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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My Whole Self Campaign – Changing Culture

My Whole Self is a campaign by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, on 18th March, 2020. It is 'calling on organisations to empower employees to bring their whole self to work. It’s better for everyone’s mental wellbeing and better for business.'

MHFA England My Whole Self campaign poster
MHFA England, My Whole Self Day March 18th 2020

What is our Whole Self:

"We should be able to bring all our identity to work - be that our cultural or ethnic background, sexuality, or health."

MHFA England

Thinking about it another way - being open about who we are and all the pieces that make up our whole picture. It makes sense, doesn't it.

And since an organisational culture is created and shaped by all the people who work, behave and act there every day, it also makes sense that these same people have a part to play in this.

So what role can we all play in shaping a culture that values and encourages people for who they truly are? How can we help take this beyond a campaign and make it a way of life?

My Whole Self - What is your picture?

silhouette of a head with 3 jigsaw shaped pieces missing

If there are pieces missing from a jigsaw puzzle the picture is incomplete and won't tell the whole story.

Missing pieces from your Whole Self is similar. The 'picture' won't look or feel right, for you or other people. Whether you leave out some pieces deliberately or subconsciously, living life like this can take a lot of energy and be draining and frustrating.  For example, not talking about anxiety or sexual preference in work for fear of discrimination or stigma.

If you don't bring all the pieces of who you are with you every day how will others see the whole picture as it's meant to be? And this doesn't mean the picture always has to be sunshine and roses; sometimes it will be raining and that is ok.

"When we’re empowered to be our ‘whole self’ at work we can build deeper connections. This helps us to be more understanding of our colleagues, so we work better together."

MHFA England

At Eat, Move, Be Happy we believe we all have responsibility for creating a safe space where everyone can all be their whole selves - whatever the context. And that starts with looking after ourselves - putting our own oxygen mask on first.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

woman in aeroplane seat with oxygen mask on putting an oxygen mask on a child sitting next to her.

Bear with me here... when you are listening to the safety briefing on a plane, the stewards demonstrate the use of the oxygen masks that appear if the cabin loses pressure. The instruction is always to put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others.  If you can't breath you aren't going to be much use to anyone else!

And this philosophy holds true in every day life. Feeling tired/ worried/ feeling stressed, your energy levels and resilience are lower and typically it is more difficult to concentrate on what you are doing, let alone give attention to colleagues. 

Leaving part of your whole self behind has the same impact. In essence choosing to pretend or hide some of the essential elements of what makes you ‘you’ for whatever reason. Leaving out some pieces of the puzzle means others will experience only part of your picture.

Some of these elements are constant, eg your sexuality, ethnicity or cultural beliefs. Sometimes you experience specific life challenges, for example a relationship breakdown or bereavement, physical health issues or financial worries. These experiences help shape who you are and although are time specific, have the potential to impact your mental health and wellbeing and how others experience you. 

Putting your own metaphorical oxygen mask on, you look after yourself first. Dealing with the issues, whether constant or not, you are then in a much more resourceful place to build stronger connections, work collaboratively and offer support to others.

So how can we all play our part? Some questions worth considering:

  • What are the pieces that make up your complete picture?
  • How often do you leave some pieces behind and why?

Being our whole selves more of the time

At Eat, Move, Be Happy we believe bringing our whole selves to work is... 

 a way of "being", not just about what you are "doing".

A choice we make about all the elements of what makes us the person we are, how we embrace that every day and how much we share with others. 

Being our whole self is not always easy - if it were there would be no need for My Whole Self campaign! For some people, social stigma, misconceptions and ignorance can create fear, isolation and potential discrimination. Our articles What is Mental Health? and How can we fight the stigma against mental ill health? explore some of these issues in relation to mental health.

Being our whole self requires:

Honesty

Being honest with ourselves about the elements that make up our whole self. Ignoring part of our identity isn’t helpful in the long term. 

This requires effort and energy and a desire to work through challenges and take responsibility for difficulties we experience. It doesn’t happen by magic, and we may occasionally need help.

Courage

Being prepared to share our picture complete with all jigsaw pieces, however hard that may feel. This includes all the elements making up our identity and influencing how we think about ourselves and therefore how we behave and act. This is not about being perfect.

