Play as an Antidote for Stress in Young Adults

I was recently asked by coach and colleague Loren Chapman to share some play research for an opportunity to facilitate an interactive workshop at a university. After putting it all together, it felt important to share here as well. I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Play as an Antidote for Stress in Young Adults

Results from the CDC's 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that nearly 3 in 5 teen girls (57%) said they felt "persistently sad or hopeless." 30% said they have seriously considered dying by suicide — a percentage that's risen by nearly 60% over the past 10 years.

This survey was coupled with a “list of red flags” for parents to look for, the main indicator being stress, by the director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health. Instead of waiting for red flags, there is a four letter word that fosters stress management, personal resiliency and is proven to be a successful method for relieving anxiety and depression and it might surprise you…this stress antidote is PLAY. 

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, leading play expert and founder of the National Institute for Play, “play” describes any activity that is “absorbing [and] apparently purposeless” and that “provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is self-motivating and makes you want to do it again. 

Does the word “purposeless” makes your skin crawl? Then you need more play in your life as well. In a world where we praise productivity and perfection, our young adults are pressured from so many different angles. So what can we do about it? What does play look like? 

According to researcher Catherine Price, author of The Power of Fun, play depends less on the activity itself than it does on the attitude we bring to it. Any activity can count as play if we approach it with a playful state of mind. Playfulness refers to the ability to let down your guard, shed formality, release outcomes, and open yourself to and proactively seek out opportunities for lighthearted connection. 

Life without play would hardly be worth living and our young adults are demonstrating this with the recent study mentioned. As Dr. Stuart Brown describes it, “life without play is not just an absence of games or sports (our teens have pressures here to compete/produce as well). Life without play is a life without books, movies, art, music, jokes, dramatic stories. Imagine a world with no flirting or daydreaming (Our devices are stealing this from our teens). It would be a pretty grim place to live. In a broad sense, play is what lifts people out of the mundane. Play can be compared to oxygen–it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” 

Play shapes our brains, builds new synapses and has a remarkable effect on happiness and satisfaction. Emily Hay, Education Specialist and owner of The Playful Space, an art community focused on everyday play for women and teens, states that once her clients begin to incorporate more play into their lives, they experience a shifted state of well-being. They build stronger relationships, identify self-limiting behaviors and experience heightened creativity. 

In closing, lets provide our young adults with tools, opportunities, and environments that encourage purposeless play. One of the best ways we can do this is by being an example of prioritizing play as adults. The Playful Space offers Summer Art Camps for Young Adults as well as a fun, interactive workshop “Permission to Play: Mitigating Stress & Burnout with Play & Creativity” that attendees have described as leaving “feeling lighter, more inspired & connected to their true self”. This group workshop opens the imagination, connects individuals quickly, and arms attendees with actionable ways to incorporate more play into their daily lives.

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