The experiences of the past several months have left many of us caught in a cycle of stress, pressure, and exhaustion. It can feel as though there is no way out and no end in sight. The consequences, if we do not break the cycle and find strategies to counter the feelings, can be serious for our health and our careers.
Of course, there are some large system and environmental forces at work that need to be interrupted and shifted if we are to find permanent solutions to what we are feeling. However, there are some immediate and shorter-term steps we can take to counter the stress we are feeling, experience authentic enjoyment, and feel better about ourselves.
The answer: Have some fun! At first, this advice may seem counterintuitive, even naïve. We might think it is too simple to be effective. We may even wonder if we have forgotten how to have real fun.
Help is on the way. Catherine Price, author of the new book, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, provided some timely information and advice worth heeding in a recent New York Times article. She reports from her research that fun can help us to counter feelings of stress and to make us more resilient. Fun can help us to be happier and healthier mentally and physically.
However, Price cautions that we use the term “fun” broadly for a variety of activities. We often describe anything we do with our leisure time, including activities that pass time and occupy our minds, but may not be especially enjoyable or satisfying, as fun.
Price describes real fun as having three components: playfulness, connection, and flow. Playfulness is doing something just for the fun of it. Playfulness is not taking ourselves too seriously. Playfulness alone helps us to manage stress.
Connection speaks to the social nature of fun. While we can have fun alone, when we enjoy something fun with others, we experience connections that can help us to feel less isolated. Connections, too, are important in countering stress and helping us to be more resilient.
Flow, we often associate with athletics, the arts, and highly engaging projects. However, it also can apply to the state of mind we experience when we are fully engaged in fun and focused on the activity in which we are engaged. Flow helps us to let go of what may be causing worry and stressing us, at least for a while. Often experiencing a period of flow is enough to restore our perspective and energy.
While each of these elements of fun hold power to relieve stress and increase our resilience by themselves, their confluence as we experience fun can be a powerful antidote to what is dragging us down.
If it has been a while since we have experienced real fun, we may struggle to figure out where and how to find it. Price advises finding our “fun magnets,” by recalling times when we have been fully engaged in an experience, laughed with other people, and felt free of immediate worry and concern. Think about who we were with, what we were doing, and what made the experience so good. Importantly, fun does not have to be a grand event. Fun can be an unplanned hike, a board game with relatives, or an engaging conversation with a close friend.
Once we find our “fun magnets” we need to carve out and schedule time to engage in them. The pandemic can make finding time and creating space for fun more challenging, but it will be more than worth the effort, even if the experiences are shorter and may have to be modified for safety.
We have experienced plenty of stress, disappointment, and loss. It is time to prioritize having some fun!