Most of us are creatures of habit. We thrive on routines and like to feel in control. But what happens when life continues to present us with external stressors outside of our control? For instance, a consistently changing hybrid work arrangement, political divisiveness that disrupts families, the evolution of a global pandemic, or a currently fickle economy. These are just some of the challenges we've been facing for well over 2 years now.
Stress and anxiety
Drastic or prolonged changes to our way of life can lead to added uncertainty and unease. While we are no longer stockpiling hand sanitizer or hoarding toilet paper, there are still societal and professional shifts impacting our daily lives. A 2022 study from the American Psychological Association
(APA) revealed that 76% of adults are stressed about the future of our nation. Further analysis of the results reports that of those surveyed:
- 68% feel this is the lowest point in our nation's history
- 66% state that the political climate is a significant source of stress
- 60% said that the current social divisiveness in the nation causes them anxiety
- 62% reported that the racial climate is also a considerable source of stress
According to the APA's senior director of healthcare innovation, no one is immune to stress and our bodies were not meant to maintain this level of stress for this amount of time.
Novelty and a little fun
Many people innately look for ways to cope and rise above the challenges of extremely altered environments. Reflecting on early 2020 when most of us quarantined and limited our social engagements, we also played. We gardened, tried new recipes, and took on rainy-day projects. Those old school board games were dusted off, bikes were purchased, new basketball goals were erected, and some of us may have caved on allowing blow-up pools in the backyard.
Bike sales soared in 2020, leading to almost no retail inventory and wait times of up to 24 months. Bike Retailer and Industry News
are reporting that sales are currently flat or trending down, hopefully, that just means that those of us who wanted to pick up cycling is out there riding our bikes like kids again.
Similarly, puzzle makers saw sales in 2020 go up by 300-400%, and manufacturers had a 50% increase in inflatable pools and water toys sales. Let's take a positive outlook and envision families still putting those puzzles together and playing together outside.
Increased playfulness for better health
Author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown
compares play to oxygen: “It's all around us yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” As humans, we are born with an instinct to temper our anxiety with fun during times of uncertainty and stress. It's our innate response to the need for self-preservation. Our bodies and minds know what we need. We need to play and we need the novelty of new experiences. The health benefits of both novelty and play are well-documented. According to HelpGuide.org
, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide evidence-based education on mental health and wellness, play can add joy to life, relieve stress, and better connect you to others. Our instinct to create entertaining experiences prepares us physically, mentally, and emotionally for the change. It builds resiliency and better equips us for those inevitable stressors that simply come with life.
Lowering stress to build resilience
Consider using this continued and unprecedented time to leverage the power of play. By harnessing your natural ability to embrace the lighter side of life, you'll be forming new habits that will provide a lifetime of health benefits. But you will also be giving yourself a gift—building a unique and stress-reducing practice that will enable you to build resiliency and improve your overall lifestyle. In today's highly digital environment, intentionally finding ways to add a little joy and fun provides a great opportunity to connect with others in a very human way.
Putting play to work
Keep in mind that fun is different for everyone. No one person has the same predilection to play. Get creative in adding a little fun to today's unique professional environment. The options are limitless—from team puzzles to new podcasts, Netflix or nature walks in between meetings, baked goods or board games as gifts, and reading or writing to learn new things. When was the last time you physically mailed a funny card to a colleague, rearranged your Zoom background, or tried your hand at a new hobby? Our world and workplace are well into a new normal. So, temper those moments of anxiety with some fun and see what awaits you on the other side.
For ways to incorporate play into your day and build resilience:
- spend a little time with Stuart Brown and his research
- mail a funny or aspirational card to a friend or colleague
- join WITI
to make new connections and build your social and professional network
Start your year off right. Join WITI.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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