The first day of September is bittersweet for me. Like every other Harry Potter disciple who never received a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry acceptance letter, it’s the day the magnificent red train leaves without me for an uncharted castle filled with magic.
Sept. 1 also marks the day when the Boy Who Lived starts having fun again because he returns to a world of mischief, mayhem and magic.
Those impervious to the Potter series’ spell face the same dichotomy when autumn comes around. Summer fun is done, but autumn brings changes in both weather and attitude. Just like students return to school refreshed from a few months of vacation, many adults look at the season as a signal to buckle down on business with renewed vigor.
But before we totally write off summer 2015, I have a question: Will you continue to play? Your answer better be “yes.”
I’m working on a feature for our November issue that looks at the importance of play-based learning. One of the people I talked to, psychologist and HelpGuide.org founder Jeanne Segal, said play helps the way we learn by improving how we handle stress.
When we stress out, our brain and other organs receive less oxygen, which in turn makes it harder to retain content or even focus on learning. But lightening the mood before a learning session can get that oxygen back where it needs to go.
“When you engage in play, the stress goes back into balance, and you can tell right away,” Segal said. “Colors get brighter. You think more clearly. It’s a fun, delicious way of restoring that balance.”
Using play to alleviate stress can be as simple as encouraging employees to toss a ball back and forth or tell jokes or funny stories. Mayo Clinic reports the simple act of genuine laughter can have short-term effects like stimulating organs by forcing the body to take in more oxygen, as well as long-term benefits as an immune system booster and pain killer.
“The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to laugh, and the more you laugh, the more relaxed you get,” Segal said. “Do something that’s a little silly, a little social. Once one person starts giggling, it’s hard not to join in.”
So even though the summer might be over, don’t let play become a thing of employees’ past. Make sure they still get time to socialize with others in a nonwork context so they can continue learning well into the fall and winter months.
Heck, I’ve already scheduled a week of playtime in December — a trip to London to see if I can finally catch a ride on the Hogwarts Express and make it for second term.