All Work and No Play?

in Sep 07, 2021

All Work and No Play?
Ava Yeabower

We all feel the pressures in our stressful outcome-oriented society. It often feels like there’s not an allowance for play or free time that isn’t somehow “productive”. The classic proverb made famous by Stephen King’s The Shinning holds more truth than we may realize, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Although haunting in King’s version, this proverb originally written in 1659 by an unknown author was meant to highlight that the lack of balance between work and relaxation would make a person seem stunted or dull from a holistic standpoint. Soccer icon David Beckham has said that he plays with Lego pieces to control stress. Talk-show host Jimmy Fallon plays inventive games with celebrity guests such as lip-synch battles or charades as a way of getting the guests to open up in a unique way. Actress Jessica Alba reportedly plays video games such as Pac-Man and Mario as an enjoyable outlet to relax.

I remember studying the importance of play for children in various psychology courses I took in college. Play is well-researched and documented in many studies for children, but now researchers are diving into the importance in play for adults. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, California states, “Play has the power to deeply enrich your adult life, if you pay attention to it”.  Studies show that playtime for adults reduces stress, increases productivity, and improves cognitive health.

For example, can you remember the last time you played? If you’re unable to remember your last moment of play, you may be missing out on it’s many stress-reducing benefits. Brown states, “Play is a basic human need as essential to our well-being as sleep, so when we’re low on play, our minds and bodies notice,” Brown states. Over time, he urges, play deprivation can reveal itself in certain patterns of behavior: We might get cranky, rigid, feel stuck in a rut or feel victimized by life. To benefit most from the rejuvenating benefits of play, he says, we need to incorporate it into our everyday lives, “not just wait for that two-week vacation every year.” Play is proven to release endorphins that contribute to happiness and reduce our stress levels. Incorporating moments of play in our everyday lives is vastly important.

Furthermore, you may think that work and play don’t mix well, or that somehow play may hinder productivity; it’s quite the opposite. It’s been found that in work, play increases your productivity levels and makes you more inventive and creative. In fact, in their book “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College” Dr. Sam Wang and Dr. Sandra Aamodt discuss how play contributes to successful problem solving, this extends beyond work into your personal life, too. “Work in adult life is often most effective when it resembles play. Indeed, total immersion in an activity often indicates that the activity is intensely enjoyable; this is the concept of flow, or what athletes call being in the zone,” they wrote. “Flow occurs during active experiences that require concentration but are also highly practiced, where the goals and boundaries are clear but leave room for creativity. This describes many adult hobbies, from skiing to music, as well as careers like surgery and computer programming.” Leaving room for creativity in all that we do could open the door to your next ground-breaking idea.

Lastly, play improves cognitive health that lowers your risk for age-related diseases like dementia. Play is also proven to ward off feelings of depression. Keeping the mind active in new ways reinforces neuropathway connections that keep our brains healthy and functioning. So what are you waiting for?

What counts as play?
Your play experience will be as unique to you as your coffee order; it’s different for everyone. Play is often considered as a state of mind or mental approach rather than a specific activity. If you’re not sure where to start in your personal life, just try setting aside a few minutes to do something you enjoy with a new playful mental attitude. Give yourself freedom within the activity to adopt a playful mindset. Try thinking back to when you were a child – what did you often enjoy doing? If arts and crafts was your go to, try picking up an adult coloring book and markers at the book store. If sports was your thing, perhaps set aside time for a game of fetch with a new toy with your dog or go for a jog and listen to your favorite band in your headphones. What feels like play to you may feel like torture for the next person, so feel free to explore what sparks joy within you and press into that and really make it your own.

At work, incorporating play may look like utilizing colorful pens and a notebook for brainstorming on the next big project. Perhaps decorate your desk with a vibrant sunset lamp or cool inspiring quote. Try starting your next meeting with a brain teaser or puzzle as an ice-breaker to reignite creativity and collaboration with you and your team. There is freedom in play, and the positive results are endless.

The metaphorical recess bell has rung, and “Here’s Johnny!” – so what are you waiting for, go play! You may be surprised the places you’ll go as a result.


The Shinning, Stephen King

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, California

“Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College” by Dr. Sam Wang and Dr. Sandra Aamodt