Beating anxiety and stress: it’s time to press play

I read an article a few months ago and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It says a lot that, through the deluge of information and opinions our brains sift through every day, something has remained in my mind for months afterwards.

I’m referring to this article, in which one man explains how he overcame his anxiety disorder with one simple theory. I know, that sounds like the subject of a spam email.

The man, Charlie Hoehn, had debilitating anxiety for over a year. He said he’d tried everything they tell you to try, including yoga, meditation and exercise. His anxiety only alleviated by learning, or relearning, how to approach life, in particular, play, more like a child.

Charlie’s “epiphany” came after reading the book Play by Dr Stuart Brown, which talks about play being essential to our mental health. It says you can become “play deprived”, which can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety.

After reading the book and changing how he approached play, Charlie was back to his anxiety-less self in just one month. He said:

“Kids don’t run to get in shape; they run to feel the grass beneath their feet and the wind on their face. Kids don’t chat over coffee; they pretend and make jokes and explore the outdoors. Kids don’t network; they bond while playing.

“There is no ego or guilt,” he says. “There is no past to regret, and no future to worry about. Kids just play.”

Charlie realised he had unwittingly starved himself of play, and shunned any activity that wasn’t perceived as productive or 'meaningful'. "Even when I was with friends or doing something that was supposed to be fun, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I was wasting,” he says.

And this was where he was going wrong. “Play is where our subconscious naturally guides us. Play is the state where we are truly ourselves, once we let go of our egos and the fear of
 looking stupid. Play immerses us in the moment.”

In the article, Charlie says that play “destroys” anxiety.

One reason it has resounded with me is because I do this all the time. I often can’t relax when I’m doing something that isn't productive. My work spills over into the weekend. The way I’ve always looked at it, a writer’s (I use that word loosely) work never ends. I could always be reading more, learning more, writing more, thinking harder.

Charlie said that his way of life made him believe he had to be serious in order to succeed. But when I think about it, there really isn’t much evidence to the contrary. The reason grown-ups assume they have to be serious is because any other approach isn’t well received.

The perfect example of this is when something funny happens in public. A man runs for the bus and misses it. Or perhaps he trips a little while eating an ice cream. Or maybe he walks down a busy street with his flies wide open.

I can’t help but laugh when things like this happen, because these kind of observations are a complete contrast to the seriousness dominating the adult-run outdoors. But if I sense someone catching me laughing, I'll hide it with a weird-looking yawn.

The only thing that stops us seeing the world like children is this fear of judgement. Bills and work problems aren’t an excuse for being serious. If anything, they should increase our appetite for fun.

When I was young, getting grounded was the end of the world. As a child, everything is fine as long as we can play. No fancy cars, designer bags or highly coveted jobs – just play. Just like laughter, play is a release, a reminder of why we’re alive. And as an adult there’s the added dimension of warming nostalgia, of remembering the freeing feeling of being a child.

As adults we can acknowledge that some things are serious, and require us to be serious too, but that we also need play. Making time to approach the world like a child doesn’t mean our productivity will suffer. If it lowers our stress and anxiety, it's more likely to have the opposite effect.

I want to stop just thinking about this article, and start changing my approach to extra-curricular activities. A walk for the fun of it, not because it’s healthy and a chance to contemplate the serious things in life. A book because it’s enjoyable, not because it will help my writing. Opening up our imaginations can only lead to good things. Why else do you think children don’t have wrinkles?


  1. I've been thinking a lot about expectations and what we hold ourselves to recently as well.

    I think it only serves to make us feel rubbish about ourselves. Why can't I dance all the way home? (I have done that late at night when I think no ones watching... The problem is there's always someone watching).

    1. You CAN and you SHOULD dance all the way home! Just maybe not in the rougher parts in London...

  2. This has really opened my eyes to so many possibilities. Gosh, your writing is inspiring! I really want to read that book now, but more so just go out and play. I sometimes think about going out for a walk just for the fun of it, but never do. I don't know why. I just never do it, even though the thought of doing it seems so lovely, and I know I would enjoy it. I'm going to make more of an effort to have more play time :)
    Naomi xo

    1. Thank you so much Naomi!! I'm exactly the same - a walk just for the sake of a walk? Madness! I don't think it's going to be the easiest thing to do, but we can do it! xxx

  3. In a world where my opinion counts for shit, that's your best post ever. (Clearly, the hard work is paying off!)

    I am always, but always, trying to encourage my friends to come round, or come out, and play a game of some kind. And they're always resistant to the idea - it's childish, it's a waste of time. But then when they finally give in, they love it and ask when they can do it again. (Any time you want to, you dufus, you don't have to wait for me to organise it.)

    They don't realise that the whole POINT of playing is to be childish and waste time.

    1. Thanks Andy! And if that's you're opinion, I definitely don't think it counts for shit ;)

      Well I'm glad someone gets it - we need more people like you do coax the rest of us out of our seriousness! Andy the Fun Fairy. That's got a nice ring to it.

  4. Heaven only knows what sort of Twitter followers I'd pick up with that handle. How about Fun Fixer? Hm. Or Fun Fuhrer? Maybe not Fun Fuhrer. Fount of Fun?

    Sigh. Fun Fairy it is.

  5. Definitely Fun Fairy. Don't worry - you can pull it off!

  6. Hi Jessica!

    I came across your blog at a recommendation of Bee, I'm so glad I did because this post has really opened my eyes! I went to CBT for my anxiety in January but was signed off at the end of the course.

    Every so often I get a bout of anxiety and worry that I'm going to go back to how I was but slowly I keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I hope one day I can return to my confident anxiety-free self again.

    I look forward to catching up with all your blog posts soon.

    Ruth // excuse me for a while

  7. Thank you Ruth!

    Sorry to hear about your anxiety. It's always a worry it'll go back to its worst, but by the sounds it you have the right outlook so I wouldn't worry too much :)