• Sarah Vita Pascone

The Power of Play

Last week, I sent out an email called "Learning Through Play." In it, I shared about the importance of play as a reminder of a truth I've been challenged to remember recently. I've always been a "worker" and have found that I've had to consciously choose to create more space to allow for play and unstructured down time. In case the heavy events of the past year have eclipsed the need for play in your life, I'm sharing an easy discussion of some of my research and practice.

Play is essential and it's not getting enough airtime in our lives. Since the channels most of us tune into regularly activate our unconscious fight, flight, freeze or appease response, the heavy realities that bombard our attention frequently overshadow the need to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures. We are not meant to process as much information as we do each day. We must build in breaks.

Play is an integral part of the learning process. It's when our brains synthesizes information and strengthens neural connectivity. As kids, we play like it's our jobs because it is. Play is how we learn the myriad of skills we need to navigate life.

As we move into adulthood, many of us are conditioned to believe that the need for play has passed. This is partly cultural and also driven by the exponentially increasing pace of technology. Play will always be essential for cognitive integration, nervous system regulation, building our resilience, and cultivating the joy we need to fuel necessary change.

It becomes our responsibility as well as a gift to ourselves (and others) when we learn to prioritize joyful wellbeing-- not in spite of every hard reality going on around us, but because of it. Building our resilience and compassion levels has a positive impact on the wellbeing of other nervous systems of those around us. Seriously. Check out mirror neurons.

So, the question becomes: How do we like to play? Do we know? How do we learn to prioritize play as an important, albeit non-urgent dimension of our lives?

Prioritize play and watch with wonder as life begins to brighten. This is the edge of our zone of genius. Exploring it becomes the greatest adventure and the most intense lesson in personal growth.

As you've probably gathered by now, I do a lot of creative activities for fun (outside of art and design, I enjoy hanging with friends and family, going for walks in nature, dancing/ listening to music, and reading/journaling).

I tend to not prioritize writing and drawing enough. I often fall victim to the "there's no time" or "it doesn't matter" excuse. This is one reason I committed to writing this blog every week. It holds me accountable to doing something I enjoy, but don't always make time for.

I share this because often where I think we can get stuck is creating burnout through neglecting the planning, coordination, discipline, and/or boundaries that are required to prioritize play. These are the first to go when we hit burn out. This has been a big one for me.

It's almost a catch 22. We have to notice the feelings of burnout and consciously choose that we are doing to direct our energy (the energy we feel like we don't have because we're mentally and emotionally exhausted) by intentionally channeling it into rejuvenating and fun activities. Self-directed stewardship is a skill that we must practice to retain.

The planning takes energy, but once we land in the fun or calming activity we chose, we are restored almost as if by magic. Just like we would charge our phones or computers when the battery is low, we must recharge our own batteries. Play (and rest) are the act of plugging ourselves in. It's up to us how and when we do it, but it serves more than just ourselves to figure it out.

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