There’s lots of different ways of playing, some of which require specific people, equipment or materials. Engaging in games of make believe can be done alone or in groups and doesn’t necessarily need anything more than your imagination. Playing is actually used sometimes in therapy settings because it can be a way of accessing subconscious thoughts and feelings we’re not yet fully aware of. In fact, some of our strongest opinions or emotions can surface through play or make-believe, and role-playing real-life scenarios can expose our attitudes and preconceptions towards them, maybe helping us figure out what we feel hurt about or what parts of ourselves we’d like to work on. It can also help reframe or replay traumatic events in a safe setting, allowing us to process them better.
On a less serious note, some people just enjoy the escape from reality! There’s a big community of people who engage in cosplay (costume play), larping (live action role-playing) or fantasy RPG (role-playing games), such as Dungeons & Dragons. It might be worth looking into whether there’s a group near you that you can get involved with or seeing if a group of friends would like to learn how to play with you.
In this video, Senior Clinician Katherine Mautner, shares how play and giving yourself permission to be silly and spontaneous can help manage your mental health and wellbeing:
What young people have told us:
'Yeah. It kind of always has - even when I was a kid I'd act out my worst fears as like a way of facing them.'
'It meant that I could play out scenarios that scare me or give me anxiety multiple times in multiple ways. It means that I'm less anxious because I've already been through it. Also it stops me obsessing over what might happen because I've already worked out all the possible outcomes by playing over the situation over and over.'
'I think it helps because it relieves stress and takes your mind off other things.'
'I particularly like using toys like lego and acting it out through them because I'm removed from the situation so it's like I'm a bystander and apart from the emotions of whatever character I'm playing with so it's less stressful to do. I usually do it on my own so I feel like there's less judgement and means that afterwards I relax and am less scared about a situation.'
There isn’t much academic research in the area of self-care for young people who are living with mental health issues. We are trying to find out more about what works for different people so we can better advise other young people what to try.
If you’ve tried this activity when you were struggling in relation to your mental health, please let us know if it helped you and how by clicking on the ‘Did this activity help you’ button.