Why We Need to Keep Playing

why play is important for mental health and depressionIn recent months, physical, playful activity has been the only way out of painful ruminations for me, providing a temporary respite from debilitating depression. Its transformative power is surprising to me for its ability to help me manage my emotions.

Evolutionary biologist and animal behavioral specialist Marc Bekoff, PhD, once said that “play is training for the unexpected.” And psychiatrist and play expert Stuart Brown, MD, said, “Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.”

I’m beginning to think that playing can even access parts of our brain that are blocked to mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

In an article published in the spring 2011 issue of the American Journal of Play, Boston College research professor Peter Gray, PhD, wrote:

Over the past half century or so, in the United States and in some other developed nations, opportunities for children to play, especially to play outdoors with other children, have continually declined. Over this same period, measures of psychopathology in children and adolescents — including indices of anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism — have continually increased.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Gray, author of Free to Learn, about the importance of play not only for kids, but for adults.

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  1. I have chronic pain ,have tetraplegia and have had chronic depression and dysthymia since 3 5 years. However, l have just started to work out 4 months ago, despite breaking my foot and toe. My physio specialises in the Chronic pain program. She has told me after 2 months of crying, nausea, that my brain will kick back in to feeling not so traumatised from your brain feeling like exercise is your enemy. She is right. I still have to ‘ body scan ‘ and lay down after maybe 3 minutes of exercise, but that is not the point of physio. It is to switch my brain mapping, and switch off the Fight or flight response. My depression has been tolerable, l have way less days in bed, my life has huge stresses, huge bouts of loneliness,but my attitude has changed. My body now craves that 20 minutes walk, and gardening is my new therapy. I hope that others could try it, my meds are the same , stressors are the same, but my body’s response is Different. Also,look up Central Sensitivity Syndrome. Thanks Joanne

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