Feeling overworked but underwhelmed? Here’s why childish play is the answer

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Emma Worrollo, a play consultant based in Bournemouth, is watching a group of adults get their hands dirty. Play-Doh is being pushed and pulled and moulded, the sticky substance forming shapes and figurines. One woman is making a sculpture of herself up a tree as a child. Another is creating a model of how she sees her life right now. “That’s when more straight lines and enclosed spaces occur,” Worrollo says. “When that happens, I ask: what would the kid-you change? How do you get that sense of fun back in your life?”

Worrollo runs these workshops virtually for her Patreon community, The Playful Den, and its accompanying Instagram (find its fans under #liveplayfully). She has a background in children’s research and began the project as a way to help mothers engage with their children as they played, but she soon realised adults were wildly in need of relearning the joy of play for themselves, too. “It then surged in popularity during lockdown,” she says. “It was mostly because I was talking about the positive ways this impacts mental health, and people needed that relief hugely.”

She isn’t wrong. After almost two years of pandemic hell, we are all square-eyed and exhausted – an Indeed survey found 67% of all workers felt their burnout had worsened in 2020, and that number is expected to have risen since. This is why, more than ever, we desperately need to reclaim ‘play’ as unadulterated us time. Think of it like this: if you had access to a release valve that helps you switch off entirely, and then allows you to come back to whatever you’re working on afresh, why wouldn’t you use it?

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