Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
For years, I lived by the work hard, play harder mantra. That mantra changed when I shifted my focus fully on my career. I edged play out completely; in my mind, there was no time for play. I had goals that I wanted and needed to hit. There was always more work to be done. This way of being resulted in mental, emotional and physical exhaustion and burnout, finally landing me in the hospital.
At the time, I equated my worth with how much work I could get done. But over the next few months of rest and recovery, I began to understand that my worth didn’t hinge on how much I was able to accomplish. I realized my worth was intrinsic. Rediscovering how important it is to enjoy life every day helped me along the way, and allowing myself the freedom to play was an essential part of the journey. I integrated play back into my life, and today, play is a non-negotiable priority for my mental, emotional and physical well-being.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Research demonstrates a link between play and less fatigue, boredom, stress and burnout. And even just a little bit of fun goes a long way. According to American neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, “Play activates the whole neocortex of the brain, and out of 1,200 genes that were measured, about one-third of them were significantly changed simply by having a half-hour of play.” This has major implications for adults navigating professional careers, as additional research shows that workplace stress leads to an increase of almost 50% in turnover and that when a task is presented playfully, people are more engaged and spend more time on the task.
Related: Want to Be Successful? Have Fun. Seriously.
Now more than ever, we should allow ourselves to push the reset button from time to time, and play can help us do just that. The ability to play cultivates overall well-being within leaders, founders and employees; develops stronger, more effective collaborations within teams; and increases productivity and employee engagement.
So, the question is: Are you ready to play? Here are some effective ways to reintroduce play into your busy schedule.
Make the time
This can be scheduled time for play or a dedicated amount of time that you will disconnect and focus on having fun, or infusing it into your daily activities. The most important step is to make the decision to increase play within your life. By most standards, making a doctors appointment or going grocery shopping is an everyday priority, and integrating play into your life should be viewed the same way.
Haven’t played in a while? Think about what you enjoyed as a child. Do you have any recent memories where you were having fun? What were you doing? What would you like to try, discover or get involved with? Will you be playing alone or with others? Research shows that engaging in playful group activities creates connection and bonding with others through a brain chemical called oxytocin. Have fun in this simple act of rediscovering play again by yourself or with others; you’ll be surprised what occurs when you bring the childlike curiosity into your everyday.
Dance and move your body
The brain-body connection is powerful. How often are you moving your body throughout the day in different ways? Simply dancing for two minutes to your favorite song can change your mental state. Walking and spending a few moments out in nature can also shift your mood quickly. Play is a state of mind and also a chance to engage with your body and other senses.
Related: 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Have Fun and Be Productive
Give yourself permission to get lost in your fun
You know those activities, hobbies or things that you can spend all day doing, causing you to lose track of time? That right there could be the start of your play and fun time. Many think if they have fun or play more, opportunities or time that could be spent on more important things will be lost, and while that may be true, I have learned that life is short. We aren’t promised tomorrow, and the more fun we have, the more gets done, all while creating memories.
Start to make play a part of everyday living and watch the benefits accumulate. Reconnecting with play will increase happiness, well-being, fulfillment and fun, which will positively benefit your personal and professional lives. With everything going on in the world today, you deserve to play each and every day. Now go have some fun!