Of Anxiety and Depression and Play

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do you remember how, when we were kids, we played all the time? In my neighborhood, we bought bubble gum and in the package was a baseball card. We chewed the bubble gum, blowing the biggest bubbles possible while growing big cavities in our teeth and collected the cards. We saved the cards until we had a large deck of them. Then, we would pitch the cards against the stone wall of the apartment building we lived in. Several of us would take turns pitching until the one who’s card landed closest to the wall was the winner and took all the cards that were pitched. It was fun. We had dozens of games like that and others we invented for ourselves.

Now, all of us are adults. Do we continue to play, do you play? I suspect that the answer is that some of us do and many of us do not. It goes something like this: “Play, I have to make a living for my family! What, are you a jerk? Play? I don’t have time to waste my time!! Obviously you know nothing about life!!” I can almost hear some one telling me just this. Well, it’s not that you are wrong in saying this but, you would not be right, either.

Given the amount of stress we live with just because we have to work, raise a family and pay the bills is it any wonder that anxiety and depression are at epidemic proportions? As a result of depression, anxiety and stress we drink, use drugs and grow very fat or become anorectic. The fact is, we must play. How is this for an oxymoron, “Like it or not, we have to play for our health.” Like it or not? How can anyone not like to play?

It is not that we, as adults do not like to play. Instead, many of us view play as a waste of time. For example, the age old proverb, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” is meant to convey the concept that boredom is dangerous and failure to work leads to boredom. what is not said in this proverb is the notion that play is for idle hands and, therefore, is also dangerous. In addition, we Americans view play as childish. Having reached adulthood, play must end and work begin.

On the other hand, there is another proverb that says, “All work and no play makes John a dull boy.” In other words, we are very ambivalent about play.

In point of fact, play serves an important function for all adults. Play relieves stress, is fun, diverts attention from the work a day world and, consequently, refreshes us so that we can return to work with renewed vigor. Really, it is important for both mental and physical health that we nurture the child withing us. Why? It’s the child who knows how to play, how to divert attention, how to have fun.

There is no correct way to play and everyone has their own way of doing this. For some, it’s watching Sunday afternoon football. For other people, it is joining some friends and playing football. Many people play by having a hobby, others go on vacation or go the beach, and so on. The point is that the activity is fun to do, is free of stress and carries with it no “I must do this or else…”

So, my message to you, my readers and to myself, is to find time and play. Despite the fact that it may be hard to believe, there are those who find work to be fun as well as playful. Those folks combine the best of both worlds of work and play.

There is nothing wrong with reverting to that childhood state so that we can funtion better in society while feeling a sense of happiness. Looking forward to the weekend when we can play is a way of making life more interesting and vital.

You comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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