This is also being prepared to stand up for what we value and believe in. This may mean making difficult choices and calling it out when we face difficulty or challenge. This is not letting others off the hook, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel.

"Better to live with some uncomfortableness than resentment."

Brene Brown, Research Professor, Social Work

Kindness

Starting with being kind to ourselves. Only when we are kind to ourselves, give ourselves the time to make mistakes, learn and grow, can we be in a position to be kind to others. This is the oxygen mask theory. 

Being accepting that there will have times when life throws one of its curve balls, we will not feel great and may not be able to perform well. This may mean asking for help.

For more on life’s curve balls see Why Considering a Wellness Plan is a Great Plan!

"It is ok not to be ok"

Eat, Move, Be Happy.

Beyond the Campaign

Some of this stuff is tough. As before, if it were easy there would be no need for the My Whole Self campaign. 

To help you start understanding more about your whole self and how you can influence people and the environment you work in, complete the homework below. 

The rest of the Eat, Move, Be Happy Mental Health series also looks at raising awareness about mental health and wellbeing and ways you can look after your mental health.

MHFA England's vision is to improve the mental health of the nation.

"We want people to talk openly about their mental health without feeling embarrassed or ashamed."

Eat, Move, Be Happy

If more of us did this more of the time, we have the potential to shape the culture we work in and make a real difference - beyond the 18th March 2020.

Homework

Start building your wellness plan by going to Why Building a Wellness Plan is a Great Plan! and follow this series as it unfolds.

Answer the question: what are the pieces that make up your whole self? 

Consider 3 new ways to be kind to yourself and share with the Eat, Move, Be Happy online wellbeing community Peer Support Group.

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.
  • Time to Change working to end mental health discrimination.

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This content is reserved for members of Eat, Move, Be Happy.  You can register here.

Why considering a Wellness Plan is a great plan!

time to plan text in a partial clock face with a hand holding a pen
Not everyone's favourite pastime ...

Continuing the Mental Health series by taking your exploration beyond broadening your knowledge and raising your awareness about all things health and wellbeing. Now let's talk about using some of that knowledge and awareness practically, every day. Turn your knowing into doing!

Wellness and planning - not exactly a phrase that runs off the tongue is it.

You might wonder what on earth is a wellness plan and why you even need one. That's ok. This chapter explains how we can all benefit from wellness planning and takes you through our 3 step approach to help build a practical wellness plan and help you put some of the stuff into action... pretty important, that last bit!

This next part of the Mental Health series focuses on why wellness planning is something we can all benefit from, what it is and how to do it. Let's start, in the words of Simon Sinek, with the why...

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How can we fight the stigma against mental illness?

We all have mental health - and yet stigma and discrimination associated with mental ill health are widespread and damaging.

60% of people with a mental health disorder do not seek help from a health professional.
"World Health Organisation 2019"

9 out of 10 people with a mental health problem have experienced stigma and discrimination.
"Time to Change"

The majority of people with a mental health problem wait over a year to tell close friends and family.
"Time to Change"

What are our misconceptions and assumptions and do we recognise them as such? What can we do to better understand mental health for ourselves and others and reduce the stigma against mental illness? And why should we try?

Lots of questions. Let's explore some possible answers...

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How Healthy Are You?

wellbeing spelled out

What do you understand about wellbeing?

We believe that when we consider wellbeing, we are considering our whole-self wellbeing; our physical and mental health. There is loads of research confirming there is a real connection between the two - our physical health can impact our mental health and vice versa.

This module will explore your understanding of physical and mental health and what this means for you so you can start deliberately looking at choices to improve your whole-self health and wellbeing.

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Your Mental Health First Aid Kit

Mental health first aid

You may be wondering what on earth we are talking about here, and answering this question is a good place to start!

What is it?

Most of us will be aware of a physical first aid kit and will use this when we need it, without really thinking. We might cut ourselves and reach for a plaster or if we have a headache we take some painkillers.

What do we do if we are feeling sad or our mood is lower than is usual?

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Be brave and do it anyway

Trail running - be brave

My experience of recovery from injury and training for something I never thought I would be physically or mentally capable of doing. Watch and listen to my story to see how I did!

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