well being and play 2021 header
Marcie Hopkins, U of U Health.
Add a Little Play to Your Day
Feeling stressed? Maybe you should decompress. Recreational therapist Holly Badger and training specialist MaryAnn Young outline three expert ways to add a little more play to your day.

lay is the simple act of engaging in an activity for enjoyment and amusement. Adding a little more play to your day not only brings happiness, it relieves stress, improves our ability to learn, and can create stronger connections to others and the world around us. Physiologically, play generates the release of endorphins, which can increase well-being, help ward off stress and depression, and may even temporarily relieve pain.

Three ways to play

#1: Get organized – create a "play-list"

What activities do you love? Think of things where you find yourself easily getting lost; where time seems to cease to exist. It could be as simple as coloring (mandala coloring books are great for adults), playing cards with your family, putting together a puzzle, or playing with your pets. There are many ways people play, relax, and decompress to relieve stress.


#2: Schedule time for play

“I’m too busy” is an easy excuse to avoid play, but it’s precisely the reason to do it. Block time in your calendar, or add a few minutes at the beginning of a staff meeting, to learn what your colleagues did for fun over the weekend. Taking a few intentional moments to decompress, either by yourself or with your team, can help you return to your tasks refreshed and with more energy.

Only have a few minutes? Here’s a quick list of ways to play:

  • Take a walk—physical movement in and of itself can be playful.

  • Communication can be playful. Memes and emojis (as appropriate) can lighten the mood.

  • Play virtually. Some teams use themed backgrounds and chat features to incorporate a little fun.

  • Positive check-in prompts are a simple evidence-based way to help each other reconnect to purpose, be more present and focused, connect to each other, and be more engaged at work.

#3: Involve others in your play

A playful workplace creates a lighthearted atmosphere. We have to be a little more creative these days, but it’s still possible to have fun as a group. Before you begin, it’s important to note: one person’s play is another person’s torture. Every team and every individual has their own level of comfort. 

Here are a few tips for successful team play:

  • You can’t force play. Treat yourself and others with respect. That means team members participate at the physical and emotional level that’s right for them. It’s okay to opt-out.

  • Meet your team where they are. If you’re not comfortable doing something, your team probably won’t be either. Consider your day-to-day interactions. Are you a playful bunch or super serious? Try and match the activity to the group’s natural vibe.

  • Try an icebreaker. Work can get people wound-up. It takes time to ease into the right mood. Warm up with a quick quiz or trivia question, check-in prompt, or other light activities

  • If at first you don’t succeed—try, try again. There are tremendous benefits to play—it can increase group cohesion and improve connection. It may take a few times to get the hang of it, but if you find the right fit it’s worth the effort.

*Originally published January 8, 2021


MaryAnn Young

Leadership Training Specialist, Organizational Development, University of Utah Health

Holly Badger

TRS, CTRS, Expressive Therapies Manager, Huntsmen Mental Health Institute, University of Utah Health

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive the latest insights in health care equity, improvement, leadership, resilience, and more.