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The Importance of Playing and Relaxing

How relaxation and playtime can promote a stress-free life

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Most of us take care of everyone else in our lives. As a result, we’re guilty of not taking care of ourselves. But did you know because of this, we’re all running at least 20 minutes short of the time we need for ourselves?

This time deficit is growing as our tech makes us more accessible, often taking the majority of our time.

We try to ‘catch up’ and ‘get ahead’, but that only piles on more stress and less control. The stress of pop-up problems, like an infertility diagnosis, can make you feel like you don’t have time to just play and relax.

This 20 min deficit of playing and relaxing feeds into a larger problem because this is our way to de-stress!

Why does this happen?

When your sense of control goes down, your emergency response system increases your adrenaline, your body’s natural stimulant. Now, you’ll find yourself still having to deal with the stresses and the side effects of adrenaline.

Adrenaline, which sometimes manifests as panic attacks, is putting your brain and body on alert so you’ll be ready for the next crisis.

But, it’s also using up your serotonin and other mood-stabilizing hormones. That means you’re running low on stability, strength, and calm thinking just when you need it the most.

Play and relaxation, on the other hand, prevent the high adrenaline output and increase those mood-elevating hormones. Not only is relaxation nice, the clinical benefits are shown to increase overall health!

How To De-Stress

Make a moment

No matter how rushed or stressed you are, create moments for yourself – small pockets of time (20 minutes should do the trick!) where you prioritize mindfulness. This is crucial if you are going through the ups and downs of stressful situations.

Herbert Benson, MD, of Harvard University finds a total of just 20 minutes of pausing a day is enough to decrease stress symptoms by almost 50%. That's only 20 minutes a day to improve your mood!

There are many ways you can create moments throughout the day. Here are some that I do daily:

  • 3 minutes of rhythmic breathing in a slow elevator
  • 5 minutes of solitaire on your phone (with no other distractions)
  • 10 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation in the morning
  • 2 minutes of humming (quietly) while you’re in a long line

I often hear that people like to water plants, listen to a book, or even dance. The point is to do anything that makes you happy. They all count towards your total.

Be present

During these moments you create, focus on what you are doing now instead of re-living your past problems. Re-living or pre-living your stressors in the past or future won’t reduce your anxiety in the here and now.

It’s often called mindfulness. If you think you don’t have the time to pause right now, consider that without downtime by choice, you may have more downtime later, without choice because of exhaustion and stress.

Laugh a lot

Our capacity for laughter is inborn, just as we naturally smile when something is funny. Both signal our fight, flight and fright system to turn off:

Our muscles relax. Our blood pressure goes down, and our optimism increases. All are important during fertility treatment or a generally stressful time.

As a bonus, much research suggests laughter also promotes healing and wellness!

Plan play-time

Just because we’re grown-ups or going through an ordeal like fertility treatment, doesn’t mean that play stops. It should never stop because, first of all, it distracts us from our problems.

Next, it stimulates our brain’s creativity centers rather than our anxiety centers, releasing the endorphins that help us cope.

Ultimately, reminds us that we have the capacity for pleasure and allows us to bond with others.

It doesn’t matter what type of play you enjoy – structured games, team sports, acting, cards, math or crossword puzzles. They all come with benefits if you’re playing by choice, not compulsion. After all, play is meant to enhance your sense of control, not undermine it.

To increase your play opportunities, surround yourself with friends who enjoy the same thing. It’s easier to play when you are surrounded by others who encourage the same.

Don’t forget sex

Researchers find that sex can provide all the psychological and physical benefits of relaxation, time out, and play:

  • It’s great exercise. No need for a treadmill or expensive sneakers.
  • Arousal helps keep you and your partner’s hormones regulated. The release of energy is crucial to keeping the body and the hormones that regulate it, at homeostasis.
  • Orgasms counteract pain signals from headaches, back muscles, and legs. They also release the hormone, prolactin, which helps you fall asleep.
  • Physical closeness triggers the release of oxytocin, which decreases heart rate and the stress hormones.

Short-term stresses surround us daily. Long-term stresses like fertility journeys challenge our emotional and physical strength.

But, we have the power to de-stress ourselves. Through play, pleasure, and relaxation, we can help ourselves through our challenges. If you can’t give yourself permission to use them, I give you permission!

More from Georgia Witkin Ph.D.
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