I was treating a patient recently who shared with me a host of complaints: digestive issues, sleep problems and pretty severe acne. She wanted a naturopathic perspective on finding balance and getting healthier. I listened carefully to her medical history, performed a physical exam and was trying to get a sense of how I could best help her with regard to diet, an exercise plan, specific supplements and angles on stress reduction. I asked, by the way, what do you do for fun?
She stared at me and her eyes got wider and wider and she burst into tears.
I never know when a simple question might hit a nerve.
Increasingly, when I ask that question, I either get a blank stare or reactions like above. The sheer proximity and 24/7 access to work, the relentless virtual connectedness has many people having way less fun. It’s so satisfying to work, to get the job done, but it often leaves people in a vicious cycle that does not leave enough space for healthy living in general, like getting regular exercise or preparing healthy food, let alone carving out a little time for fun.
Some of my patients cannot remember the last time they had any fun. Some cannot recall what they ever used to do for fun.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Workaholism is the last remaining ism that people get a lot of kudos for. Wow you got a lot done, or I really admire how productive you are! Or man! I wish I had your work ethic! The realization that one has become a workaholic can hit hard.
Studies show that the more one works, the more likely one is to suffer from anxiety, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. That’s certainly depressing and worse yet, this same study shows that the more you work, the less productive one is (here is the study on workaholism if you want to read more).
Workaholism has many faces, perhaps you work long hours or your let your work interfere with other leisure activities and time with family and friend. Regardless of what it looks like in one’s life, it all has similar impacts to overall health. Alas, the adage that all work and no play does not make people very happy is true. And in the end, it’s not good for health either.
I make a habit of setting aside a little time during an appointment to help my patients brainstorm ideas on how to let go of work and have some fun. Taking the time to do this is just one of the benefits of naturopathic medicine.
If you think you are too old for play, think again. I often share this piece, which is a terrific read on why fun and play are as important for adults as they are for children. The bottom line: “Play can add joy to life, relieve stress, supercharge learning, and connect you to others and the world around you. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.”
My patient above recounted that the last time she had any fun was years ago when she was playing volleyball competitively in college. I mentioned that she could likely find a pick-up game in her community. Or maybe she perhaps another lower key sport or game to play with others. I emphasized to her that as she got healthier, she would likely regain more self agency to try something new, to push through hesitation and in the end, find activities that bump up the fun factor, which in turn bumps up health.
Integrating Fun Breaks into Your Day
My daughter, Sophia Herscu, M.Ed., is a master at having fun. As one of the founders and owner of Commonwealth Circus Center, her life’s work is all about bringing people together through the joyful yet challenging disciplines of the circus. Yes, everyday people learn circus! Her team recently posted what they are calling their Ten-Minute Break Series, which is all about the importance of taking a break and resetting through short lists of exercises, challenges, or silly puzzles. Don’t worry, there is no need to leave your job and join the circus (like my daughter), but these short breaks can be a great way to reset through fun (get more ten-minute break ideas from Commonwealth Circus Center here).
“Let’s face it, we’re all navigating a super strange time. Permission to be silly and to stop taking ourselves so seriously helped us find a smile this week when some laughter was needed. These are all exercises proven to boost your mood. Use whenever you feel like you need a lift!” ~ Commonwealth Circus Center*
Just like Sophia, I remind my patients that they will be more productive when they integrate a little fun in their lives. And, I know that having fun, playing games, making music, dancing, doing art, spending time in nature, enjoying down time, connecting with family and friends, and feeling connected all impact health.
The world of psychoneuroimmunology has elucidated the fact that the mind impacts the nervous system and the nervous system influences the immune system and so the cycle goes. So, as a naturopathic physician, I often I find myself including in my patient’s list of recommendations: #1 assignment, have more fun!
Written by Amy Rothenberg for Better Nutrition and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.