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  • Writer's pictureHeather Davis

Pandemic Rx: Play, Nostalgia and Creativity

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Schools closed, us parents are now moonlighting as teachers and playmates.

Yes, get the schoolwork in but for the third job as playmate stand-in, it helps to understand the bona fide advantages of play - for both the younger and older set.

Here, kids are experts. Yes, we may be the designated substitute but we can also learn a few things.

When we play for the sake of play, we reduce stress levels and boost our general health and well-being. Play leads to higher happiness levels and is key in remaining positive and optimistic during challenging life events.

The cherry on top: continuing to play helps keep us young.

Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor”. – Dr. Stuart Brown, MD

What isn’t play

All that screen-time is the opposite of play.

Children’s dependence on something outside of themselves to constantly keep them stimulated and entertained is leading to an atrophy of imagination and creativity as the developing brain is not being given the time and space to do its own thing.

Play benefits kids

Unplugged play builds the brains of children and prepares them for the future. It has been shown to help them be better adjusted, better able to handle anxiety and stress, and supports healthy social and emotional development. Research has also shown that play promotes resilience, self-esteem and helps kids meet challenges later in life.

A 2011 article in the American Journal of Play outlined how not playing can stunt emotional development and lead to attention and self-control issues as well as increase levels of depression and anxiety.

But why should kids have all the fun?

Like today’s childhoods, the value of play doesn’t end at age 18. The same activities that lead to mental and physical health in our kids does in fact continue to benefit us into adulthood.

For grown folks, play has shown to increase productivity, improve brain function, enhance learning and help with creative problem-solving. Like children, we too connect through play and it has shown to improve and sustain our relationships.

Nostalgia – a supportive old friend

Unlike kids, adults are old enough to have a past – and a drink.

Our pasts, each with a look and a feel and a soundtrack and a wardrobe and an ex-boyfriend or a car. All that makes up our nostalgia. It’s sentimentality for a part for one’s past and - photographs or videos, songs and stories, smells and tastes and even certain times of the year – all can spark nostalgic feelings.

The societal obsession with new, young, shiny and advanced can make the past seem obsolete to many. With it, comes the untruth that being nostalgic means living in the past in order to avoid one’s present and future - despite how inviting that might seem at times.

When we look back fondly, it helps us make sense of and find meaning in our lives. It weaves a connection of our past to our present, helping us feel more complete.

This “self-continuity” contributes to our ability to see the big-picture of our life and helps drive another key advantage of being nostalgic: self-esteem and self-acceptance. Nostalgia helps buffer the world’s threats on our self-worth and authenticity.

For those who would rather not be social distancing, sentimental memories of loved ones drive social connectedness. Studies show that when we are reminded of our relationships, we benefit with increased levels of acceptance, belonging and empathy, and reduced loneliness.

Research from the University of Southampton’s Nostalgia Project has found that nostalgia also plays a key role in getting us through life’s ups and downs. Nostalgia grounds us during difficult times, allowing the ability to see the current problem as temporary and in so, developing our resilience and fortitude.

Being nostalgic serves as a defense mechanism, helping us to cope during highly stressful and challenging times. Nostalgia is a loyal friend that understands that you are lost right now but reminds you of who you are, who you love, who loves you and what you’re capable of. Nostalgia has shown to help people cope and encourages positive mental health. It reduces levels of anxiety, stress and even depression.

Whatever it is that takes you back to a positive or powerful time in your life, this would be an excellent moment to time-travel.

Being nostalgic has been shown to increase levels of optimism and improve mood.

It serves as a time-out from current negativity, transporting us back, refreshing a sense of the positive. It actually energizes us and increases our levels of vitality.

Poor kids, no magic nostalgia of their own.

Well, maybe break out an old mixtape and share some of yours. Class is in session: Music Appreciation 101.

"The creative adult is the child who survived." - Ursula Leguin

Creativity declines as we age

As we grow up, we are forced to follow the rules. We go to school and work and learn to adhere to instructions.

Like building with Legos, we move from creating the colorful, unrestricted and avant-garde to begin following the directions and build whatever is shown on the front of the box. We fill out standardized tests and sit in cubicles.

But creative learning is experimental and messy. Creativity grows from questioning, exploring, investigating and yes, failing. Being forced to figure out how to move around obstacles helps the creative muscles.

Creativity is helped by boredom

Boredom sets the foundation for creative processes. The brain needs empty space to get jump-started. This is almost impossible when someone else’s creativity is constantly on auto-play.

For the young, there could be more at stake than we think. Developed in 1966, a 50-year study using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), showed that creativity levels in elementary school was a better indicator of future accomplishments than IQ.

Creative expression and mental health

Regular creative expression in our daily lives also promotes mental well-being. It lets us take a break from real life for a minute. We can let all that stuff that’s pent up out – constructively. We can leave it in the kitchen, in the workshop, or on the surfboard – just wait until the beaches reopen first.

Art, music and writing therapy have long been championed for people suffering from anxiety, depression and traumatic events. It’s also an expression of psychological health and is associated with increased levels of self-knowledge.

Dedicated playtime and creative expression are important for our well-being. Science says so.

Put it on the to-do list. Set regular time aside. It’s life-giving and necessary.

Despite massive adjustments and amid uncertainty, within our households there’s some serious quality family time going on. Too much, most certainly. Still, it’s time that will never come again.

Younger children will only be this age for moments longer. Having them under house arrest might well turn out to be the most memorable and defining moments of their childhoods – their future nostalgia.

Creative play is the key to making positive memories to benefit them for a lifetime.


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