My Fight with Anxiety and Why I Started a Podcast on Play

A TEDx talk came out last month that I hope will change your life. If you’ve ever found yourself in a deep hole of burn-out, stress and anxiety, Charlie Hoehn has something for you to try. In just a month, he went from years of feeling dead inside from constant anxiety to “back to normal.” All he did was play.

He said the for years, he “chronically deprived himself of play. Not just the activity, but the state of mind.” I spent many years in that place as well. If you’ve listened to the first episode of my podcast, you know that I ended up finding myself splayed out on my living room floor after work one night crying and wondering if this is all there is to life. He describes, in this talk, a feeling I was ashamed of at the time. I was there too. I didn’t want to hurt myself, but I just wanted to be done. I didn’t get the point.

Honor yourself. Give yourself permission to play. It is 1/10 the cost of a therapist and 1/100 the cost of a trip to the hospital.

– Charlie Hoehn

I made some huge efforts to change things up. I knew there had to be more. I moved, changed jobs, made new friends and found the love of my life. But I carried my stress and anxiety with me into my new life. I just couldn’t shake it. Then I listened to an episode of my favorite podcast, NPR’s TED Radio Hour, about a year ago. It was the first time I heard Stuart Brown.

Attempts to “Fix” Anxiety Fueled its Fire

Like Charlie describes in this talk, reading Stuart Brown’s book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,  was a huge “a-ha!” event in my life as well. Before that, I thought I knew what to do to fix myself. The world of self-help available to us these days is amazing. Just in the realm of podcasting alone, I’m exploring how my physical body could be contributing to anxiety by learning about fitness and nutrition. I’m also learning how important it is to get more sleep, to start forming better habits and recognizing negative self talk. There are podcasts on productivity and work/life balance, on finding deeper meaning through spiritual traditions and meditation practices. It’s been amazing.

But with so much to do, read and implement, I discovered that my attempts to “fix” things have been fueling anxiety’s fire. My to-do lists were longer than ever and anxiety seemed like it was here to stay.  But I had to admit that Stuart Brown had something I hadn’t heard before. The one thing that seemed to accompany times of relief was when I allowed myself to play.

Anxiety Hates Fun

The paradox is that anxiety can really set in with ferocity when we begin to have fun. The times I’ve made a conscious decision to relax – to play and engage in pleasant activity simply because it’s fun, anxiety protests big time at the start. But the more firm my resolve to surrender myself to fun, anxiety begins to fade into the background.

Play is my New Secret Sauce

IMG_9798I’m not saying that the other types of self-help aren’t worth pursuing. I’ve gained invaluable insights and have already begun reaping the benefits of forming better habits. But play seems to be the most effective and direct way to combat anxiety. It seems like a no-brainer. Fun is fun. Of course it’s good. So why is it so hard for so many adults to justify prioritizing fun? And when we do decide to have fun, what do we do? Go for a drink? Go to a movie? What else? Once I began to learn the science behind fun, the mental and physical health benefits and the quality of life benefits, I started looking into the vast variety of ways adults can play. What I’ve learned is that we rarely even scratch the surface.

I’m Not There Yet. I Need You.

A few months ago, I was challenged to a #30dayfunchallenge by a friend, Megan Sadd, and I only made it two days in a row before slinking back into a workaholic mindset. I have a lot to learn. So I want to share the things I’m learning and create a community of people who consciously consider how we can incorporate fun into our lives. Why? Because we can be so much more. Through a commitment to fun, we can find communities to nurture us, improve our physical and mental health, our relationships, our work and so much more. That’s what I’m going to explore on this podcast and blog.

If you’re interested in finding some great podcasts that will challenge you to start moving from dissatisfaction toward fulfillment, here are some of my favorites. I’m just gonna add my podcast into the mix too. Wish me luck!