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The Value of Play

The Value of Play

by Aubrey Gainey

Work Hard, Play Harder. We have all heard that motto from time to time, maybe in a meme we saw on Facebook or from a friend describing their weekend festivities. This simple saying can emerge as a justification for a recent vacation to Vegas or serve as an excuse to play golf for the third time this week. Are there any actual benefits from this life mantra? Is it actually healthy to work hard, but play harder? As a counselor in training, I explored this notion of play and the benefits adults can acquire from this simple, yet easily forgotten behavior.
As a counselor education student, I am studying and learning about play therapy (in particular for children aged 3-12). Research has shown that play therapy has helped children overcome obstacles, cope with trauma, and grasp stressful life challenges through the use of play. Although it may seem very simple, there is an art and science to this type of therapy. Young children cannot verbally discuss their concerns, so they are able to express their emotions through the act of play. Unstructured play gives children a sense of control in their lives and provides them an outlet to express themselves. As Friedrich Froebel once said, "Children's play is not mere sport. It is full of meaning and import."
So how do we play as adults? Is it forbidden once we are no longer children? What does it look like in adulthood? Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget to have fun on a daily basis. We go to work, then come home tired, and find ourselves doing obligatory activities like laundry and dishes. Why should playing only be every now and then? Who said it should only be for kids?

Here are some ways you can incorporate play into your daily life:

1) Play through your long lost hobbies...
When was the last time you did an activity that you really enjoyed and that you would consider play? I know that forcing myself to go to the gym is not one of them, but riding my bike on a beautiful day around a lake? Bingo! I used to love to ride my bike as a child and somewhere on the path to adulthood, this fun hobby got lost. Think back to things in life that you truly enjoyed doing. It doesn't matter if you were "good" at it, just that you genuinely loved the process. Try to remember what activities brought you a feeling of happiness and contentment. Pick up that paint brush again and start painting. Turn on your favorite music and start dancing. Grab your basketball and head to a nearby court. Try not to judge yourself, just accept and enjoy this moment.

2) Play with your pets...

Try playing Frisbee or throwing a ball with your dog. Not only will your pet be thankful for this, but you will also get exercise without realizing it. Playing a simple game of throw and catch can also create a sense of mindfulness. Throughout the day, our mind is in a million places at once and focusing on one activity can decrease stress by allowing us to stay in the present moment. The simple act of petting your dog/cat can act as a relaxation technique and reduce that tension from all of the stressors in life.

3) Play with your kids...

Playing with your child helps build a strong connection and a healthy parent/child relationship. Instead of just watching your kids play, join them. Even though sitting on the park bench may seem like the adult thing to do, playing with your kids can be beneficial in many ways. Not only will you burn more calories moving around than sitting, playing is fun! Push your child on the swing set and then swing yourself. Kick around a ball with your kid, and then play a game of Simon Says.
Don't have children? Take your nieces or little cousins to the park. I'm sure your relatives won't mind the free babysitting. Another great bonus: laughter is guaranteed! It will bring you right back to childhood.

4) Play for exercise...

We all know the benefits of exercise and at some point have bought a membership to the gym. Does going to the gym have to be the only way adults get fit? No! Playing can be a great way to stay active and will help you feel more energetic, happier, and more alive. Instead of going out to dinner or sitting on the couch with friends or loved ones, do a fun activity together. Not only are you connecting to others, but you are also doing physical activities that will reduce your stress and get you healthy. Take a walk in a park with a friend or go jogging with your partner. Join an adult kickball team or sign up for a salsa dance class with a buddy. Make exercise fun again so that you will enjoy incorporating it into your life. It doesn't have to be torture when you think of it as play.

5) Play for wellness...

Play can serve as an easy, fun, and cost effective stress reducer. Although the act of play can be very simple, it is often abandoned once we leave childhood. William Glasser, an American psychiatrist, said that fun is an essential part of our basic human needs. Notice that he didn't say want but need. Even as adults, we need to include fun into our lives in order to make us feel balanced and healthy. How do we have fun? Play!
Don't underestimate the power of play, because not only can it help you stay balanced, it can make you happier and less stressed. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is a happy talent to know how to play." Just because we have been on the planet longer, does not mean that play is restricted from our lives. Play can be a valuable asset to add to your life, no matter what your age. When's the last time you played?

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Illness and the Family Unit

Illness and the Family Unit

By Keisha Delva

      In terms of serious injury or illness happening to a loved one, I tend to use the metaphor of being in a really bad car accident. Like a car accident we don't necessarily see it coming, and the impact is sharp and sudden. It may throw us into a state of shock or we may become very emotionally reactive. The aftermath can be long-lasting, costly and cause us a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Since certain adjustments have to be made, we are reminded of the incident on an almost daily basis, until we have resolved all resulting issues, which in and of itself is re-traumatizing.

