By Veronica Harris

This time of year, transitioning back to school can be downright crazy for a lot of families. We shift from summer, where we spend a bit more time having fun, connecting with friends and family, and spending more time outside, to a full-tilt schedule of school and afterschool activities, personal obligations, and work.

Structure and routine are great, and for the most part people and families thrive with some level of structure and routine in their lives, but when stressful moments arise in our lives, we depend on our routine to distract us from whatever that stressful issue is. We find ourselves as parents scrambling for the mental and emotional capacity to deal with the stressful issue and realize we are already functioning at capacity; we have no tolerance left for coping in distress. This is where rest and play come in.

What are rest and play?

Rest is truly a time to do nothing. It’s a blank spot in your timetable to stop, reflect, and just be with you. It is also a time to sleep; it’s true we need sleep. Rest can be a 10-minute break to sit outside at work, or it can be a few minutes to sit on the couch at home without turning on the TV, checking your phone, or going on the computer. It can be a short nap, just to recline and close your eyes.

Play is to do something just for the fun and enjoyment of it, with no goal or expected outcome. When we are in play, it opens us to being present, and it invites us to experience joy. For everyone play will look different; it might be reflected in your hobbies and interests or the relationships you have in your life. Play can be activities you do on your own, but it is also great when we can do them with other people in our lives. When we share in play, we strengthen connections with our kids and partners, in turn deepening our bonds as a family.

Why are rest and play important?

Rest and play provide us the opportunity to clear our heads, process emotional experiences, and sort our thoughts. Although we might not be directly focused on the processing and sorting of thoughts, quite often it happens indirectly.

Play inherently makes way for creativity and innovation, strengthening our ability to problem solve and navigate difficult decisions. Including more play in our lives also encourages us to be present and experience positive emotions like joy and amusement, which in turn helps to balance our lives when we are going through difficult times.

During rest and sleep, our brain is able to process with less influence from the cognitive functions that are active throughout the day, also giving that cognitive part of our brain a break. When we get sufficient rest and sleep, we also increase our emotional resiliency, giving us a greater capacity to cope under stressful situations.

What gets in the way of rest and play?

So why do we keep ourselves from rest and play? For everyone it might look a little different, but for a lot of us we value productivity. Being a productive person means getting things done; when we get things done we see that as an achievement.

We lead busy lives, in part because we value those achievements, so to make time for rest and play would mean we would need to value our own well-being. Sometimes slowing down is worth more than finishing a task, and to play would mean we could allow ourselves to experience joy.

Making space for rest and play, if it isn’t easy to fit into your schedule, needs to be intentional. It needs to be looking at your day and making time to play, even if it is just 10 or 20 minutes, taking a rest at work or in your car because you are having a hard time focusing and find yourself questioning how you are going to get through the rest of the day. Even taking a few moments to do nothing is a great place to start when it comes to rest throughout the day.

Start to make a list of things you like to do for fun, ask the rest of your family to do the same, and see if anything overlaps—these are the things you can do to play together.

“The Importance of Rest and Play for Managing Stress and Creating Balance and Connection” is from our fall 2019 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.