Remember, if you are in crisis, get help immediately. You may already know how to do that locally. If not, I have a link here to crisis lines worldwide.
Also, if this is your first depression homework exercise that you are doing in this series, please read the brief introduction here.
Remember how to play…
Today’s exercise is about remembering how to play and reconnecting with the fundamental part of yourself that is capable of joyful play. Imagine you are a child again and think back to the joyful moments in which you were able to suspend your disbelief, be silly, and play.
What if you never played before?
If you had a childhood in which you can think of no such moments, and this is true for some people who had terribly abusive childhoods, consider a kitten or a puppy rolling on its back fully absorbed with a ball of yarn or running around chasing its own tail, happily absorbed in silliness. If you happen to have a cat or dog, you might notice that there are moments in its adult life where it starts randomly chasing something silly or rolling around. It gets playful. Animals instinctively seem to know that they need a break from being adults. We also need a break every once in a while.
What is play therapy for adults? Is that what this is?
There is actually even a branch of therapy called play therapy for adults. This can be very helpful for some people, but that is not exactly what we are discussing here. This is about just taking some time to play as I will explain below.
By the way — slightly off topic, but related — I read a news article about a lady with relatively advanced dementia who was very depressed and not really speaking. Someone gave her the gift of a very realistic-looking doll that looked like a baby. It had a profound impact on her life. She started talking to her “baby” and taking care of her “baby”. She was lost within her dementia, but play brought her out. (It’s interesting that more people do not think of giving “childish” toys to adults with dementia. It seems obvious when you think about it.)
However, this homework activity is geared towards “normal” but depressed people:
What types of play can adults do?
Adults can do any type of play they want to, within the bounds of the law. That is the joy of being an adult! However, often, when we are depressed, we forget how to play.
Make a play date with yourself
First, make a play date with yourself. Clear some time that is distraction-free and just for you. Try to do this three or four times a week, but if that is not possible, at least once a week. It should be at least one hour.
Prepare to “waste” some time…
There is a compulsion as adults to make our time “productive”. Time is money, we say. However, it is very important that we “waste” some time by playing. It is essential.
“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.” – J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)
So, playtime should not be about productivity, making something, or winning something. Sometimes, you might find you are very creative during playtime and, later, you may want to use what you have created for some purpose. However, it is important that you give this matter absolutely no thought during playtime.
For example, if you paint a picture, imagine it is going to be lovingly placed on the fridge door with a magnet — in other words, it does not have to be any good — whether it is good or bad is completely irrelevent. The feeling of sweeping the brush or your fingers over the page is what matters.
Types of play:
There are many types of play and you can experiment and find out what appeals to you most. And you do not have to limit yourself to this list. Do whatever play you love.
- Movement play. This can take many forms. You can roll around on the floor. I once took a course with a lady who was in a wheelchair and she told me about how she really enjoyed dancing by having music on and lying on the carpet and just moving to the music. The carpet felt good beneath her and the movement felt good. She was limited in the movements she could do, of course, but she was doing what she could to bring herself joy. Feel free to turn on your favorite songs and dance like no one is watching. If you are super out of shape, just dance for a few minutes and then sit down or dance sitting down. Belly dance, belly dance, belly dance…
- Sand play. Play in the sand at the beach if you live near a beach. Get a bucket and spade and go. You may find that if you engage in this type of play, you end up with some little helpers, so do this if you are okay with that happening. Sand play can also be done indoors. You can get a children’s sand table, a sand tray, a Zen garden, or some new age sand that doesn’t make a mess. Here are some examples (these are my affiliate links):
Toysmith Deluxe Zen Garden:
National Geographic Sand – acts wet while keeping your hands dry!
- Nature play. This can involve:
- Arts and Crafts. For arts and crafts play, you can really let your imagination soar! You can choose to use cheap materials that you get from the dollar store or more expensive tools and items. Some people prefer to have a book or magazine (or the internet) that gives them a specific plan for what they are going to craft while others prefer to really explore their materials in a freestyle way. You can try both and see what is the best fit for you. It might be best to start with less expensive materials because this might encourage a sense of play. I recommend Crayola art kits. They are designed with kids and play in mind. That is exactly what we are trying to achieve! Types of crafts include:
- Paper crafts – These include:
- Jewelry making – This includes:
- Wire wrapping
- Chain mailled jewelry
- Candle making
- Soaps and lotions
- and so much more!
- Creative writing. Set a timer for 20 – 30 minutes. Open your notebook. Get a writing prompt from anywhere. Start the timer. Write until the timer goes off. Do not stop writing. Do not judge what you are writing. Try not to consider the quality of what you have written or pause to cross things out. This is writing play. Playing with words. If you feel like it, repeat the process. Writing prompts don’t have to just come from Google. You can choose an old object, essential oils, a piece of music, a piece of fabric, etc. — anything that evokes an idea or sensation. Try to write with your five sense in mind.
- Do puzzles. These can be any type of puzzles:
- jigsaw puzzles
- crossword puzzles
- word search
- Sing. It doesn’t matter if you have a “good” voice or if you are tone deaf. This is about joyfully expressing your voice. Sing along to your favorite song or just make silly noises. I have heard “primal screaming” is therapeutic too, and I am always willing to try anything if it will help. Feel free to sing in your highest operatic voice or in your lowest bass. Be silly. Play is about feeling free to be silly if you want to. Go to karaoke. People aren’t allowed to judge you at karaoke. It is a golden karaoke rule. If anyone breaks it, they are sent directly to karaoke jail.
- Make music (or, rather, sound). Break out the bongos and drum away. Play random notes on your Casio keyboard. Play.
- Mini-trampoline. Assuming you are in good enough physical condition, get a mini-trampoline, turn on some music and bounce like a crazy person. Bouncing has the side benefit that it is extremely good for the immune system and releases endorphins. (This could have been under “movement play,” but it can be so much fun, I thought it deserved its own heading.)
- Join or Start an Amateur Improv Group. As an adult, there are few opportunities to play “let’s pretend”. Improv is improvisational theatre — where the actors make it up as they go along. The fun of it is that you accept the reality that the other actors present to you and make it work even if it is terribly silly. This helps relieve you of inhibition and really lets you be your authentic and possibly silly self.
Try to play at least once a week, but three or four times is even better. In fact try to make as much time for play as possible. Experiment with new types of play that you might not have considered before. Work on expanding your comfort zone, especially if you see yourself as being very “proper”.
Doing things that scare you (but are not dangerous) is exhilerating and makes life worth living. However, play does not necessarily have to be scary. If you prefer to start off doing crossword puzzles and knitting, that is perfectly acceptable as long as it is FUN for you and you do it with a spirit of play.
Feel free to join a group or class devoted to your particular type of play. For example, there are stitching groups and jewelry-making classes. Make sure that if you do join a group, it is about PLAYING.
Have fun. It can be hard to learn or re-learn how to have fun when you have been depressed, but it is important because fun is a big part of what makes life worth living. Play, laugh, enjoy, get a little better each day.
I will leave you with a list of some of my favorite toys for adults (some of them were designed for kids, but kids can’t have all the fun). (Note: as per usual, these are my affiliate links):
The important thing is just to find some time to just have fun and play!