      There are obviously many things to consider when a loved one becomes ill. Some of the common questions are: Will they recover? Are we able to get them the best care? How will we cover the expenses of the recovery process? When my mother had a stroke, I found myself asking all these questions and more; most of which I didn't have the answers to. You may not either. Finances are a major concern for many people and if your family member is no longer able to work or care for themselves, there may be a shift in the roles of many of the members of the family. Understandably, the person who is ill suddenly becomes the focus of the entire family. There doesn't seem to be much time or space left to address how that loved one's illness is impacting the rest of the family unit. Depending on the nature of the illness, our family member may change in ways that causes them to become almost unrecognizable. If it is an illness that has affected their brain, such as stroke, a traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease, we may find them behaving in ways that are strange or foreign to us. The family member is still living, yet we may find ourselves still going through the grieving process, as the person that we once knew them to be, is gone.

      Whether the illness we are speaking of is mental illness or a physical medical condition, it is undeniable that it will take its toll on the affected person's loved ones. We will worry, feel stressed, and feel sad. We may begin to neglect to take care of ourselves by developing unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, as a means of trying to cope with our stress. Concurrently, we may find ourselves wrestling with feelings of guilt or shame for any of the conflicting thoughts or feelings that we may have throughout this time. Feelings of resentment may develop for suddenly becoming our family member's caretaker, yet we may feel that we don't deserve to have a break or to take time to process our emotions, much less have the right to complain.

Here are a few of the tips that I found helpful in the early stages of my mother's recovery:

1.    Ask for help: You do not have to handle everything on your own. If the people in your life have some idea of what you and your family is going through, they will be more understanding and will likely want to do anything they can to assist you. This applies both at work and at home.

2.    Talk to a therapist: Talking to someone who is trained in techniques and interventions to cope with stress in healthy ways can be very helpful. They will listen empathetically, without judging you or trying to tell you what you "should" be thinking or feeling during this time. Our family and friends mean well, but you may find that they cannot relate to what you are going through, or are trying to rush you through the healing process.

3.    Nurture yourself: Making rest a priority and eating nutritious foods goes a long way. Make time to do simple things that you enjoy such as taking a warm bath, going for a run, or reading a good book. It may seem silly, but engaging in small, pleasurable activities is a very effective means of relieving stress and naturally boosting our mood.

      It is crucial that we take time to address our own emotional and physical needs during the distressing time of illness in our family. If we ourselves are not well, we certainly will not be of any use to someone that needs our help or is dependent upon us. Preventative care has been proven to be the single most important means of maintaining good physical and emotional health over an extended period of time. While you are caring for your loved one, remember to care for yourself too.

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

By Brandon Vieira, MA IMH #11609
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
EMDR Clinician

The Basics

For those of you who didn’t look at that title and immediately say, “NOPE,” let me congratulate you and then break it down.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a counseling treatment used to treat victims of trauma, anxiety, and phobias.   

Let’s focus on trauma, specifically.  When something overwhelming happens to us we call it a trauma and that memory gets stuck in our brains.  Smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings can bring that memory back and make us feel like it is happening again, or remind us so strongly of that memory that it feels awful, unsafe, or like we are out of control.  EMDR works to change that, so you can think of the trauma itself without feeling like you got pulled back in time to the moment it happened. EMDR actually puts the memory into focus, so we can make meaning out of what happened and move forward as a stronger person.

 The basic idea is that with eye movement, tapping, or sounds on alternating sides of your body, both halves of your brain are working at the same time.  Then the stuff that is hard to talk about, and the horrible memories and feelings that come with it, or the “yuck,” is discussed.  This reprocessing can be a bit uncomfortable, but the EMDR clinician will provide you with so many tools to work with it that you will be prepared for the discomfort and be able to cope with it.  As you talk or even think about this event, and the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs surrounding it, you will find yourself thinking about it in a new way.  

Sometimes this happens immediately, sometimes it takes multiple sessions, but the trauma feels less threatening, and it becomes clear that it happened in the past, and is not happening again and again every time you are reminded of it.  Finally, you can even grow from the experience in ways you wouldn’t think possible.  You will make new discoveries about who you really are while overcoming a major obstacle to reach your full potential, which is what counseling is all about.  

Breaking it Down

The E and M stand for Eye Movement because this treatment literally involves moving your eyes left and right continuously while focusing on a specific  event, emotion, or belief. It is usually one that is disturbing to focus on.  This can be replaced with tapping the back of each hand, or a noise alternating from ear to ear, or some mix of all of these.  The D stands for Desensitization, which means to take the sting away or to become a bit numb to the trauma.  Try saying “Refrigerator” twenty times.  By the twentieth time, you may find it is losing all meaning and it’s just sounds.  This is basically what happens initially with EMDR.  

The R, for Reprocessing, means we go a step beyond just becoming numb to what happened, we work to change the way we think about the event, ourselves, and all other potential traumas in the future, to see the opportunity for growth, for learning, for strength, and for survival.  We also are able to celebrate that this tragedy, this terrible event that seemed so insurmountable can no longer rule our lives but rather, we have become stronger, more self-actualized individuals because we have been through it and come out the other side.  We may even change the way we think of who we are, gaining more insight into our nature, purpose, and potential.  

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