Coloring Outside the Lines


It’s the deeper cause of more illness in the United States than stuff you order in a drive thru window “super sized.”

Consider this from

  1. 75% of the general population experiences at least “some stress” every two weeks (National Health Interview Survey).
  2. Half of those experience moderate or high levels of stress during the same two-week period.
  3. Millions of Americans suffer from unhealthy levels of stress at work. (A study several years ago estimated the number to be 11 million–given events since that time, this number has certainly more than tripled–studies in Sweden, Canada, and other Westernized countries show similar trends.)
  4. Stress contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses in many individuals.
  5. Stress also affects the immune system, which protects us from many serious diseases.
  6. Stress also contributes to the development of alcoholism, obesity, suicide, drug addiction, cigarette addiction, and other harmful behaviors.

So what is it about your life that has you running from dawn to dusk?  My anxiety level is driven more internally – for me, emotional stress is physically debilitating. The key seem to be self actualization.  Learning how to be within your own skin, comfortably and with grace, is a real issue when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see.  Truthfully, if you’re willing to explore and change things in your life, you can lower stress big time.  So let’s start with the basics.  Are you willing?

How do you play?

Can you make the decision to play?  Can you color outside the lines in your life, expand your horizons’ and increase your grace – without employing self defeating behaviors that may have been part of your life in the past?

First, think about your lines.  What are your defining behaviors? What are you doing of habit that define your moments, your days?  What lines confine you to the life that you know…but not the life you dream of? There are several things that come to mind: the way I choose to exercise or not, my diet, my faith habits, meditation, and downtime.

My lines get blurred with what I “should” do as a wife, a grad student, a mom, and a writer. I could schedule every minute of my time if I weren’t self aware. Are you an over scheduled human? What are your lines? What are your colors? How do you draw?

Next: what are the self medicating behaviors that keep you in the stress cycle?  Are you a comfort eater with significant weight issues? Are you a “faster” and on a starvation cycle? Are you a smoker, script drug user, compulsive whatever?  How are you expelling stress in an unhealthy way?  It’s just you and I here – lots of honesty.  Some people turn to addictions, even minor ones from ice cream and chewing gum to the bigger ones like serious porn use or drugs/alcohol.  As a stressed society, we medicate with entertainment, food, possessions and substance.  It’s just the way it is.

What works instead of self defeating behaviors?  It’s a basic form of behavior modification therapy – trade out a feeling for a better feeling.

Think: play.

How much of your week is dedicated to playtime? What is healthy adult play? It depends on your interests.  I spent an hour last week coloring with a group of kids, about thirty minutes walking in the rain, and a full day just lounging with Brian, watching the fireplace and watching classic Bogart movies. Have you seen the Caine Mutiny? Great movie for aspiring counselors.

What had to be moved? I loaded the dishwasher Friday but didn’t do my normal house once over. I let my reading go until Sunday, and made an easy Crockpot dinner instead of doing the full multi-course meal that the family is used to. I turned off my broken new phone and put the Droid ePad on it’s baby docking station (that is what I am writing on today) until Taryn disconnected it from the dock and ran around the house with the ePad playing games.  I wore my IU hockey jersey, pig tails and just chilled out.  We laughed, tickled, played.

What is coloring outside the lines for you? How can you add a moment of play to a stress-filled day? Can you conceive of a moment of deep breathing, guided imagery, music or “me time?”

Play for adults is one of the more important social and personal skills that you’ll learn to live a while and happy life.  How will it affect those you love?  According to HelpGuide.Org, play is an amazing way to rejuvenate your life.

  • Play and relationships

Play is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. Playing together for the fun of it brings joy, vitality, and resilience to relationships. Play can also heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Through regular play, we learn to trust one another and feel safe. Trust enables us to work together, open ourselves to intimacy, and try new things.

  • Play helps us develop and improve our social skills

Social skills are learned in the give and take of play. Verbal communication and body language, safety and danger, freedom and boundaries, cooperation and teamwork: all are discovered and practiced repeatedly during infant and childhood play. We continue to refine these skills in adulthood through play and playful communication.

  • Play teaches us how to cooperate with others

Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. Through play, children learn how to “play nicely” with others – to work together, follow mutually agreed upon rules, and socialize in groups. As adults, play continues to confer these benefits. Evidence even shows that play may be an antidote to violence. In fact, those who avoid or have never learned to play may become lost in the world of fear, rage, and obsessive worry.

  • Mutual play can heal emotional wounds

When adults play together, they are engaging in exactly the same patterns of behavior that positively shape the brain in children. These same playful behaviors that predict emotional health in children also lead to positive change in adults. Studies show that an emotionally-insecure individual can replace negative beliefs and behaviors with positive assumptions and actions by living with a secure partner. Close, positive, and emotionally-fulfilling relationships heal and create emotional resiliency. Play provides a safe and joyous context for the development of such relationships.

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