Our society tends to dismiss play for adults. Play is perceived as unproductive, petty or even a guilty pleasure. The notion is that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play.
“The only kind [of play] we honor is competitive play,” according to Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author ofWhy Normal Isn’t Healthy.
But play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids.
“We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” according to Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D, vice president for play studies at The Strongand editor of theAmerican Journal of Play.
Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.
In his bookPlay, author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything that constitutes play. Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown, founder of theNational Institute for Play.
Brown has spent decades studying the power of play in everyone from prisoners to businesspeople to artists to Nobel Prize winners. He’s reviewed over 6,000 “play histories,” case studies that explore the role of play in each person’s childhood and adulthood.
For instance, he found that lack of play was just as important as other factors in predicting criminal behavior among murderers in Texas prisons. He also found that playing together helped couples rekindle their relationship and explore other forms of emotional intimacy.
Play can even facilitate deep connections between strangers and cultivate healing. In addition to being a doctor and speaker, Dr. White is a clown. His alter ego, Dr. Jerko, is a proctologist with a large behind and a doctor’s coat that says, “I’m interested in your stools.” Over two decades ago, White began working with renowned physician Patch Adams.
Today, White continues to clown at children’s hospitals and orphanages all over the world. He even clowns at corporate presentations and prisons. “Clowning isn’t something we’re doing with kids, we clown with everybody,” he said.
He’s clowned on the streets of Moscow. White doesn’t speak Russian, but that didn’t stop him from playing with people in Red Square. Within 45 minutes, he was juggling and joking with a crowd of 30.
In Colombia, White’s wife and Patch Adams’s son – also clowns – visited a bedridden father, at his daughter’s request. Once there, they sat on either side of his bed. He didn’t know English, and they didn’t know Spanish. Still, they sang songs, laughed and played with a whoopee cushion. They also cried. The woman later told them that her father deeply appreciated the experience.
As White said, play can lead us to these sacred spaces and touch people in powerful ways.
What is Play?
“Defining play is difficult because it’s a moving target,” Eberle said. “[It’s] a process, not a thing.” He said that it begins in anticipation and hopefully ends in poise. “In between you find surprise, pleasure, understanding — as skill and empathy — and strength of mind, body, and spirit.”
Brown called play a “state of being,” “purposeless, fun and pleasurable.” For the most part, the focus is on the actual experience, not on accomplishing a goal, he said.
Also, the activity is needless. As Brown said, for some people knitting is pure pleasure; for others, it’s pure torture. For Brown, who’s almost 80, play is tennis with friends and a walk with his dog.
How to Play
We don’t need to play every second of the day to enjoy play’s benefits. In his book, Brown calls play a catalyst. A little bit of play, he writes, can go a long way toward boosting our productivity and happiness. So how can you add play into your life? Here are a few tips from the experts:
Change how you think about play. Remember that play is important for all aspects of our lives, including creativity and relationships. Give yourself permission to play every day. For instance, play can mean talking to your dog. “I[‘d] ask my dog Charlie, regularly, his opinion of the presidential candidates. He respond[ed] with a lifted ear and an upturning vocalization that goes ‘haruum?’” Eberle said.
Play can be reading aloud to your partner, he said. “Some playful writers are made to be read aloud: Dylan Thomas, Art Buchwald, Carl Hiaasen, S.J. Perelman, Richard Feynman, Frank McCourt.”
Take a play history.In his bookBrown includes a primer to help readers reconnect with play. He suggests readers mine their past for play memories. What did you do as a child that excited you? Did you engage in those activities alone or with others? Or both? How can you recreate that today?
Surround yourself with playful people.Both Brown and White stressed the importance of selecting friends who are playful – and of playing with your loved ones.
Play with little ones.Playing with kids helps us experience the magic of play through their perspective. White and Brown both talked about playing around with their grandkids.
Any time you think play is a waste, remember that it offers some serious benefits for both you and others. As Brown says in his book, “Play is the purest expression of love.”
