.
Don't let a fear of not being good enough put you off starting that art project or sporting hobby. Perfectionistic thinking is a huge trap. Try to hook into a Beginner's Mindset and give that thing a red hot go. No-one is expecting you to be amazing and you might just discover your next passion.
If you can't get out to a class can you find a YouTube tutorial? YouTube taught me how to "extreme knit", which is a surprisingly satisfying way to spend a winter evening.
Invite a friend to join in with you. If there is any possibility you might chicken out at the last minute, booking in a friend to start the activity with you is a great way to ensure commitment. And of course make the activity even more fun!
Give it a try - you will be happier, healthier and more fun at parties!
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