Play For Your Health: Renewing the Joy of Service
By Melanie Smithson, MA, ADTR, LPC
The very word
"caregiver" conjures up images of one who sacrifices him or herself for
the good of others. The burnout rate for those working in the field is
famously high. In our role as caregivers, we often ignore our own needs
and forget to restore ourselves. We dismiss the pain in our back, the
constant feeling of dread, or the lack of enthusiasm for life. The
innate joy of service is often buried beneath the heaviness associated
with obligation and responsibility. A playful spirit and lighthearted
approach can ease our days and restore our sense of well-being.
I define play as
an open and unattached way of interacting with self, others or objects;
spontaneous being. But play is a personal experience; each person has
their own interpretation and their own internal response when invited to
play. We each have our preferred ways of playing and our favorite
playmates (mine are my dogs). Our preferences and responses have been
shaped by our play history and, unfortunately, is often plagued with
messages that it is wrong to play (i.e. “there’s no time to play”, “when
are you going to grow up?” etc.).
The benefits of
play are numerous. D.W. Winnicott, a leading play therapist, says “it is
in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is
able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in
being creative that the individual discovers the self”. Play fosters
creativity and flexibility and brings us into relationship with others.
Research has shown that play triggers the secretion of serotonin and
endorphin (chemicals associated with pleasure, reward and stress
reduction). Inviting play into our adult lives can momentarily and
permanently change our perspective on life. By taking ourselves a little
less seriously, we can loosen our grip and remember what it’s like to
Smith, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at the University of
Pennsylvania says, “ The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.”
When we don’t incorporate play into our lives, we lose the joy life has
to offer. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual health are at risk for
How can we find
time to play? First, we have to decide to make it a priority. Set aside 5
minutes each day (more as you can) to paint, or walk, or skip or dance.
And then, look for opportunities in each moment; in the spaces
in-between. Sing to yourself on your way to work; doodle on the note to
the doctor; or make funny faces at yourself and others whenever
And don’t let
those old messages stop you. It’s hard not to dismiss play as
‘silliness’, but that silliness could save your life. Our vitality is
our gift and needs to be cared for as much as those we care for.
MA, DTR, is a somatic therapist currently working as an activities
director and playing with the elderly. She lectures and co-leads
playshops in the Denver/Boulder area. She can be reached at
303-271-7659, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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