Anxiety and panic disorders can cause ceaseless feelings of fear and uncertainty — and with that suffering often comes comments that are more hurtful than helpful. According to Scott Bea, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, while it usually comes from a heartfelt place, a lack of understanding from others can make working through a panic attack incredibly challenging.
“So many of the things you might say end up having a paradoxical effect and make the anxiety worse,” Bea tells The Huffington Post. “Anxiety can be like quicksand — the more you do to try to diffuse the situation immediately, the deeper you sink. By telling people things like ‘stay calm,’ they can actually increase their sense of panic.”
Despite everything, there are ways to still be supportive without causing more distress.Here are seven comments you should avoid saying to someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder — and how you can really help them instead.
1. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
The truth is, what you consider small may not be so minute in someone else’s world. While you may be trying to cast a positive, upbeat light on a tense situation, you may be diminishing something that’s a much bigger deal to another person.
“You have to enter the person’s belief system,” Bea advises. “For [someone with anxiety], everything is big stuff.” In order to help instead, try approaching them from a point of encouragement rather than implying that they “buck up” over something little. Reminding them that they overcame this panic before can help validate that their pain is real and help them push beyond those overwhelming feelings, Bea says.
2. “Calm down.”
The debilitating problem with anxiety and panic disorders is that you simplycan’tcalm down. Finding the ability to relax — particularly on command — isn’t easy for most people, and it certainly can be more difficult for someone suffering from anxiety.
In a blog post on Psychology Today,psychologist Sean Smith wrotean open letter to a loved one from the viewpoint of someone with anxiety, stating that even though there may be good intentions behind it, telling someone to calm down will most likely have the opposite effect:
Let’s acknowledge the obvious: if I could stop my anxiety, I would have done so by now. That may be difficult to understand since it probably looks like I choose to [panic, scrub, hoard, pace, hide, ruminate, check, clean, etc]. I don’t. In my world, doing those things is only slightly less excruciating than not doing them. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but anxiety places a person in that position.
According to Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, your words don’t have to be your most powerful method — offering to do something with them may be the best way to help alleviate their symptoms. Humphreys says activities like meditation, going for a walk or working out are all positive ways to help.
3. “Just do it.” When someone with anxiety is facing their fear, a little “tough love” may not have the effect you’re hoping for. Depending on the type of phobia or disorder someone is dealing with,panic can strike at anytime— whether it’s having to board an airplane, speaking with a group of people or even just out of nowhere. “Obviously if they could overcome this they would because it would be more pleasant,” Humphreys says. “No one chooses to have anxiety. Using [these phrases] makes them feel defensive and unsupported.”
Instead of telling someone to “suck it up,” practicing empathy is key. Humphreys advises swapping pep-talk language for phrases like “that’s a terrible way to feel” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“The paradox is, [an empathetic phrase] helps them calm down because they don’t feel like they have to fight for their anxiety,” Humphreys said. “It shows some understanding.”
4. “Everything is going to be fine.” While overall supportive, Bea says that those with anxiety won’t really react to the comforting words in the way that you may hope. “Unfortunately, telling someone [who is dealing with anxiety] that ‘everything is going to be alright’ won’t do much, because nobody is going to believe it,” he explains. “Reassurance sometimes can be a bad method. It makes them feel better for 20 seconds and then doubt can creep in again.”
Bea suggests remaining encouraging, without using blanket statements that may not offer value to the situation. Sometimes, he says, even allowing them to embrace their worry — instead of trying to banish it — can be the only way to help. “They can always accept the condition,” Bea said. “Encouraging them that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling — that can be a pretty good fix as well.”
5. “I’m stressed out too.”
Similar to “calm down” and “don’t sweat the small stuff,” you may be accidentally trivializing someone’s struggle by creating a comparison. However, if you are stressed or suffering from a mild anxiety or panic disorder, Humphreys warns that camaraderie after a certain point can get dangerous. “It’s important not to obsess with each other,” Humphreys advises. “If you have two people who are anxious, they may feed off each other. If people have trouble controlling their own anxiety, try not to engage in that activity even if you think it might help.”
