Adults need recess too

Photo by  Ruby Schmank  on  Unsplash

Happy New Year! I hope 2019 is finding you full of inspiration and excitement to see what the coming months ahead hold. No? Actually, it’s not that uncommon for people to get to this point in January and feel tired, bored or even a little blue.

Depending on what source you look at, the week of January 12- 17 is historically the most common period of time for people to abandon their new years resolutions for the first time. There is a lot of speculation and research as to why this happens but I am going to vote for the fact that January is a hard month! We have passed all the excitement of the holidays, the novelty of beginning new habits for the new year has worn off and, even though the days are technically getting longer, we have had short, dark and possibly cold days for awhile now. For some of us, the snow that seemed magical in December is now a hinderance to our commute. The recent evenings and weekends with fewer social engagements initially felt restful, but now leave some of us bored and lonely. On top of that, many people who commit to a new years resolution have decided to give up some habit that wasn't healthy but may have provided some amount of comfort or entertainment. Yup, January can feel tough.

So, to me, it isn't a surprise that by week 3 of the year, those resolutions become really hard to stay committed to. We may find ourselves lacking the motivation to stick with it or questioning if it is really worth struggling for. Even if you aren't into making resolutions you may notice feeling a little lower in energy and possibly slightly blue. How do we remedy this or at the very least, tolerate these darker days until spring brings back our energy and inspiration?

Lately, I have noticed that so many of us lack an element of lightness or play that could help lighten our spirits, reduce the pressure of adhering to new habits and generally help this time of year feel easier. I include myself in this group, 100%. As adults, we tend to focus our attention on working and achieving security around our family, jobs, financial responsibilities. Attending to these items is an important part of life (I use the word adulting for these responsibilities) but it often crowds out our need for play.

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In recent years, we have been reminded about the importance play for children as they learn and develop. In fact, it is no secret that Finland far out ranks the United States in learning outcomes of elementary and high school students. The biggest influencer for success? It’s not money. It’s not time spent studying. It is the amount of play and free time that is included in the curriculum at school. The students who play in school show an aptitude for problem solving, creating connection to other students and are able to focus better on assigned tasks. Yet, as adults, we are commonly encouraged to think of playing as being unproductive or frivolous. Adulting trumps the time we take to play, be silly and engage with others in a more relaxed way.

However, there are some organizations out there that are working to promote play for adults, as we have for children. More and more, we are finding that including an element of play on a regular basis keeps adults relaxed, productive and creative. Instead of being a waste of time, quite the opposite is true- having time to play can help us connect with others while building skills that would take much longer to develop on our own. We gain an aptitude to communication, compassion, problem solving, it improves memory and encourages invention, just like we see with kids! It can also help us become more productive when we do turn our attention to the inevitable adulting.

Because our minds and bodies are so closely linked, we can't ignore that there is great evidence that playing can relax our minds in a way that benefits our emotions and our bodies. Those who take the time to play on a regular basis are less likely to struggle with addictions and depression. In fact, some psychologists have found that the less we play, the more rigid and stuck in our thoughts we become. These mindsets can contribute to insomnia, chronic pain and difficulty forging relationships. Play keeps us more mindful and therefore has the ability to help us heal from painful experiences and traumas.

This year, I am advocating for bringing back recess for us adults. Maybe if we felt more relaxed in our minds, less rigid, then the real adulting of getting though January with our resolutions in tact would feel a little less burdensome. At the very least, it can help us develop compassion for ourselves if we do “fall off the wagon” with our resolutions.

It may sound funny, but some people have literally forgotten how to play as adults (again, I am guilty here). Of course, there are no rules about what we can consider play -it is so unique to each of us. I encourage you to make a list of 3-5 things that you enjoy doing that have no obvious impact on adulting. Think back to when you were younger- what did you enjoy then? Chances are, you will still enjoy some of those things now. There doesn't need to be any justification for why you like doing it. In fact, the sillier and more pointless it is, the better! It could be singing, dancing, drawing, playing with legos, coloring, building snowmen, playing with a pet or a child, trying on hats on in the store. Maybe its watching a slapstick comedy or spending time with friends, joking and generally not getting much accomplished. Keep this list nearby as a reminder to let loose and get silly. Having trouble finding those things that feel like play? Ask friends what they like to do or spend some time to read about other options in your neighborhood like pick- up indoor sports leagues or story telling events. Maybe its time you start your own adult lego meet up. Or maybe a short video can inspire you. It doesn't need to take hours every day- in fact, maybe you only take a few minutes each day to do something fun or silly (singing in the shower, anyone?). But, those few minutes can make all the difference in your mind and body, especially in the face of this potentially hard time of year.

I love hearing ways that people play- it always inspires me and keeps me encouraged to keep trying new things. Let me know what feels fun to you!

Good luck in 2019, I wish you a year full of FUN above all else.

Jennifer Leonard