DBT, Internal Family Systems

June 25, 2024

The Crucial Role of Playfulness in Adult Life

Author: Brianna Gwathney, M. Ed

In the hustle and bustle of adult life, it’s easy to forget the joy of play. As responsibilities pile up, the idea of play often gets relegated to the realm of childhood memories. However, from the perspective of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS), incorporating playfulness into daily life is not just beneficial but crucial for maintaining mental wellbeing.

Rediscovering the Child Within

In IFS, the concept of “parts” is fundamental. We all have various parts within us, each with its own role and perspective. One significant part that often gets neglected in adulthood is the playful, child-like part. This inner child is a reservoir of creativity, spontaneity, and joy. By reconnecting with this playful part, we can bring balance to our internal system and reduce the dominance of overburdened, critical, or perfectionistic parts (Schwartz, 1995).

The DBT Perspective on Playfulness

DBT emphasizes the importance of regulating your emotions and tolerating negative sensations in your body. Engaging in playful activities can be a powerful tool in this regard. Play reduces stress, boosts mood, and fosters social connections—all essential components for emotional regulation. By incorporating playfulness into our routine, we can build resilience and enhance our ability to cope with life’s challenges (Linehan, 1993).

Benefits of Playfulness in Adult Life

  1. Stress Relief and Emotional Regulation: Play stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. This helps alleviate stress and anxiety, making it easier to manage emotions and maintain mental equilibrium (Cohen, 2006).
  2. Enhanced Creativity and Problem-Solving: Play encourages out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. When we engage in playful activities, we allow our minds to explore new possibilities and solutions, which can be beneficial in both personal and professional contexts (Russ, 2003).
  3. Improved Relationships: Playfulness fosters connection and strengthens relationships. Whether it’s through shared activities, humor, or playful communication, bringing a sense of play into our interactions can deepen bonds and enhance social support networks (Brown & Vaughan, 2009).
  4. Increased Resilience: Play helps build resilience by providing a safe space to experiment, fail, and try again. This can translate to greater confidence and perseverance in the face of real-life challenges (Pellegrini, 2009).

Incorporating Playfulness into Daily Life

Integrating playfulness into adult life doesn’t require a major lifestyle overhaul. Here are some simple yet effective ways to bring a sense of play into your routine:

  • Engage in Hobbies: Reconnect with activities you enjoyed as a child or try something new. Whether it’s painting, dancing, gardening, or playing a musical instrument, hobbies are a great way to invite play into your life.
  • Play with Children or Pets: Children and animals are naturally playful and can serve as wonderful playmates. Their spontaneity and joy can be contagious, reminding you of the simple pleasures of play.
  • Laugh More: Seek out opportunities for laughter. Watch a comedy show, read a funny book, or spend time with friends who make you laugh. Humor is a powerful tool for lightening the mood and reducing stress.
  • Be Spontaneous: Allow yourself to be spontaneous and break free from rigid schedules occasionally. Whether it’s taking an impromptu trip or simply changing up your routine, spontaneity can inject a sense of adventure and playfulness into your life.
  • Mindful Play: Incorporate playful mindfulness practices like mindful coloring, playful movement (such as yoga or tai chi), or engaging in sensory activities that bring joy and relaxation.

In Essence: Embrace Your Playful Side

As we age, it’s essential to recognize that play is not a luxury but a necessity for mental wellbeing. By embracing our playful side, we can nurture our inner child, enhance emotional regulation, foster creativity, and build stronger relationships. Both DBT and IFS therapies underscore the importance of playfulness in creating a balanced, fulfilling life.We are human beings, not human doings. Life is a delicate dance between progress, persistence, and pleasure. You are the only person who will ever experience your reality; give yourself permission to play and to play often.

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