The basic emotional system of play.
Play is an extremely important emotional system. We can make play out of anything. Play is what allows us to become fully social as long as our play energies are well used. This is to do with the areas of the brain that release the dopamine and the opioids and leads to our feelings of joy and allows us to laugh. Playfulness is an experience expectant process.
Abundant natural play strengthens the positive social affect circuits of the brain, mediating depression. Play is an under-utilized form of coping, especially as adults. In order for us to reroot our mature and sedentary way of being into positive, effective tracks we need to play. Physical activity is an anti-depressant and play can reenergize. Play can be anything from dance to sports, art, music, crafts, as well as culinary activities. It is good to remember that all basic emotional systems get stronger with use and also get weaker with lack of use. Emotional distress can intensify and become chronic and depression is much more likely to occur in people who experience chronic lack of support and insecurity. However, when you add in something that gives you support, allows you to feel good and secure, then you will also be able to experience emotional well-being.
Your affective life can be restructured. When survival is not threatened, play is a driving force that shapes and sculpts life. Play can become the doorway to a new self, creating new neural networks in the brain.
Probably when you were a kid you were told not to play with your food, but the truth is as an adult it is important to transition from a child-like way of looking at food. Do you remember pushing the stuff around on your plate of what you didn’t want to eat in an attempt to avoid eating stuff you didn’t like or too much food that you didn’t have room for? Or what about looking at food as a reward - ‘ok I’ll go shopping with you if I get a candy bar’.
How many times have you said to yourself ‘well I ate a salad so I’m aloud to eat that chocolate cake’ and then you pummel people to get to it. Or, as an avoidance for when you have been bad. As in, ‘well I already ate that chocolate cake so I might as well say hi to those doughnuts.’
As an adult, it is important to be able to transition your play-fullness, as the ‘Joy of Cooking’ suggests, to the art of food and the effects of food on health and well-being. Preparing fresh food is an act of self-nourishment. Preparing fresh food boosts mood and alleviates mental distress. Food gathering, preparation, and sharing is a ritual. The process of the ritual provides an endorphin rush of attachment and connection which is the basis of play and allows us to self- regulate our emotional systems, leading us into the parasympathetic state of relaxation and enjoyment. Unhealthy eating is representative of a struggle to mature. It is important to change your cooking/kitchen/eating structure into a safe place to exercise your joyous need for the healing power of nutritional play.
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