ADHD adults who get their minimum daily requirement of play are happier, healthier, and focused.
by Stacey Turis
My name is Stacey, and I like to play. Though the act of playing is sometimes pooh-poohed when you reach a certain age, in my ADHD tribe, it’s as necessary as breathing, no matter how old you are.
I just turned 40, and though my bottom-side begs to differ, I don’t feel a day over 25! There was a time in my life, after I had kids, that I stopped playing. Not because I wanted to, but because I felt like all of my needs, including showering but especially those involving anything “frivolous” such as playing and having fun, were supposed to be put on the back burner so I could be that parent I saw in everyone -- except me.
At the time, I was still undiagnosed, and I thought I was a terrible mom who had done injustice to her children by birthing them. It took some lessons and time, but I realized that play is essential to the happiness of my ADHD brain and enhances my parenting -- and people -- skills. By people skills, I mean tolerating people.
Everyone and everything of every size, shape, color, and species is wired for play, but especially ADHDers. Nowhere in the life manual does it say our gift-given sense of wonder, creativity, and self-expression should be quashed because we have responsibilities. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Play is as natural and basic as sleep, and a great way to find balance. If that’s not reason enough, consider the fact that engaging in play is the quickest way to find yourself in the throes of flow, that magic place where time stops and you’re one with what you’re doing.
Let’s talk about ways you can add play to your day without throwing a monkey wrench in your daily schedule.
>> Adrenaline and play. As a kid, I used to love to play hide and seek, especially when I was hiding. My mind became crisp, focused, and stimulated. It’s almost comical, because as an adult, I participate in almost the same type of play but it manifests itself as one of my favorite pastimes -- expeditions in search of Big Foot! Fun, fear, friends, fur, and a dark forest is my idea of a smashing good time. Yes, I said that. What makes your heart race and mind sharp?
>> Hobbies and play. Painting nature or a bathroom wall, woodwork, photography, gardening, music, DIY projects, reading, rock climbing -- what feeds your soul? Where is your happy place? Make it a priority to go there.
Practice your hobby so you can benefit from the satisfaction of becoming better at it. The resulting sense of accomplishment will carry over in to other areas of your life, and you may get motivated to throw the clothes in the dryer on time so a mildew-infested re-wash isn’t required.
>> Errands and play. Errands are boring for everyone, but especially for creatures that crave novelty and despise the mundane like those in the ADHD Tribe. Visiting the same grocery store at the same time on the same day looking at the same food is enough to make me want to come up with my own food source.
Since I’m still not able to grow a decent tomato, that’s probably not a good idea. Instead our family adds novelty to the trip. Sometimes we all speak with foreign accents, sometimes we do the ol’ walking down the fake stairs trick behind the apple display, and sometimes, when there’s a good song on, I’ll bootie-dance down the aisle to embarrass the kids.
>> Exercise and play. Nobody needs exercise more than those with ADHD. Anxiety? Depression? Insomnia? All of those fun comorbids are dramatically improved by exercising. But exercise has a bad name for some good reasons. Take me to a gym and I’ll intentionally run in to the racquetball court without protective eyewear to find some stimulation.
If I’m going to exercise, it better not feel like exercise. One of my favorite ways to trick myself is by hiking. My friends and I love to hike into the local trail system and put ourselves in precarious situations like crossing the river by balancing (scooting on our stomachs) over a fallen tree or hopping on slippery rocks to the middle of the creek and doing River Yoga. We usually come out of it with wet sneakers and pants, but we never once look to see how many calories we’re burning.
>> Work and play. Contrary to what bosses want us to think, adding play to our workday aids in productivity. If you continuously pound your brain with the same problems, hour after hour, your brain will wade around in the same pool of ideas. Stop what you’re doing for five minutes and challenge a co-worker to a standing long-jump contest or a bout of arm wrestling, or something. When you come back to your desk, your body and brain will be revved up.
Stop thinking of play as a four-letter word. We need to think of play as the yang to responsibility’s yin. Without both, balance is not possible. ADHDers were born to have fun, so go outside to play and don’t come back until the streetlights come on!