8 Play Personalities and Why You Need to Find Yours

Manage stress by building play into your life.

Dr. Jenny King

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Photo by Cleyton Ewerton on Unsplash

The rainbow parachute. Just a big nylon circle with handles.

You remember it, right?

If it ever showed up in gym class or at a birthday party, you KNEW things would get fun. Whether you were lifting it up high then scurrying underneath, placing balls or bean bags in the center and popcorning them off, or just making waves by frantically lifting and lowering it, you would find yourself giddy with joy.

I recently watched my own kids play ‘Cat and Mouse’ with this classic toy at Field Day and found myself wishing I could join. I realized it had been decades since I played with one, but I felt warm and smiley upon seeing it.

That type of joyous, self-directed, collaborative play is hard to come by as an adult. We generally aren’t out here gathering with our friends and creating silly games that we get lost in for hours. Despite the research showing that doing so would likely make us feel good.

Really, really good, actually. For adults, social activities involving play can improve mood, sharpen cognitive skills, lower risk for health issues like dementia and stroke, and even help us live longer.

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” — Brian Sutton-Smith

So why do we stop playing? The reasons play often ends during childhood are undoubtedly complex and involve things like socialization, the media, the rise in technology, and increased academic rigor and expectations. But from a neurobiological standpoint, one significant reason is likely the presence of immense stress in our lives and the lives of our parents and grandparents. The relationship between stress, anxiety, and play has been made clear by … you guessed it … rats. (You didn’t actually guess it, did you?)

Rats are often used in research on play because of their natural playfulness. They laugh when excited (!), a sound that can be measured by researchers (you have *got* to click that link and hear it). When these researchers place two young rats together in a cage, they immediately begin to play — pouncing, wrestling, and laughing…

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Dr. Jenny King

Mother. Social Work Educator. Consultant. Writer. Unschooler. Trauma-Informed. @drjennyking