Playtime isn’t Just For Kids, & Incorporating it Into Your Schedule Could Improve Your Mental Health

The banana bread has cooled. The novelty of working from home has vanished. Zoom fatigue is as real as ever. Yet, the pandemic rages on. It’s challenging to imagine an activity that can replace the joy of hugging friends at a coffee shop or attending a concert. However, it’s more important than ever to disconnect from our digital lives and find joy in our surroundings. Studies show that playtime shouldn’t end with childhood. With lockdowns continuing across the United States and adult stress levels at an all-time high, it’s time to reconnect with your inner child and rediscover the joy of play – something we shouldn't have let disappear with our childhoods.

Forget about being productive 

When the pandemic first began, I fantasized about becoming a professional painter. It wasn’t until I bought my first set of watercolor paints that I realized painting was harder than it looks. But by then, I was hooked. Painting was therapeutic, fun, and different from my day-to-day life. Hobby enthusiast Alanna Okun wrote for Vox that failing in a “low stakes” environment is beneficial for adults. It’s liberating to practice a hobby simply for the joy of the task.

Abigail Bashor, a Marketing Assistant at the National Inventors Hall of Fame, learned how to play the guitar during quarantine. “There’s something gratifying about practicing something each day and getting better little by little,” she remarks. Playtime should not be productive, nor should there be any rules or regulations. Try and ignore the pressure to be productive, and instead focus on the joy your hobby brings to you.

woman painting with watercolors Photo by Sincerely Media from Unsplash

Find a getaway & stick with it

There’s a reason your Instagram feed is filled with photos of embroidery, knitting and quilting. These repetitive activities are therapeutic. Toss in an audiobook or a podcast and you have successfully escaped reality. This sensation was called a "flow state" by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 2004 Ted Talk, meaning you become more focused while immersing yourself in your activity of choice. 

This getaway can also be categorized as a form of meditation. Creating art or engaging in an immersive activity can transport one into a meditative mindset, and who wouldn’t benefit from a little escapism right now? If literal mediation isn’t for you, then coloring, knitting, or quilting may be just what you need. 

Playing is basically like eating your vegetables 

Playing has a plethora of benefits, and there’s no downside. It’s like eating broccoli, but way more exciting. According to the National Institute for Play (NIFP), adult playtime reduces your stress levels, and “gives the immune system a bounce.” Dr. Stuart Brown, President of NIFP, argues that not indulging in these activities could have serious consequences for adults. According to Brown, adults who don't engage in any form of recreation aren't as “fun to be around.” It seems simple: having fun and experiencing joy outside of work makes you a more pleasant person.

Finding joy during a pandemic is as important as ever. According to the American Psychological Association, the pandemic has ignited a mental health crisis that could impact our generation for “years to come.” Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of “Joy From Fear,” told Today that you should work to cancel out negative experiences with activities that bring you happiness. Manly wrote, “It is vital to counteract this toxic, fearful energy with a conscientious investment in creating happiness.” Your hobbies can function as a force field, canceling the negativity that has crept into your day. Consider adding adult playtime to your self-care routine, because forcing yourself to escape, laugh, or simply focus on something else will benefit your mental health. 

Painting green leaves Photo by Roman Kraft from Unsplash

You do you

Playtime is different for everyone. For Abigail, playtime is learning how to play the chords from the latest Taylor Swift album. For me, it’s painting watercolor scenes. Whatever your playtime is, make sure it's something you look forward to each day.

Playtime can also look different every day. Psychologist Darcia F. Narvaez suggests in her article How to Play as an Adult that playtime corrects the adult habit of self-control, and that spontaneity should be embraced. One suggestion for “playtime” is to set aside time each day to explore a new creative impulse. 

In a world that is currently devoid of fun, finding joy should be a priority for you. It's important to shed the expectation that your existence revolves around productivity, and simply find time to be yourself. Think of playtime as a noble pursuit during the pandemic. Playing will not only help you survive, but will also improve your perception of the world. Now who says playtime is only for kids?