Play Time: The ultimate cure for stress

Posted By on May 4, 2014 | 3 comments

It can be overwhelming beyond anything you’ve ever known.

Strangely, one of the big problems with it is that you don’t necessarily know where it’s coming from.

You feel crippled, exasperated, and desperate. It might even get to the point where you begin to get angry at the fact that no matter what you try, you can’t make it go away.

It can manifest itself in a number of different ways, and frequencies. When it’s hitting you, though, you know it.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been struggling with some pretty severe anxiety. I’ve also been texting back and forth with a friend about his problems with it. For me, it is expressed as a tightness in my chest, and creates a problem that keeps me from getting as much air in as I’d like, and less than I’d like to exhale as well. In turn, I often get some headaches as a result, my throat gets tight, and I feel like I can think of nothing else.

That last part is what seems to make the whole cycle keep going.

If you have ever experienced stress at this kind of level, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It can feel like you’re trapped in a prison cell that continues to squeeze tighter and tighter around you.

There are any number of ways that people deal with stress or anxiety. Many of those methods are not necessarily healthy. Some self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Those things might help for a few minutes or hours, but the remedy never lasts.

I’ve fought with this demon before, and I honestly didn’t know what was causing it or how to make it go away. I figured a bunch of the stress was coming from things I had to do at my job. On top of that stuff, I’m writing books and trying to have some semblance of a personal life.

Honestly, it probably wasn’t just one thing that was making me feel so anxious. As a counselor and psychologist, it can be tempting to want to investigate the source of some of those feelings. Maybe that’s a good idea, but for the time being, I just needed to feel better.

My frustration reached a boiling point one night, and I became angry at the fact that I couldn’t get beyond the anxious sensations in my head and heart.

One morning, I woke up feeling okay, but I knew that the thoughts and feelings were there, lurking in the shadows, ready to begin their terrible cycle again. I needed to write some for my next novel, and had a bunch of other work to do, but I decided to do something else instead.

I turned on my video game system, and immersed myself in the fake reality of a digital wonderland. I played for a few hours without having any sense of stress or anxiety. After I decided to turn off the game, I felt great so, I went for a run. I did some work around the house, mowing the grass, taking care of the plants, and some other things that needed doing.

Still, no stress. No tightness in my chest.

The answer hit me late in the afternoon. Play is the secret to knocking out the stress that seems so overwhelming in our lives. When we have so much on our plate that our bodies can’t handle it, we need to get back to a mindset more like what we had when we were kids. We have to let go of some of the responsibilities, even for a few moments, and just enjoy something fun.

Charlie Hoehn talks about this in his book Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety. In the book, he highlights some of the reasons play works to get rid of anxiety for work.

It gets back to a fundamental truth about humans. We need play. Deep down at the core of who we are, we don’t want to work all the time. We crave enjoyment, things that take stress away from us and put us in a state of pleasure or wonder.

If you have been struggling with stress like I described, or even if you have had just a fraction of the problems, try doing something fun that will take your mind off of things. Charlie discusses some activities in his book, and I recommend trying them and others.

Do you have some fun activities you like to do to play the stress away? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. You never know, your play activities might help someone else who is fighting the same battle.

For now, I’m going to play a few more games before I go to bed. 😉



  1. Great post. I am not subject to being stressed very often. When I do I start painting in oil or watercolor. This is very relaxing to me. Then I add several pages to the sequel I am writing. (Always in that order because writing requires more concentration and some research.) If that doesn’t work I have a little glass of Chablis. And to sleep I go immediately, before finishing the glass most of the time. I know this is a no no with you. Thanks for the post

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  2. Ya know, that’s odd. On occasion, I have a real anxious feeling like I cannot relax or had too much caffeine or something. Hard to quantify. Just real edgy. Started happening after medical issues forced an early disability retirement, and I’m still relatively young at 56. Especially after 20 years in the USCG. I think that has some cause to it as I do go through periods where I feel kinda useless. But I’m developing other hobbies that I can do and spring is here so I’ll be able to fish. So a fun distraction is likely the best thing to get your head back where it belongs. Thanks for your post. I don’t want to say I enjoyed your problems, but liked your honest telling of them. Best – Joe

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  3. I understand the cyclical feeling of anxiety. It sneaks up on me and I only realize after I have been cleaning for an hour, that I have been having the same silent argument with someone or giving a repeating lecture in my head! One game of pop the pig with my boys or helping them dig for worms or make a craft seems to draw me out of the cyclone that had me trapped! Maybe it just comes down to pulling our focus off of ourselves and finding pleasure and beauty around us. Thanks for one more reason to choose fun over work!! LOL

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