Play & Novelty Are Key Ingredients for Your Better Brain, Body & Relationship Health
The interesting thing is that we are so good at play when we are young, and we fail to see the virtue of it the older we get! Why is that?? What belief holds you back from being more playful? Is it that you value ‘productive work’ and judge play as being ‘non-productive’?
Or is it that you never really learned how to play full out? What were the messages about play in your family growing up? What are the conditions for you to bring on playful you today? You know, that playful attitude you can choose or not choose today? What will you choose?
“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself” – Miles Davis
I’ve been worried about the rising rates of anxiety in our youth, the number of clients in their twenties, thirties, and forties who show up in my office reporting chronic anxiety.
The fact is these kids are not alone! Research shows one in every five adults will suffer from anxiety or depression at some point in their lives. And mental illness is on the rise. 18.4% of Canadians have a mental illness at any given time and 12% have a mental illness over their lifetime (Chronic Diseases Canada). The World Health Organization reports that mental illness will rise by another 15% by 2020, which is a 50% increase since 1990. So what can we do about these stats? We can start to be intentional about PLAY.
We can create space in a day for ourselves and our children to be spontaneous and unstructured. We need to activate the “soothe connect” pathways of our brains more, and place less emphasis on the “drive and perfect” circuitries.
Play and Novelty are really important for the health of our brain, body and relationships. These were key take-away topics of a “Faces Conference” held in Seattle this past September, and the topic of discussion at a recent community Mindful Living BCACC Lecture earlier this month.
The rise and prevalence of anxiety and depression today seems to begin in adolescence. It isn’t just about being over programed. The interesting thing is that in adolescence there is a drop in a naturally occurring hormone called dopamine (which is the hormone that is produced in play). Dopamine makes us feel alive, vibrant and playful. And yet at a time when naturally occurring dopamine declines in adolescence, we are encouraging our children to be more structured as they plan for their futures, and keep pace with their peers who are also working on a value of perfection. At the Faces Conference, Dan Siegal explained that it’s the hunger for dopamine that sets up a risk for addiction, risk taking, and oppositional behaviours in our youth.
What should we be doing? We should be valuing play and novelty. Physiologically, the adolescent brain starts ‘pruning’ itself as adolescents become more specialists, narrowing focus and their neural nets as they learn to let go of novelty and things outside of their committments. Becoming good at things is important to self esteem, and we need to continue to encourage and value curiosity and novelty. Not just for our children. We need to continue to be curious and playful ourselves so that our own brains don’t prunate!! Less is not more when it comes to your brain health!
Whether you are an adolescent or a mid-lifer, we naturally look for ways to fill the craving for more dopamine. The brain wants novelty and play, and yet we seem to value goal setting and results orientation. We have upped the pressure to perform and somehow advocated less for play and novelty. No wonder anxiety has gone up and creativity has gone down. Curious isn’t it?
It is time to PLAY. What do you think?
Today can be your call to P L A Y
“Play with Passion”
“Laugh Trying Something New”
“Activate your Friendships”
“Yes Five Times Today”
Play with Passion!
It turns out when you engage in play, your brain produces GABA (brain molecules that reduce the activation of fear and anxiety), serotonin (a hormone that makes you feel happy) and dopamine (a hormone associated with addiction as it helps regulate reward and pleasure). Sound good? It is.
You can choose to be playful right now. Try brushing your teeth with your opposite hand this morning (playful and novel for your brain which will stimulate GABA)! Or mix up your breakfast (novelty stimulates dopamine). Turn on your stereo while you get ready for your day (play full out – dopamine & serotonin if you dance). You might even try jazz instead of country (new ways to get your mojo going).
What’s the impact that these intentions will have on your mood?
Will you notice any changes to the way others respond to you because of this playful start to your day?
Laugh Trying Something New at least twice today.
When you laugh, your brain and body thrive in an optimal chemistry. Laughter is contagious. So just imagine how you can influence those around you simply sharing a funny story or practicing lighthearted play. Check out the comic section of the newspaper today. You might even post a good one at the water cooler.
Activate your Friendships
A dear colleague and friend of my husband passed away on Sunday. The sudden news of Pat Quinn’s passing is felt in many communities to be sure. His life will be deeply missed.
With a sudden loss of a dear friend, we are all reminded to stay current with our friends and family. Do your best to be present and tuned in when you see them. Make today count. Who are your fabulous five? How would you rate your last visits?
Just being in the presence of those you love, your brain releases hormones that will keep you and them happy, healthy, and thriving.. and if you have a hug when you see them, you will give them (and yourself) an increase of oxytocin, the attachment hormone.
We can all do a better job of caring for each other don’t you think?
YES – SAY YES FIVE TIMES TODAY
This makes me laugh because I think of my blog about boundaries, which was all about saying no.
Now that you can say no like a pro, I want you to practice your YES!
Make a game of Yes today. Slip 5 yes’s in when no one expects it. You know you can.