playtime isn't just for children. recently, adult play has emerged as a common strategy to relieve stress in adults who are constantly on the go.

Today, adults have found various methods of connecting with their inner child while restoring their minds. Play has the power to bring adults back to their childhood, allowing them to experience the same comfort, passions, and mental development that they once did. 

To be clear, adult play is categorized by being enjoyable, optional, and done out of desire. Dr. Rudy Nydegger, a clinical psychologist and Chief of the Division of Psychology at Ellis Hospital, lists two principles of play, “First, it is something that we do for recreation that is purely for enjoyment and/or entertainment — it is something we do just for fun," he says. "Second, it is something that is intrinsically motivating. In other words it is something that we want to do and is not something we need to be coerced or 'bribed' into doing. It is voluntary; we do it just because we want to.”

Adulthood brings about many stressors that cause adults to transform their social networks and, oftentimes, let go of some aspects of their past lives. “Social networks constantly evolve over adulthood.

However, generally in adulthood there are two time periods where there is a shift in social networks, both revolving around identity,” said Professor Jenna Landrigan of the Drew University Psychology Department. “The first comes during people's early 20's as individuals gain a better sense of who they are and what they want in life. Values and priorities become more solidified. For some that means focusing on career and finding a partner and for others it may mean traveling and exploring new things. This divergence generally leads people to spend more time with those who have similar goals. The next shift comes after retirement when once again individuals find themselves trying to figure out their new identity such as a grandparent and a retiree. Some older adults engage in withdrawing from friends and family as they age while others find new social circles and activities.” 

In the transitioning stages of their lives, adults sometimes feel a sense of nostalgia for the past. Professor Landrigan stated, “...people experience nostalgia to different degrees. Some feel it too much to that point they become stuck while others don't feel it at all. For those who do feel nostalgia, it's how they interpret and feel about it that will determine how their mental health is impacted.” One’s ability to connect with their inner child encourages them to have fun and be careful, which oftentimes helps individuals alleviate nostalgic tendencies and live in the present, rather than the past. 

During playtime, children develop language, social-cognitive, emotional, and collaborative skills that are essential to their growth. There is a connection between childhood play and adulthood play.

Adults experience similar physical, mental and emotional responses from play as children. While helping them expand their social bonds, adults utilize play as a form of mediation to reduce stress and prevent burnout.

Sure, adulthood play is not going to compare to playing a game of tag at recess or digging for hours in the sandbox, nonetheless, the rise in recreational experiences for adults have opened new doors for adulthood play. These experiences include ‘escape rooms’, where groups of adults team together to solve a time-sensitive puzzle to escape a room, video games, and increased interest in role playing.

When practiced in moderation, these forms of play provide adults with mental stimulation, relaxation, and stress relief. Therefore, rather than using play as a mental distraction or self-medication, individuals should aim to use them to cope with their anxiety and vary game options for the purpose of unwinding after work.

Incorporating forms of play into work-spaces can promote the overall productivity and mental capacities of workers. “The idea of ‘fun’ and ‘play’ at work is becoming increasingly important to workers who want to be creative and more motivated in their work environments.

Some of these activities in the workplace may include keeping simple games such as Jenga or a deck of cards in the office, or providing access to playful objects like fidget sensory toys, mindfulness dice, and colorful pens, pencils, or crayons.

“I think some workplaces strive to make the atmosphere better for their employees but oftentimes miss the mark,” said Professor Landrigan. “Workplaces need to be transparent as well as open to receiving feedback and then implementing changes based on the feedback. Aside from that, the only other aspect that matters to adults in a workplace is being able to achieve some level of a work-personal life balance. Oftentimes, individuals feel as though they have to pick one or the other. Employers fail to recognize that employees are humans who have needs and limits and view employees as disposable and replaceable and it unfortunately shows in policies and office politics.”

Creating a calm and creative work atmosphere can also relieve anxiety in workers. This can be achieved by hanging up inspirational posters or quotes around the office or maybe even allowing employees to make their own artwork or decorations to display in the office. Company events and team building activities have implemented new practices which enhance productivity and blurs the line between work-personal life balance. Overall, positive work environments encourage worker collaboration and increase job satisfaction, which has made going to work more enjoyable and has increased performance in the workplace.

For many adults, playtime ends when responsibilities begin. However, play is as critical in adulthood as in childhood. It is just as pivotal for adults as it is for children to enjoy hobbies and practice mindfulness activities. Connecting to one’s inner child and desires not only promotes healthy relationships but also boosts a healthy mindset.

March 30, 2022

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