When did you last play? And why it matters.

I’ll share something personal about the topic of play with you. On a cloudy and not particularly warm afternoon recently (bear in mind I’m writing this in October) I stood with a friend, on a mostly empty beach. I looked at the not insignificant waves rolling in from the North Sea and questioned my own sanity as I wriggled out of my warm clothes, into my swimsuit and then flung myself into the brown water.

Why? Because I really believe in the power of play.

I’ll explain.

I often talk to my clients about understanding our nervous systems and emotions on a ladder from 0-10. Think of 0 as when we are feeling numb, flat, lifeless and switched off and 10 as ‘peak panic’ – the ultimate in stress and feeling frantic.

In those lower rungs of the ladder there’s everything from quiet relaxation through to lethargy and what we might also call depression. In the upper rungs there’s a sense of energy and ‘doing’ which can also extend to worry and restlessness, what we can see as anxiety https://www.fernbankcounselling.co.uk/anxiety-and-the-brain/

How play can be overlooked

I think of play as number 6 on that ladder. We feel safe, but with a hint of energy and action. I sometimes call it the ‘fizz’ and it helps to propel us into doing things that generate even more good feelings. And yet, especially as adults, we can dismiss it. Or let our self-consciousness get in the way and deny us it.

How often have you delighted in the laughter or silly antics of a child? Watched them as they dissolve into fits of giggles over a burp or squeal with joy as they go down a slide?

And then ask yourself when the last time was that you felt free and joyful? Perhaps it’s been too long.

What is the power of play?

  • It helps us to connect and interact with others – creating powerful bonds and reducing conflict
  • It encourages our creativity and imaginations
  • Brings us into contact with joy and laughter
  • It helps us develop alternative perspectives on ourselves, others and the world around us
  • We can use it to support our physical fitness and activity levels

“What if I’m just not a very playful person?”

You may have got caught up in the serious adult world and forgotten how to play. Or perhaps your childhood was one where it was never encouraged or developed. Whatever the reason for a lack of playfulness now, there are ways to build it into your life.

Here are my top tips for bringing playfulness into your life.

Cultivate curiosity and openness.

Be present in the everyday moments and allow yourself to smile or laugh as a dog hurtles past you in pursuit of a ball. 

Really listen to the giggles coming from your nearby school playground. These moments and opportunities are all around us if we take time to notice them.

Commit to play.

Look for the empty swing in a nearby park and get on it.

Make time to meet the friend who doesn’t take life at all seriously.

Say ‘yes’ before your self-consciousness can say ‘no’.

Embrace discomfort! You may feel silly. And that’s ok.

Yes, some people might judge you – but others will be secretly admiring you.


Read this for more ideas of how to bring play into your life.

Fernbank Counselling:

When did you last play? And why it matters.

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