A reader of my blog suggested I revisit a topic I explored last year in a two-part series titled "Are You Ready to Stop Working and Start Playing?" but with a different twist. He requested I explore how play can be a powerful tool to reduce anxiety, an emotional state that leads to the constriction of one's mind, body, and spirit.
It takes some skill not to be anxious these days. Mainstream media thrives on conflict and sowing fear. It is hard to avoid messages of gloom, whether they relate to the weak economy, falling bridges, or disasters like tornadoes ripping through communities.
Yes, there is a lot of work to do in this world. But being anxious about the poor state of it, or if it is the case, difficulties in your own life, will not contribute to making things better.
What it takes to balance the negative in your life
Joe Robinson, author of Don't Miss Your Life: Find More Joy and Fulfillment Now, addresses the effects of anxiety. He zeroes in on the debilitating effects of our societal focus on productivity; it is anxiety producing because it downplays the value of cultivating leisure skills, or in simpler language, our ability to play just for the fun of it.
In the research for Don't Miss Your Life I met a host of folks who have opted out of fear by choosing life engagement. They know better than anyone that rumination on trouble only fuels anxiety. The research is clear that positive experiences keep the anxiety at bay. The University of North Carolina's Barbara Frederickson has shown that it takes three positive events to every negative one to stay in the positive column, since negative emotions are so potent. Data from a wide variety of research shows that it is the cumulative effect of many small positive events that increases happiness. That's the role that recreation plays. You don't have to justify it. It's simply an essential ingredient for vital physical and mental health.
How do you like that? Play, something we all did naturally as children, is an essential ingredient for good health. In a recent post by writer Charlie Hoehn, he discovered that giving himself permission to play was the cure for his anxiety. In this entertaining post, I loved his story of a first meeting with someone after moving to a new town. Instead of meeting over a cup of coffee, Charlie suggested they get together and play catch. The fellow heartily agreed. In this first meeting of two strangers, all pressure was removed to make an impression. They had a blast throwing a ball around. I have no doubt they became friends in part because they shared something they both enjoyed doing.
What are you doing to create balance in your life?
For Joe Robinson, salsa dancing is his recreational passion. For me, making music is one of the ways I let go of the stresses in my life and reconnect to a state where I feel the deep joy and peace of being alive. It doesn't always work out, but I try to play every day.
The key to the kind of recreational activity Joe talks about is doing it because you are passionate about the activity, you enjoy doing it, and it is not work! You might strive to achieve a certain level of success in your chosen leisure activity, but the joy is truly in the doing and not in the outcome. This level of engagement is what makes it rejuvenating to your mind, body, and spirit.
Do you have a leisure activity you are passionate about? How many times a week do you do it? Is there something you have wanted to do just for the fun of it but you have been putting it off? Go for it! Many keys to good health are in our hands. How wonderful it is that play is one of them! Below, feel free to share your experiences of how play has reduced anxiety in your life.
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