Why fun is essential
Did you know that relentless stress actually changes your brain chemistry? Prolonged stress leads people to begin to feel helpless and powerless. Their body tires from constantly being in “fight or flight” mode and it can lead to health issues too.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting how stress affects us negatively. The more stress we cope with for long periods, the more likely we are to develop anxiety, depression and even panic attacks. It’s our body’s way of sending us a message that we desperately need time out.
It’s a modern epidemic – people who work crazy long hours and rarely take regular breaks. The constant strain becomes familiar and turns in to a pattern of behaviour that is damaging but also familiar, thereby reinforcing itself. There is a subtle pressure to work hard, achieve and be successful although society pushes us towards unhealthy goals. We believe that working hard is admirable, that putting in overtime makes us committed. I think it makes us look like fools who believe we are valuable when we ‘do’ instead of understanding we are valuable just ‘being’. I am not saying we should all become lazy lay-abouts but balance is healthy and MANY do not have any balance in their lives.
Fun is absolutely essential for balance in life – balance externally and balance internally. The body begins to shut down when confronted with ongoing stress.
Look at it this way: It’s rather like the keys of a piano being hit so hard that the impact puts the strings out of tune. The piano still plays, but it plays differently. While another hard hit on the keys might have broken a tuned piano wire, the now — slack wire can withstand another hit … and another. If the hits are even harder, the wire stretches more. You can almost hear the piano (and the brain under acute stress) saying, “Go on, hit me again! I can take it.” But the cost is that both are out of tune and the melody is never quite the same. In the human nervous system, this kind of adjustment or adaptation protects the brain from harm by changing the way it responds to stress. Perry and Pollard point out that repeated exposure to stress — chronic stress — results in a new way of coping with a continuous stressor, but it is less effective. Not a good thing.
In a series of experiments, Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology, and her colleagues, including graduate students Sundari Chetty and Aaron Freidman, discovered that chronic stress generates more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. This results in an excess of myelin – and thus, white matter – in some areas of the brain, which disrupts the delicate balance and timing of communication within the brain.
It is clear to me that modern life is changing us. We are more cranky and depression and anxiety are increasing. This problem is compounded by the fact that mental illness and stress are not taken as seriously as obvious health problems such as a broken leg or cancer.
I believe that many of our health conditions can be improved by looking at mental health as a primary source of many health issues. People drink alcohol excessively and find means to escape stress that are unhealthy such as gambling and drugs. There is not enough emphasis on stress relieving techniques that can be offered by mental health professionals to help people cope better. Instead we have a planet where everyone is stressed out and doesn’t know who to turn to or how to self soothe in healthy ways.
One of these ways is to make time for fun. Listen to happy music, go for a dance. Skip for a few minutes..do something silly. Take regular holidays. Play. Climb a tree…do whatever works for you but make time to be less serious. If you cannot switch off your serious side, it may be time to get help from a counsellor/psychologist who can show you how to get your fun side back.
Fun is underrated but it may just save you from a ‘cortisol-pickled’ brain that definitely won’t help you to achieve your true potential.
Photo by marc kjerland