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The Timeless Prescription of Play

Play is a mode of life for some and comes naturally for others, but for people like me, it is a discipline. Because of the serious nature of my personality, I probably would not give play any attention at all except that the research shows that play is not icing on the cake, but an essential nutrient for our mental, emotional and physical well being. We must take care of ourselves. We must be in relationships, we must do meaningful work, and we must play. Author and speaker, Brene Brown, speaks to the importance of creative play when she says, "Unused creativity is not benign. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, and shame."  After an especially demanding and overstimulating several months, my daughter and I fasted from dopamine for 24 hours.  Our fasting rule was that we could not do anything "fun" for an entire day, which included no food, music, phones, computer screens, books, friends, caffeine or alcohol. In the “yes” column was water, decaf beverages, light exercise, and writing.  Our motivation in doing the fast was to regulate our nervous systems. The surprising gain of missing out on all that "fun" was a reconnection to play.  All of our typical demands and distractions were unavailable to us, opening up the rest of the world as our new playground to explore. There was a dog to play fetch with, baths to take, nails to paint.  There were drawers to organize, board games to play, puzzles to complete, and walks to be savored.  We had new teas to taste, fresh watercolor pencils to try out, and captivating birds to feed and watch.  Play is as varied as the person who is playing. However, when we are talking about play, it must be distinguished from entertainment. Our over-pinged minds and bodies will resist the subtle and simple urges of play, which is why the dopamine fast is helpful. We have become quite addicted to our “play” being handed to us on a screen. Entertainment can be fun and there is certainly a place for it, but it will not give us the restorative and esteem-building gifts of play.  In The Journal of Play, Jean Piaget once wrote, “Play is the answer to the question: how does anything new come about?” When we provide opportunities for and allow time for self-initiated play, we are ensuring the full development of curiosity, imagination, and creativity. We are striking the right balance between love, work, and play.” How does anything new come about? If you want something new in your life, I’d encourage you to try playing. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity. If we want to make meaning, we need to make art." Below are some ways Come Alive Counseling therapists have engaged in creative play during this anxiety-ridden season. Amy: "I've enjoyed experimenting with new recipes, decorating and designing our house and  I've consumed a lot of fiction books. On sunny days, I've enjoyed cruising around in my car like a teenager with the windows down, bopping around listening to music. I've also and doing yoga outside on my back deck." Richard: "A lot of my play has been on the floor, playing board games and having tea parties with my three young daughters. I've enjoyed picnics in the backyard, kneeling in the dirt to plant seeds in the garden, watching our adolescent chickens peck at grass and bugs. A newer experience I've enjoyed has been walking 9 holes of golf just before sunrise and putting golf balls across dewey greens." Melanie: "I've enjoyed many hours daydreaming, reading, and writing on my outside balcony, spontaneous Jeni's ice cream runs with friends, destination bike rides, playing in the waves at the beach, creating with my paints, and playing cornhole with Richard and his girls in his back yard." If you are feeling alone or stuck in your pain and want to experience more fullness in your life, Come Alive Counseling would be honored to walk alongside you on this journey. You can read more about Come Alive Counseling's therapists on our website at In her free time, you will find Jenny sitting on the porch with her husband, having a soul session with her daughter or talking to her son about his new podcast. Her self-care includes being outside, taking salt baths, going on leisurely bike rides, coloring, dancing, doing puzzles and reading (by a fire whenever possible). She is currently learning how to play chess.

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