Research has shown that stress is acontagious emotion, and a recent study out of the University of California San Francisco found that even babies can catch thosenegative feelings from their mothers. In order to promote healthier thoughts, Humphreys advises attempting to refocus the narrative instead of commiserating together.
6. “Have a drink — it’ll take your mind off of it.”
That cocktail may take the edge off, but when dealing with anxiety disorders there is a greater problem to worry about, Humphreys says. Doctors and prescribed treatments are more of the answer when it comes to dealing with the troubles that cause the panic. “Most people assume that if someone has a few drinks, that will take their anxiety away,” he said. “In the short term, yes perhaps it will, but in the long term it can be a gateway for addiction. It’s dangerous in the long term because those substances can be reinforcing the anxiety.”
7. “Did I do something wrong?” It can be difficult when a loved one is constantly suffering and at times it can even feel like your actions are somehow setting them off. Humphreys says it’s important to remember that panic and anxiety disorders stem from something larger than just one particular or minor instance. “Accept that you cannot control another person’s emotions,” he explains. “If you try to [control their emotions], you will feel frustrated, your loved one suffering may feel rejected and you’ll resent each other. It’s important not to take their anxiety personally.”
Humphreys says it’s also crucial to let your loved ones know that there is a way to overcoming any anxiety or panic disorder — and that you’re there to be supportive. “There are ways out to become happier and more functional,” he says. “There is absolutely a reason to have hope.”
Things I have learned from travelers and by being a traveler...
Hiya from Boston! I think the last time I wrote a legitimate post was a long time ago while I was in Australia. So sorry for that. I kind of fell off the map (literally). Anyways, over the past year and a half I have had the amazing opportunity to spend time traveling on my own and experiencing plenty of new and different places (and people.) So in honor of the new year…2 weeks late, I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned that I want to apply going forward into 2014.
1. Say “yes” to opportunities and experiences (once in a lifetime and common)
I know this sounds normal. But I didn’t realize how much I was saying “no” to things or would postpone things until it was too late. I would pass up opportunities that I thought would maybe come around again or that I didn’t seem too interested in. However once I started saying “yes” to even the little things, I found myself feeling that I was much happier and finding new things I liked…sometimes activities that I would usually write off.
2. Try to meet someone new everyday…and have a conversation with them.
Okay, this is more of a goal than an actual revelation but I found it really helpful in allowing myself to really open up to the people around me. I also found myself making new connections and creating relationships with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise talked to. And now I regard some of these people as my closest companions.
3. Everyone has a story. We just need to listen.
Some of the most amazing people I have met have been times where I just allowed myself to listen to the other person. Whether it be at a local pub in London or the dining hall on campus, some of the best connections I have made have been when I stop thinking about “me, me, me” and allow myself to be the sounding board for someone else. By doing this, I have had the opportunity to listen to some pretty inspirational stories of heartbreak/loss and the triumph that comes after it.
4. Embrace the silly and embarrassing
Because in the end they are good memories to laugh about, and I could always have more laughs in my life.
5. There’s no need to try and grow up so quickly
I’ve made friends with people of all different ages and I always thought that the reason my much older friends liked being around me was because I behaved like a mature adult. But I’ve come to realize, I’m still basically a kid inside. I blow bubbles in my chocolate milk, jump in puddles, and still have a very idealistic view of the world. So what was it that allowed our strong bond to form with these people older than myself by several years? They had refused to let go of their inner child as well. And while I’m not a total advocate for Peter Pan syndrome, I’ve learned that approaching life with the mind of a child allows for one to become more open and less critical of the world we life in. It allows us to embrace our world with its corruption and flaws and say “Hey, I’m going to take whatever good there is left and roll with it.” I’ve found I am much happier living moment to moment compared to planning out every step of my life.
