“Red Rover, Red Rover, let Cindy come over!” I vividly recall playing Red Rover, Mother-May-I and Hide ‘n Seek on warm summer evenings in my cousins’ backyard while the grown-ups visited indoors. I remember my best friend, Leslie, and I sprawled on her front porch, intent on a game of checkers, dominos, jacks or pick-up sticks. Whatever happened to the games of our childhood? Life is meant to be enjoyed. Yet, all too often the carefree, joyous and imaginative side of our nature that came so naturally to us as children seems to disappear as we get older. It’s a proven fact that taking time to play can help reduce everyday stress and tension.
Millions of people in the United States suffer from chronic anxiety and an estimated 3 million have panic disorder. While I’m not suggesting that playing a game of checkers will suddenly make your panic attacks disappear, learning to play accomplishes several things. First of all – it distracts you. This is something we can all use when our minds start racing or we start thinking scary thoughts. It’s difficult to concentrate and worry at the same time. Therefore, playing a game relieves tension. It’s absorbing as you paint a picture, try to do “twosies” in a game of jacks, or ever so gently move that green pick-up stick without touching the yellow one, so you can pick up the blue one (which, by the way, is worth the most points!) Before you know it, you’re really concentrating and some of that awful tension is melting away.
As adults, we sometimes get caught up with so many responsibilities and our “should” way of thinking. “I should work harder,” “I should lose weight,” “I should be a better husband, wife or parent,” – the list goes on and on. We set ourselves up for so much tension, it’s no wonder we’re anxious all of the time! The next time you find yourself thinking this way or filling yourself with anxious “what if” thoughts – buy some finger paints! Don’t worry, they’re completely non-toxic and washable, so dip your fingers in the pots of bright red and sky blue and let yourself go! Create a masterpiece! Or go outside and play Hide ‘n Seek or Ring Around the Rosie with your children. I guarantee before you know it you’ll be smiling. Studies show that smiling actually helps release endorphins (the feel good hormones.) Sometimes that’s all it takes to turn our thoughts around. Smiling leads to laughter and laughter lifts our spirits and leaves us feeling calmer and more relaxed. Playing focuses your attention on something other than your stressful thoughts. So, give it a try – rediscover the child within you and let yourself play!