Give yourself permission to play

paints.300x175A guest post by James Raper, interim director, University Counseling Center

In many cultures playing or being childlike gets a bad rap. Sure it’s cute and sweet when my four year-old (with his dimples) is doing it, but for an adult, it can simply feel silly and a waste of time to intentionally engage in play.

Yet as many of my clients in the University Counseling Center know, I’m a big fan of play (to which the crayons and Play-Doh within arm’s reach of my couch attest). As I learned early on both in my own counseling and graduate training, it can be helpful to think of the “kid” part of us as being the part that holds our most authentic feelings. Thus as we allow ourselves to play, a door to self-awareness is opened. And similar to intellectual awareness, the more emotionally aware we learn to become, the more empowered we are to make choices that are best for our wellbeing.

Play, therefore, is the journey and the destination. It’s how we better hear and respond to that inner-kid who is scared or sad. And it’s what we do to let go of strict adherence to the need to do things perfectly.

Play can look like many things. From swinging on a rope swing, coloring in a coloring book, getting messy (like by cooking, gardening or splashing in a puddle), and laughing wildly to singing, dancing (yes, like no one is watching), and even simply taking a walk. It’s truly not so much what we do but how we do it.

On Sept., 5, the University is hosting an all-campus event to launch Thrive, an eight-pronged approach to wellbeing that includes emotional wellness. Those able to visit the “Emotion” tent will see some great prompts, which are designed to encourage the integration of play into our lives. I don’t want to give away any surprises, but there may be small creatures there that have wet noses and like to lick (and no, it’s not my four year-old).