6. Trust the good in people, not everyone has a hidden agenda
I was raised by two lovely parents who both had grown up in New York, worked in New York City during the 80s, and do not give out their trust easily. So naturally, I grew up with this idea that it is okay to be kind to people but don’t trust them right away, which is fine and definitely kept me safe as a kid. However, traveling by myself and having to do various things on my own I found that asking for help and trusting people was my best option if I didn’t want to get lost in the middle of a foreign city. The more I put trust into other people, the more I realized that more often than not these people truly wanted to help me out. Now, this doesn’t mean trusting the creepy guy who wants to lead you down an alleyway is a good idea. Intuition is something we all have and if you’re gut says, “No,” don’t go.
7. (Last one!) Trust yourself!
Over this last year and a half, I have realized that one of the most important things I can do is to believe and trust in myself. Having confidence in my abilities as a young woman has allowed me to conquer many battles, from making new friends in college to getting myself from one side of a country to another without missing a plane. I have found that I have more tools in my toolbox than I realized and that I am more of problem solver than I had ever had thought. Trusting myself has allowed me to take on new challenges with a force and find out more about myself as a person than I could ever have imagined.
So happy (belated) new year loves. May this year bring the best of luck and new adventures.
When I was born, there was a celebration of pink. My family was elated for their perfect princess baby girl. They were excited for the dresses and bows, the dollhouses and fairytales. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of those girly toys that I was supposed to love, but instead of an ethereal baby girl, I came out of the womb kicking and screaming, my big brown eyes searching and exploring and wandering. I can imagine all of the dreams and wishes and hopes everyone had for me, but instead, I was fat.
I remember the first time I thought I was fat. I was five. I was five. And I knew what the word fat was, I knew what it meant, and I knew I was it. Fat. It was the first day of kindergarten, my wild red hair clipped in a bow, my floral dress perfectly ironed for the special occasion. I looked around the room and saw books and crayons and toys and pictures and games and other girls who were half my size, easily. My smile faded. These girls… my arms were the size of their thighs.
I remember the most recent time I thought I was fat. It was this morning. It was this morning. And I knew what the word fat was, I knew what it meant, and I knew I was it. Fat. It was today, just like any other day. My faded red hair- more of an auburn color really- curled and combed, my jeans taken straight out of the wash. I looked in the mirror and saw a gap in my teeth and uneven eyebrows and a big nose and bags under my eyes and my body, my body that was so big, no one would notice my teeth or eyebrows or nose or bags because it was so monstrous that they would be afraid I might eat them, too.
Fat. What is that word, what does it even mean? If we’re looking at it in chemistry class, it’s a group of natural esters of glycerol and fatty acids. In the animal kingdom, it’s an oily, greasy substance in bodies, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as natural- natural. Colloquially speaking, it can mean “financially substantial or desirable.” But to me, to the kids in the back of the school bus, to the magazines plastering the shelves at pharmacies and bookstores, fat is synonymous with me. A 5’9” woman with childbearing, beautiful curves who is a healthy weight for her height and is classified under “athletic” in body fat percentage.
Throughout my nineteen years of life, I have battled my way to this point, a point where I can flat out say and truly understand that I am, and never was, fat. But goddamn, it is hard to believe. I have moments where I’m on top of the world, where I know that I look good and I love my body for everything it is and does for me. But most of the time, I’m at war with my body, trying to tone this and change that, anything to rid myself fat. But no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, it’s never good enough. I’ve been 100 pounds and I’ve been 170, but no matter what, I viewed myself as not good enough. But here’s the thing: I am good enough. I am only human, and I am good enough. That’s all I can be.
“A plea: If you are reading this, and you are struggling, please don’t give up. Whoever you are. Don’t give up. Keep reaching out. Keep asking for help. Please? I’m so happy you’re still here. I’m so glad I’m still here. Let’s all keep it that way, okay? Please. Let’s all do everything we can to make it to the next sunrise, and the one after, and the one after that. Hang in there, god dammit. No feeling is final. Shit washes off. And life is beautiful. So fucking hold on.”—My friend, Mer.