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Guilty pleasure is dead

The essential role of play in health

You know what gets me? The saying “guilty pleasure”… like we should feel ashamed that we enjoy ourselves and our bodies. Even though, as humans, we’re entirely wired for pleasure. (And as mamas, I’m positive that we certainly don’t need another addition to the guilt pile!)

The truth is that to feel guilty about pleasure completely negates any benefit we would receive from the pleasure in the first place!

Let’s get a little bit sciencey…

In super simple terms, you have two components to your central nervous system – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Your sympathetic nervous system is the fight and flight side of your central nervous system. It is responsible for your stress and adaptation response. Whenever we activate the sympathetic (any time we register stress: physical, emotional, past or present), we’re essentially setting off a chain of hormonal reactions that are designed to have us run or fight. That stress response, in its biological essence, is designed to last for about four minutes. (If you were being chased by a tiger, there’s a pretty good chance that something would eventuate after about four minutes – you’d either be safe up in a tree or trapped in the mouthparts of the beast.)

But our modern lives aren’t as simple as they once were. We have so many stressors to respond to – financial, relationship, vocational, familial, travel etc, as well as lack of sleep, food irritations, gut issues and all the internal, physical stuff. They are incessant, and chronic.

Add on the fact that our intellectual, quantitative, achievement-oriented thinking and control-centred patterns of behaviour live in the sympathetic side of the brain, and it turns out that most of us are operating from our fight or flight response most of the time.

What does this really mean for us?

Eventual burnout, overwhelm, feeling like time is always running out, immunity issues, poor gut health, decreased digestion and assimilation of nutrients, sex steroid hormonal imbalances.

What to do?

We need to spend some time in our parasympathetic nervous system. We need to rebalance if we aim to not go down the road of ill-health and dis-ease.

How?

Well sleep would be one great way. But, we all know that’s not always (or sometimes ever!) a practicality.

Here’s where pleasure and play comes into its own.

Your parasympathetic is the rest and digest side of your central nervous system. It’s your sensory side, your feeling, your body. It’s where we go when we’re out of our heads (in a good way!) Aside from sleep, pleasure and joyful play is one of the most effective ways to get us there.

Try it on

First, here’s a little reflection so you can get in touch with your inner child – your innate essence of play. Ask yourself the following:

  • When you were a child, in what ways did you like to play?
  • What kind of play and activity ignited joy within you?

You can even address your inner child directly… ask her : “how would you like to play today?”

Honour what comes up. Make it happen in your day.

If you’re unsure where to start, head for the classics: kick a ball, throw a frisbee, ride a bike, climb a tree. Do something childlike and hilarious. Drop the label of having to be an adult for just an hour or so, find a way to play so you laugh till your belly hurts – it is all about fun and pleasure.

Drop the judgements – of yourself, of what should be happening, of anyone around you.

Let yourself be free and joyful, even if just for half an hour.

Your health depends on it.

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