The Coach's Corner

Your brain loves it when you play

Every evening, our 3 year old grandson gets us to chase him to his favorite park on his bike. I call it a chase because we are running at full speed to keep up – and we wind up with a full hour of cardio exercise to engage in climbing, sliding, swinging, rolling down hills and digging in the sand. When I stumbled on this piece in the Washington Post, Why do we play? Rats can teach us how it improves mental health, I realized I’m getting more out of this evening ritual than I imagined because of how play is ingrained in our brains.

Unpacking today’s headline – your brain loves it when you play- I learned that there’s a huge benefit to everyone who plays, including wellbeing, coping with stress and better physical health. That leads me to share a personal insight of how play provides stress relief anywhere. And today’s tool gives you permission to choose one of eight play personalities described by Dr. Stuart Brown. Let’s dive in!

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #15


Your brain loves it when you play

In Sam Jones’ piece, he cites a study in Neuron offering clues into how rat brain structures and their connections are critical for play.

Natalie Goveli, a grad student at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin, and lead author of the study, found rats enjoy play and being tickled.

“They’re vocalizing a lot during the tickling, the rat version of laughter. And they jump around when they’re being tickled. They look for your hand, they chase your hand.”

What strikes me is how Goveli and her team recorded neural activity from a deep region of the brain “of young, playful rats and found a significant increase in cell activity during tickling and play,” according to Jones. They also found that “under stressful conditions where the rat was no longer playing or vocalizing, cell activity decreased.”

Read the full Washington Post story here.


How play provides stress relief anywhere

If you’re feeling swamped with a demanding workload and your life at home is equally busy – you may not recognize the importance of using play as a way to counter the challenges you’re facing.

While you may understand the value of physical activity – and the endorphins released to improve your mood – somehow the idea of playing isn’t the first thing you consider when you’re feeling stressed.

Until it works for you. This week, just before one of our evening outings, I was working through an especially difficult situation that I felt had no resolution. In the minutes it took to chase our grandson to the park, roll down the lawn to collide with each other, race to the top of the slide to avoid the sharks on the sand and scream to anyone who was in danger (!) – the weight of my circumstance was lifted.

You may think it was temporary.

And yet, as we chased our bundle of energy back home, something loosened in my perspective of the situation that I believed had no resolution. How had I not chosen to look at it from this other point of view? What might transpire if I consider a fresh option – shaken out somewhere on the slide or with the excavator in the sand?


What are your play personalities?

Discovering how you play best is one way to encourage this side of yourself to emerge.

Dr Stuart Brown, researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, has identified eight “play personalities” that can help you find out what kinds of play work best for you.

  1. The Collector: You enjoy building collections, such as collecting stamps or vintage cars.
  2. The Competitor: You enjoy playing (and winning) games with specific rules, like playing for a neighborhood soccer league.
  3. The Creator or Artist: You find joy in making things, or making things work. You might enjoy doodling, woodworking, decorating, fixing machinery, or sewing.
  4. The Director: You enjoy planning and directing, like hosting themed birthday parties.
  5. The Explorer: You play by discovering something new, either physically (a new place) or mentally. You might play by going on a vacation to a new place or discovering a new type of music.
  6. The Joker: You enjoy being silly and foolish. You might enjoy improv theatre or simply making your friends laugh.
  7. The Kinesthete: You enjoy moving your body as play. You might practice yoga or take a dance class for fun.
  8. The Storyteller: You play by listening to or creating stories. You might enjoy going to the theater or writing in a journal.

My takeaway

In my role as an executive, communications and life coach – I partner with people who are looking for ways to improve all sorts of areas in their work and life. We create a strategy that allows each individual to commit to moving in a direction they decide will get them where they want to go.

When balance is part of the equation, we work on areas to strengthen the intellect, the emotions and the body. This is where play fits into the puzzle.

There are a host of studies that reveal those who engage in play have a stronger sense of well-being, that play helps you cope with stress and a number of ways playing boosts your physical health.

FYI – my play personalities are The Creator and The Storyteller.

Which one suits your personality?

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