two older women playing a card game laughing
Adults, Young Adults

Play Is Essential For Mental Health, Especially for Adults

We have heard it all… “Make sure you take breaks from the computer.” “Get regular exercise.” “Eat ‘right’.”

PLEASE acronym is a DBT skill to help take care of mental health by reducing physical vulnerabilities

You may have heard your therapist, your child’s therapist, maybe even me hone in on the P.L.E.A.S.E acronym to help reduce emotional vulnerability through taking care of your physical (thus, mental) health. But NOT TODAY!

Today, I want to highlight a different way we can help our psyche: PLAY!

Play time helps us

  1. Reduce our emotional vulnerability
  2. Increase engagement with others
  3. Exercise learning in a different (and pleasant) way
  4. And Laugh!

I want to be extremely mindful of our hierarchy of needs. For some, the focus might need to be on establishing safety, stability, and satisfying our physiological needs. All of this comes before thinking about how we can increase play in our lives.  Play may not be the area of your life you need to tend to the most.

But play is something that should be given value. Even as an adult. And especially as an adult!

As children we need play to learn about life. As adults we need to continue to exercise those play muscles. It’s important to differentiate a different type of accomplishment than what we feel from our day-to-day workloads.

Play helps us maintain social connection. And more simply, to have fun.  

The idea of working hard and playing hard has strengthened a societal norm that work is more important and play-for-adults revolves around limited activities such as binge-watching tv and using substances. I am not exempt from this myself, but one thing the pandemic has highlighted to me is how much I crave play in ways I can be a part of a community outside of work and using my brain in different ways outside of work.  

adults playing in a bounce house

Playing can help us access the inner child that may have grown jaded and burnt out from our lives. Sometimes we are dealt unimaginable life circumstances that throw our world into chaos, but more regularly we are met with daily life challenges of being human.  

Play can mean many things to different adults, but the essential aspects of play is this:

The the outcome is less important than being engaged in an activity that brings you pleasure. 

It is not about winning. Or getting ahead of others. Competition and play are not the same thing.

It is about dusting off your roller blades. Making home-made ice cream. Taking a turn on the swing. Creating parody songs. Talking to your cat as they zoom around the home. Learning a new board game. Dancing to old songs you’ve forgotten about.

What are activities that you can feel present minded and blissful in?

young adults playing on a swing set

I greatly value the idea that we need to tend to ourselves. And by tending to ourselves and our needs, we can better tend to the need of those we in our lives.  Play can increase our ability to connect with others whether we are engaging in a group activity or we are taking a moment for ourselves. 

Give yourself permission to take the time to play knowing that it will not only improve your view of yourself but your relationships and the world around you.

About the Author

Lizzy Kosin, LCSW-C

Lizzy Kosin, LCSW-C is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville, MD. She earned her AM degree (equivalent to an MSW) from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her training includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Lizzy takes a casual approach to therapy. Because of this, she works very well with kids & teens. She also works with adults who want the benefits of therapy without feeling stuffy or over-medicalized. She values the importance of the mind-body connection and using experiential activities to keep the fun in building insight and motivating towards progress. Lizzy is licensed in both Maryland and Washington DC.

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