Highly Sensitive Refuge
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How to Embrace Your ‘Play Ethic’ as a Highly Sensitive Person

Particularly for HSPs, a play ethic helps reduce overstimulation and increase a sense of calm.

When was the last time you skipped down the street, sang in the shower, or danced in your kitchen while cooking dinner? When was the last time you truly had fun? Not what you “think” is fun on more of a surface level, but what genuinely made you happy and felt fun in your core? If it’s been a while, that just means it’s time to invite a play ethic back into your life.     

A play ethic is all about embracing your inner child. This is the part of you who sees life as magical, as an adventure, loves to laugh, play, be silly, and loves surprises! It’s all about embodying this child-like spirit in your day-to-day life. Yes, this part of you does still exist within you! It just often gets covered up over the years by the fear of not fitting in, being overly focused on responsibilities, and feeling like you simply don’t have time for this part of yourself anymore. But the truth is, your inner child has been feeling ignored and neglected and has been waiting all of these years for you to invite them back into your life again! There’s even a book all about it, The Play Ethic, by Pat Kane.

Regarding play, Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the nonprofit National Institute for Play, told NPR, “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time.”

As a psychotherapist, I agree and talk pretty regularly with my clients about connecting with their inner child. It’s so important and very healing. It also brings a sense of happiness, presence, and joy, and is a stress reliever, too. And for highly sensitive people (HSPs), it’s especially important…

How Can a Play Ethic Help Highly Sensitive People?

Because HSPs get overstimulated so easily — and because their brains barely ever rest — connecting with their inner play ethic is important. There are a few reasons for this:

1. Being playful helps stimulate creativity, which comes to HSPs naturally.

HSPs tend to naturally be very creative and imaginative. You may notice even more creative ideas coming through! For example, you may start painting or coloring… and then, all of a sudden, an idea for a creative project pops into your head. This is because you are allowing yourself to be in the flow of play and creativity.  When you’re in your headspace trying to think of ideas, that can actually block that creative flow.

2. A play ethic helps stimulate happiness and reduce stress.

Increasing your happiness and reducing your stress can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety that HSPs are more prone to. When you’re having fun, you’re just being you. You’re not controlling yourself to be a certain way to avoid judgment or criticism, for example, which are positions many HSPs find themselves in. For the HSP who tends to be more reserved, taking this mask off and allowing yourself to be you, as simplistic as that may sound, can feel so freeing and relieving, which also helps you to feel happy in the moment.

3. When you play, you usually don’t have expectations for yourself (which is a good thing). 

High expectations and perfectionism are two things many HSPs encounter on a daily basis. Allowing yourself to have a play ethic, however, helps to be present (rather than in your head), to let loose, and bring some fun back into your day. When you’re not worried about “perfect” outcomes and expectations, it invites in more opportunities for fun. 

Now that you know how a play ethic can help you as an HSP, are you ready to consider some ways to invite a play ethic into your life? If you decide to give some of these a try and they feel fun, notice what additional ideas pop into your mind (it’s your inner child communicating with you here) and then try them, too! In general, put your ego aside and take some time for fun. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Dance in your kitchen. You can play your favorite music and dance your heart away! It may be while you are sweeping, while you are cooking dinner, or just because. Make sure to have a smile on your face when you do this, as that will help you feel the joy from the experience that much more! It’s hard not to feel happy when you smile. Plus, dancing is good for you, both mentally and physically. In a way, it’s a form of mindfulness, too, since you’ll be focused on the music and dancing instead of being overwhelmed by other things. You’ll see!
  • Color (or draw) freehand or in a coloring book. Coloring and drawing are big ways to connect with your inner child, and there are so many adult coloring books to choose from! Or you can just grab some paper and see what happens. Then get out some colored pencils or crayons and draw or color away. 
  • Talk to your houseplants. There are some theories that suggest talking and singing to your houseplants help them grow. In fact, in 1848, Gustav Theodor Fechner, an experimental psychologist and professor of physics, believed that plants benefited from companionship and nurturing via being spoken or sung to. Giving it a try certainly can’t hurt, not to mention that it can be good for your inner child within, too! Maybe it’s telling your plants how beautiful they are or how much you love taking care of them. It may also be you telling your plants about your day like a child may talk to their stuffed animals. You may say something like, “The people I encountered today were testing my patience, but gosh, I am so happy to come home to take care of you!” Or sing your favorite song to your plants. (Not only does singing have health benefits — it helps relieve stress and boosts mental health — but singing to your plants is also good practice for karaoke!)

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  • Start the day with a smile, saying: “What if something wonderful is going to happen today?” This invites in an element of magic, curiosity, adventure, and openness. It’s hard not to feel excited when saying this out loud with a smile. Try it! With this exercise, you can be on the lookout for the unexpected, rather than anticipating the “same old, same old.” It’s not about setting yourself up for disappointment, which might cause most people to not want to try this. Instead, it’s helping you to see life as an adventure, and you may even notice wonderful things already happening that may get overlooked by being too much in your head or focusing on all the stimuli around you (as is common among HSPs). 
  • Skip down the hallway (or the street). Skipping is certainly more exciting and fun than walking. What if you skipped down the hallway or the street? Perhaps a friend, your partner, or your child could link arms with you and skip with you! Allow yourself to laugh as you do this. Yes, you may feel silly at first, but it’s an invitation to have more fun and laugh. This is another activity that truly is hard to do without smiling.
  • Play “magic carpet.” Did you ever pretend you had a magic carpet when you were a kid? Like Aladdin? As you sit on a rug in your home, or even your bed, shut your eyes and allow yourself to daydream, as though you are flying on a magic carpet, and see where your imagination takes you! HSPs have a great imagination and love to connect with their inner world, so have fun with this! It’s yet another way for HSPs to get grounded and feel less overwhelmed.
  • Watch a nostalgic movie or TV show that makes you belly laugh. When was the last time you belly laughed vs. just chuckled? You know, giggling and laughing in such a big way that it brings tears to your eyes? Do this! For the HSPs who tend to be more serious, this is a fun and safe way to let loose and is an easy way to bring joy into your life.

No matter which type of play you try, just keep in mind that it’s an easy way to connect your inner child — whether you play alone or with others. Particularly since HSPs get more overwhelmed than others, finding an outlet for your overstimulation through play is a perfect way to bring more calm and fun into your life. And that’s what life is all about, right?

Want to get one-on-one help from an HSP-knowledgeable therapist? We have personally used and recommend BetterHelp for therapy with real benefits for HSPs. Click here to learn more.

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