When I was a little girl, my Grandpa built a playhouse for my sister and me in our backyard. It was a miniature of the farmhouse where we lived, painted white with green trim, and even had a small loft. We loved to play in our “very own” house, and spent hours of make believe there. Our kittens became our babies and would allow us (most of the time) to dress them up in doll clothes and push them around in a buggy. Meals were forged from the family garden.

Growing older, I moved from playhouse fun to riding motorcycles with my brothers around our family farm. They built ramps for jumping competitions much to my parent’s dismay.

Play comes easy as a kid. Then you grow up and it seems you lose the ability for play and fun. The pace of today’s world and the many responsibilities of adulthood keep business leaders from being creative and playful.

Yet, play is a critical component of adult life. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, compares play to oxygen. “It’s all around us yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” According to Dr. Brown’s research, the outcome without play is adults that lack social competency, joy, and the ability to persevere. Life becomes labor.

Here are 5 compelling reasons to put play back into your life and work:

      1. Play reduces stress

When you become engaged in hobbies and fun activities the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenal) are reduced. Play is the medicine for stress.

      2. Play enhances your creativity

The heavy workload and overloaded mind of the typical business leader actually shuts the creative side of your brain down. Play opens your creativity back up.

When play is added to the work environment it has been shown to speed up learning, improve creativity and productivity, and increase job satisfaction.

      3. Play helps you to be present

When you focus on activities you enjoy it takes your mind off what may be worrying you or causing anxiety and you relax. When you do something naturally fun for you it is easy to become engrossed in it and let the world go by.

      4. Play makes you happy       

When you play your body releases a combination of happiness boosting chemicals and hormones. It’s a “natural high” that creates feelings of well-being and happiness. It puts you in a positive place.

      5. Play makes you healthier 

Research shows that stress is one of the biggest causes of poor immune system function and disease. As play reduces stress it is a natural immunity booster. Play also improves brain functionality, and helps to maintain memory and thinking skills.

Think about where you can put play back into your life and work. What fun activities can you do with your work team? What did you love to do as a child that you can start doing again with your own kids or grandkids?

In challenging and stressful times, it is more important than ever to give yourself space to rest and also play.