How Playtime for Grown-ups Helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Updated September 30, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
playtime for grownups

It’s not surprising to anyone that we live in a world where stress and anxiety are sky-high, and pure playtime is the last thing on anyone’s radar. That’s not necessarily because today’s world is a more scary and dangerous place than in the past. No matter how difficult things are today, history is always way worse. I think what we are experiencing today is directly correlated to the fact that every single thing in the universe is right in your face all the time. The 24-hour news, the constant reminders we get from social media, the infinite number of streaming channels all keep us in a headlock day in and day out. It’s like a bombardment of information, and all our senses are the target of the attack.

Relaxation itself becomes stressful and a source of anxiety. We do it on the run whenever there is a little bit of time left, and, even when we can, we cannot disconnect our brain from the day-to-day. This results in relaxation having the opposite effect, not only on our physical body but also on our minds.

A Little Bit of Playtime Goes A Long Way

boardgame playtime A few days ago, my family and I visited some friends. They have two kids the same age as our kids, so they play nicely together. At some point, one of our kids asked me if I could play hide-and-seek with them. In all honesty, I was exhausted and just wanted to lie on the couch with a glass of wine, but I agreed reluctantly.

We began playing, and, initially, I was dreading it. But, after a while, I began to shift my attention to the game. Little by little, the joy the kids exuded during the game became contagious. Soon enough, everything else lingering in my brain—my work, the house, the pain in my lower back—vanished. I was only playing.

We must’ve played for about twenty minutes or so until the kids got tired of it. They went back to their rooms to play with something else, and I returned to my couch and my glass of wine. Somehow, at that moment, I felt more relaxed than I had felt the entire day.

You probably think, well, that’s easy; everybody loves to play with their kids. Of course, I won’t deny that part, and I’m not saying either that kids are tools that should be used for your entertainment. The difference here is about being deliberate. I am the first to admit that I am guilty of only playing with my kids when convenient or when they ask for it. However, every time I do, something amazing happens.

I disconnect. It doesn’t matter what is waiting for me out there; during those times of play, my brain puts all of it on a shelf and no longer lets it affect me.

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”Joseph Chilton Pearce

We Are All Burned Out

A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress reveals that the average middle-income family in America puts in an average of 11 more hours of work every week in 2006 than in 1979. And that was almost 15 years ago.

With the rise of multi-tasking, automation, and app-driven work, people feel they should do more, faster, and better. Whereas that is not necessarily a bad thing, there is a limit to it, and the problem is that people get burned out while looking for that limit.

Herbert Freudenberger, a German-born American psychologist, coined the term burnout back in the 1900s. Since then, numerous studies have focused on burnout in general and on work-related burnout in particular. Since American society is dominated by work, the exhaustion we get from our workplace has the highest impact. And, even though it’s work-driven, burnout has a ripple effect in our non-work life as well.

As you become burned out at work, your energy and capacity to do other things outside of work are diminished. This brings on additional anxiety and frustration as you become aware that you are unable to accomplish different things in life because you are too exhausted. So, most of the time, adults don’t even have the energy to think about playing in any way.

“Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good”Lucia Capocchione

Relax Me! Now!

playtime grownup games The typical adult relaxation is now tightly packed into one annual vacation and several holidays throughout the year. The pressure is very high in those moments to have a good time. After all, you must fully recover in just a few days out of the 365 in one year. You must regain your sense of liberty and freedom. The vacation itself becomes a race to the finish. Do as many things as you can; the more, the better. The problem is that more doesn’t mean better. It’s not a surprise that many people joke that they need a vacation after their vacation. Although usually a joke, there’s truth to that.

Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, often spend this time in a way that is not conducive to pure relaxation. The pressure to relax makes us overdo it, and the results are far from exceptional.

Of course, any kind of time off is beneficial somehow, and these moments of intensity have their value. But in this context, you can only counteract systemic burnout with systemic relaxation.

Therefore, playtime for adults should become a part of your life and not just an afterthought.

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”Mark Twain

Why is Playtime for Grownups Important?

Although we constantly expect children to go and play, we never say the same to an adult. When kids are bored, we push them to play with something else. We even have wise things to say, such as it develops your brain, you will learn something, you will expend some of your energy, and so on. When it comes to our children, we are full of sage things about why play—and varied play—is essential.

But we never send ourselves to play. Why? Because we associate it with children, and we want to be grown-ups-productive, efficient grownups and pillars of our society.

