Playing Our Way Out of Depression, Shame and Anxiety

My first trip to Joshua Tree!

The month of December was insanely fun for me. There were road trips involved, some hiking, some exploring, and a whole lot of resting. I write this not to brag, but to share my journey toward having a month of fun and the difficulty and distress leading up to it.

Like most of us I was raised to believe that work and productivity equated to success. Does that sound familiar? I was given that message at an early age and carried out that belief by graduating from high school at 16 and hustling ever since. In my 20s I proved my worth by measurement of exhaustion and fatigue. It was my badge of honor to juggle multiple jobs and responsibilities all toward the goal of “becoming successful” (whatever that meant).

So it was a big deal for me to decide to quit an intense job that I juggled with my private practice early last year. What it really meant for me was that I was exposed and very vulnerable to some free space each week. I was confronted with the questioning of self-worth and the risk of not being enough. I was faced with opportunity to grow interpersonally, creatively and healthfully. I was forced to find a new badge of honor, a badge that measured something different than productivity and hard work.  It was terrifying.

I recently heard a seminar about free time and free play and its vitality for the mind and human development. And finally, finally, after 15 years of “proving through work”, I felt open to it.

Here’s a mix of some research, my personal work (I mean play!) and my journey with my therapy clients about creativity and play.

  • Play reduces depressive and anxiety symptoms by a wide margin. Those who carve out time each week for play feel markedly happier.
  • Play improves interpersonal encounters with acquaintances, close friends and family. Reports are made that we seem more social and amiable with others when we have increased play.
  • Play allows us to lose track of time, a rare thing with the scheduling and busy obligations we commit to each week.
  • Play improves sleep quality and length of sleep time. When we play we are more equipped to sleep closer to 8 consecutive hours than not.
  • Creative play can often activate almost every part of the brain at the same time, provoking unique muscle activity and engagement.
  • Play is often shamed or criticized by cohorts as something naughty or lazy.
  • Over 70% of us were shamed by our creativity in early years, which diminished our inhibitions to play whole-heartedly.

The holidays are over, and it’s back to work for all of us. However, I want to continue to prioritize and carve out time for rest, creativity and play. I crave that time and I crave the positive effects it’s had in my life.

What are some whole-hearted activities that you consider play?

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame”

– Brene Brown

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