“Play is just for kids”….“I don’t know how to play”….“Playing scares me”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these sentences (and other similar ones) over the past few years, from clients and parents and workshop participants.

It can be easy to get disconnected from play as adults – or wonder why we need it at all. Being an adult is often equated with “being serious” and “pulling your sh*t together”. Play is nowhere in that process.

When I meet with a new client I am often curious about how they play and what being playful means to them. Play isn’t necessarily about using blocks or paints or toys (though it can be, even for adults!) but about what it means to be playful. Play can have a tremendous impact on our mental health, our relationships and our lives. I love this quote from Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play – “Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.”

Take a moment and think – How often do you play? Are you connected with playfulness in your life?

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My recent play story

For me, it means exploring, being curious, and not following a pre-set plan (which is something I struggle with, to be honest, as an incessant to-do list maker). Play means being able to make mistakes, let something be messy, and be okay with it. Being playful means laughing, being flexible in the moment, and just having fun. When was the last time you had fun?

If you feel like play is the last thing you need right now, or that you’ll play when you get x, y, and z sorted out, then it probably means you need to play NOW. On a personal level, I know that when I get caught in the loop of to-do lists, always feeling behind, and overwhelm it can be really hard to pull myself out of it. Things start to feel tight and uncomfortable in my body, and I feel like I’m carrying a weight around. That’s when I know I need to play.

So last Saturday after a brunch with friends in the West Village, my husband and I headed towards the Strand, one of my favorite NYC places. I realized I hadn’t been there in a while, and as a life-long reader, bookstores always feel both soothing and playful to me. So we wound our way through the West Village towards the Strand. We were in a part of the West Village unfamiliar to us both, and I went to pull out my phone to navigate us there. And then I stopped and realized that I knew the general direction, so why not meander?

And meander we did – one of my favorite ways to play. We walked slowly, without looking at our phones, past beautiful brownstones and quiet gardens. I noticed little architectural details and then a historical plaque across the street. I knew I was really reconnecting with my playful self when I darted across the street to read it closely (turns out Emma Lazarus lived there!). We made it to the Strand (slower than my “planner self” might have preferred) and I spent a blissful hour in the fiction section, slowly choosing 2 novels to buy (also a playful decision – I realized I had been reading way too many therapy-related books lately. I love my work, but balance is important!).

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Your playful self

I hope my story inspired you to slow down and reconnect with your playful self (I know you have one!). Feeling in a bit of a rut when it comes to play lately? Here are 5 quick ideas for you to try:

  1. Walk a different way to work (or the train or anywhere else you go) and see what you notice around you – sights, colors, anything at all
  2. Put on your favorite song and dance (like no one’s watching, who cares??)
  3. Walk barefoot in the grass or on the beach
  4. Make plans to do that fun thing you keep putting off (you know you have one!)
  5. Try something new – a new workout class, new smoothie flavor, new genre of music

If connecting with your playful self feels challenging, please reach out – I love helping women use play and creativity to move through feeling stuck and live confident, happy lives.