But let’s think about what playtime does for our bodies and minds.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”George Bernard Shaw

Five Ways Playtime Helps Adults

playtime grownups hopscotch Stress relief—during active play, our body releases endorphins, also known as the feel-good hormone. It’s a natural way for our bodies to respond to and counterbalance the heaviness of thoughts driven by day-to-day problems.

Productivity—yes, taking time off to recharge increases productivity. Although setting long stretches of three to five hours of uninterrupted work now and then is an excellent way to get things done, many studies continue to show the power and benefits of breaks. By using playtime to disconnect, you improve brain functions and give your brain a reset.

Problem-solving—depending on the kind of games you play, playtime will boost your creativity and capability for innovation. In a 1962 article, author N.V. Scarfe wrote that the “highest form of research is essentially play.” He goes on to quote Einstein, who said that “the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. The combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

Learning—as I said above, we use playtime to teach children new things all the time, and this truth still stands for adults. Introducing new concepts during play makes your brain more receptive because there are no other things in the way.

Relationship building—it’s not surprising that large companies organize playtime for their employees all across the world. It’s usually held during a company retreat, and some companies go so far as to invite their employees’ families for a more homey feeling. During those times, adults are grouped into teams and play different games. The activity is often called a “team-building” event. The truth is that you build work-based relationships, but the strongest bonds are created when people do not talk about work. Playtime also strengthens the connection with your close friends and even family.

In an interview for Stanford University, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder and president of the National Institute for Play, says that the opposite of play is not work—it is depression. Quoting from that article:

“Play is a survival drive that is necessary for adaptation, flexibility, and social learning. Play helps us belong in the community, develop the ability to suppress unwanted urges, and regulate our emotions.”Dr. Stuart Brown

How to Play as a Grownup?

grownup toys Before we start with some tactics to increase your adult playtime, let me make one thing clear: abuse and over-consumption don’t count as playtime. Although beer-pong is a fun game, it can quickly morph into someone puking in the backyard and being out of commission for 24 hours. Playtime shouldn’t result in adverse effects, which is why over-consumption is not a part of it.

The second important point is that playtime needs to be scheduled. If you are not already doing a monthly and weekly plan for your life, you need to start that now. Begin by creating order in your life, and this will reveal times where you can schedule playtime. Putting relaxation into your calendar seems counterintuitive; the calendar is supposed to be a tool to manage your busy time. It’s supposed to be a helping hand so you can get things done, not to rest and relax.

I believe that’s the wrong approach. Your calendar is designed to map your entire day, much like your task list must include recovery time. At the end of the day, you simply won’t do what you don’t schedule because it is too easy not to do it. The reason you started a calendar to accomplish goals is because you weren’t achieving them without it.

Once you realize and accept that playtime and relaxation are a vital part of your life, just put two and two together. Attach higher importance to this value as you add it to your system of values. You are now forcing yourself to make it a part of your daily process by assigning it the foremost priority.

Last but not least, don’t try too hard. Playtime is supposed to bring fun, not anxiety, and fun must be woven naturally into your life. It cannot be an afterthought, nor can it be a new way of stressing you out. A different kind of stress is still stress, even though you feel that it isn’t. Instead, try to add playtime to your list of good habits, and in time you will reap its compounding benefits.

Here are some practical ways that adults can play:

  • Escape rooms (an excellent activity for groups)
  • Board games
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Outdoor sports (Frisbee, ball games)
  • Coloring books for grownups
  • Painting
  • Other puzzles (Rubik’s cube, for example)

Conclusion: Playtime for Grownups Helps

As we fight for years to grow up and step into adulthood, we shed most of the childhood’s joyful moments. That’s okay, for we will live most of our lives as adults, and we must be able to perform as adults in the world. But there are things that children do—that we used to do as children—that are still useful today. Being curious, questioning things around you, and playing are some that jump to mind.

By allowing yourself to experience these childlike activities, you allow your brain to open the pressure-cooker of thoughts you’ve built up over time. You open the lid and let it breathe.

Playtime will bring you one step closer to that Ikigai or life purpose we all aspire to find, so go for it!

Playtime for grownups is an essential activity that will make you a better person overall. Click To Tweet

Okay, that’s enough! I gotta play some hopscotch!

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. When was the last time you had a great time playing as an adult?
  2. What are some of your favorite games, especially in a group?
  3. What kind of grownup playtime have you never had but want to?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!



anxiety, rest and recovery, stress, wellness

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