Why it is important to stay playful in full lockdown

Playing and having fun when we are facing this health, social and economic crisis may seem ridiculous. And yet this is a very real human necessity for us and one that can help us look after our mental health and wellbeing, particularly during this tough time.

Play and being playful is not just for children.

two older women playing a guessing game and laughing
We can all play and have fun

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

What is playful?

Playful is a way of describing behaviour when someone likes to have fun and doesn't take things too seriously.  We don’t have to play all the time, just as we don’t have to be serious all the time either.

We start off playing - a lot. Children learn through play about themselves, relationships and the world around them. Unfortunately often as we grow up we can forget to play at all. Sometimes in adolescence, playing may seem child-like so teens shy away from it. Yet playing is so good for all of us!

We have all heard the phrase:

‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

There is a lot of research about the importance of play for children developmentally and for adults psychologically. We are not going into the specific details here, just to summarise that the evidence supports the fact playfulness helps us (as adults) develop our creative thinking, problem solving, openness to change and flexibility. Playing is fun and also helps us enjoy the moment more - we feel better. It has a real, positive impact on our wellbeing:

“Engaged play increases your happiness, aligns you with your deepest needs and is a huge predictor of your well-being.”

“Don’t Miss Your Life,” Joe Robinson 

Ironically, as adults, we tend to play less, especially when we are facing challenges and feel more stressed. Just when it could potentially help us more.

And given the current challenges and uncertainties we all face with the Covid-19 pandemic, our instinct is likely to take the serious stance.

Another significant barrier to adults playing is simply - we often don't want to look silly!

Man pressing his face against a window to make a silly squashed face
Be silly - and feel better

Recognising there is a time and a place for playfulness, how can we embrace this more to help each other through times of greater stress like this period of isolation?

How to increase our opportunities for play together

Staying connected when our social interactions are restricted is more important than ever. Focussing on relationships, well established and newer ones, is vital for our wellbeing. And, in the words of a wise man, we might need to enlist the help of Plan B to help!

So we need to get creative. There are some ideas as a starter below.

Talk to each other and engage in playful activities virtually:

  • Play games over the internet - cards, pictionary, charades, name that tune, quizzes. Take it in turns to host the event and prepare the games.
  • Virtual film night - complete with movie snacks. All coincide the start of the film and watch together staying connected via skype/ facetime etc
  • Virtual afternoon tea/ breakfast/ tea break - invite colleagues and friends to share their favourite biscuit or snack.

Be purposeful in building group connections - Eat, Move, Be Happy Peer Support group is an example of just that. This aim of our online community is to create a shared experience where we can support each other and keep momentum. This is also a great way of keeping in touch with lots of people and sharing information. 

Remember, groups and particularly virtual groups don’t replace talking and real conversations. We also need to keep talking.

Ideas for play in groups:

  • Photo challenge - set a theme and encourage people to share the photos they capture. Prizes or a scoreboard for the funniest or wackiest taken.
  • Fancy dress challenge - engage the group/ family in finding and making a fancy dress costume/ models from items around the house. You can set time limits - 10 minutes to a week!

Schedule playtime

No matter how little time, schedule time to daydream, reflect and consider new ways of doing things with a playful twist. This does require some positive thought and a desire to engage in playful thinking. Getting help from others if you find this more difficult would be a good place to start.

Learn from children - if you can spend some time observing how children play and join in! They are experts at it. Play balancing games, dancing games, hide and seek games, imagination games… embrace your inner silliness and feel the difference!

Play Games together

Some of the classics are the best. Remember Simon says, Hick Hack Hock, chocolate games - have I got your attention now?

chocolate, knife and fork, die, hat, gloves and scarf for the chocolate game
Eating chocolate with a knife and fork

There are loads of ideas on the internet if you cannot remember. You could introduce a new game every week - and these could all be played virtually connecting digitally with a bit of imagination.

And finally, a couple of no brainers for me:

Sing and dance - lots. It doesn’t matter how badly or how out of tune. You can do this on your own, though as with most things, it is better with someone else! And that can still happen virtually.

Be silly - lots. You may be surprised at how much brighter and better you feel when you have had a moment of pure silliness and laughed hard. 

Smile more and laugh when you can - laughing is a huge benefit psychologically and physiologically. If you are singing and dancing more our guess is you will also be laughing more! Enjoy!

So your homework...

Find three different ways to play this week. Mix it up a bit, on your own and with others. And let us know how you get on through the Peer Support Group. Some photos to accompany your updates would be great!

multi cultural dad and daughter wearing tutus dancing and smiling

Need further support…

If you are worried about your mental health please seek professional help and advice from your GP. If you cannot visit your GP and need urgent help visit A&E. 

Other sources of help include:

  • The Samaritans who offer a free, confidential 24 hour helpline.
  • Mind a Mental Health Charity offering information and support line.

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