From overscheduled calendars to never-ending to-do lists, we have much less free-time than we used to. So it’s more important than ever to remember that it’s not just what we do, but also what we don’t do that matters. Saying ‘yes’ to downtime and playtime is totally worth saying ‘no’ to something else.
Everyone has different ideas of what play is. For some, it can be literally playing with kids, whether it’s putting on a puppet show, building lego or heading the playground. For others, it might be playing sports, taking a spontaneous day-trip, busting out a board game or simply getting outside.
Same goes for downtime. Perhaps it’s curling up with a good book, finding a quiet space to meditate, taking a nap, or relaxing in a hot tub with a bath bomb. It will most definitely be something very different for each person. Your challenge (which we hope you choose to accept) is to find what works for you. But don’t worry, you don’t have to pick just one thing!
Making time for play does all kinds of good for your brain. In fact, taking time to play can help you come up with better ideas and think through problems. Letting loose and playing activates your “relaxation response” and releases tons of good stuff in your brain like serotonin. This actually helps you relax and gives a boost of blood flow to your brain.
On the flipside, carving out time to relax is equally important for your noodle. It can actually help increase your creativity and brain function. But perhaps the most interesting benefit of all is that it can help you be you:
Downtime is, in fact, essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behaviour and instil an internal code of ethics--processes that depend on the DMN. Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. - Ferris Jabr, 'Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime'
One of the definitions of play from the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘to wield lightly and freely; to keep in motion’. Aside from the obvious fact that playing often means moving and being active (which is always great for your body), it can help with other important things like coordination, balance and dexterity. And if you can throw some laughter into your activity you can get a little ab workout too. Play helps keep us young and feeling energetic. In the word of George Bernard Shaw, we don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
The importance of downtime for your body shouldn’t be a shock, but it’s something we often take for granted. Need a reason to make time? Downtime helps lower muscle tension, is great for your digestion, can lower your blood pressure, heart rate and increase blood flow to your brain. Need we say more?
Sharing fun and laughter helps foster compassion, trust and intimacy and can help keep relationships exciting, joyful and resilient. It helps ease tension between romantic partners and enhances connections with our peers, friends and family members. It’s also super important for our social skills, helping us strengthen bonds and overcome differences.
Ever wonder why Buddha statues and figurines are always laughing or smiling? It’s because Buddha knew how to relax! Downtime usually involves giving yourself some time and space to reflect and (hopefully) let stuff go. When you give yourself some downtime you help yourself process your thoughts, release stress and negativity.
So no matter your stage in life, finding a balance between play and downtime is pretty darn important. Perhaps you’ve already got it figured out, or maybe you skew towards one more than the other. Balance doesn’t necessarily mean 50/50, it means finding the perfect combination of play and downtime that works for you.
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