by Sandra Vela
We have lots of useful tools at our disposal to help soothe the stress response and keep our bodies, minds and spirits as healthy as possible. When we leave childhood, many of us seem to forget an incredibly important tool in stress management: play.
For children and adults, play creates a rich neurological environment that gives our brains a chance to learn how to calm down. It often involves both logic and creativity, which activate both of our cerebral hemispheres. Play lowers activity in the amygdala, the part of our brains involved in emotional reaction that is most intensely and rapidly affected by stress.
Play’s ability to cool the firing of the amygdala lowers cortisol levels, taking us off high alert. This allows us to get back to a place of clear thinking. The effects can help heal emotional wounds, improve problem-solving skills and even resist illness. Play, it seems, has serious benefits to the health and well-being for both children and adults. Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, states that play “provides a state of mind that is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving and all sorts of creative endeavors.”
According to Gray, real play has a few main characteristics: “First and foremost, it’s an expression of freedom.” It’s self-chosen, self-directed and spontaneous.
Play isn’t so much about a thing that you do, as it is the way that you do it. Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind, and the brain can tell when one is faking it. For example, two people can be doing the exact same activity, such as throwing a ball, and one can be playing while the other one is not. So don’t just pretend to play; one has to want to play. It’s all about the state of mind. For those that want to do something great for his or her mental health—rediscover play.