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Play and Mental Health

What is play? Play can be defined as “just goofing off” with friends, family, and or co-workers.

Play and playfulness do not exclude getting things done. With a little thought and creativity even washing the evening dishes together, doing laundry, grocery shopping or achieving productivity goals can be playful and fun. Play and playfulness enhances a person’s sense of “joy” and well-being. And in doing so, adds to mental health.

Some well known products of play and playfulness are stress relief, enhanced learning ability, greater creativity and problem solving and improvement in a person’s sense of being connected to each other and the world. This is even more clear when we allow people and ourselves to escape the isolation and “electronic pollution” that is a byproduct of modern life.

Play and playfulness allows people to better connect with each other in their environment. It improves a sense of community, trust and the ability to overcome past “trauma and emotional wounds”. As mentioned, play and playfulness can unblock creative problem solving. By taking a break to play or be playful, once stubborn problems can be dispatched.

Play and playfulness can also be a healing balm within relationships. In the absence of the release of play and playfulness stressors that build up over time have a nasty way of expressing themselves, causing further damage to relationships and outcomes. Health and productivity being one such casualty.

Some companies have discovered the value of play and playfulness. Take for example the dot.com industry. Many have installed foosball, ping pong, and pool tables. Still others, such things as basketball hoops. Even if a company does not offer such things there are many other ways to introduce play and playfulness. For example, it cost little or nothing to have a good joke at the ready to share, do a puzzle, word or number game during lunch and on breaks. Still other ways to access the benefits of play and playfulness are to organize group outings after work like bowling, miniature golf, or a meeting for drinks and or a good meal. In growing numbers employers are recognizing that “the time spent at work is not always associated with the quality or quantity of that work.”

The rejuvenating powers of celebration also should not be ignored. For example, celebrating when long and short term goals and productivity is met, or when someone gets married, has a baby, achieves something academically, comes or goes, or spends time in service. The reward of such efforts goes beyond mental health and the creation of a sense of well-being. Benefits have been shown to include greater job satisfaction, less time lost to illness, as well as a reduction in turnover and burnout.

Play and playfulness does not only improve mental health, and the well-being of a group and individuals within that group. It also improves something called “flow.” The flow of better problem solving, new creative approaches to stubborn issues, and improved relationship maintenance and teamwork.

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