21 min read

These People took the Play It Away Challenge. Here’s what happened.

Last week, I challenged my readers to go out and play. To combat stress, to forget about anxiety. The results were awesome.
These People took the Play It Away Challenge. Here’s what happened.
Photo by Zachary Nelson / Unsplash

Last week, I challenged my readers to go out and play. To combat stress, to forget about anxiety.

The results were awesome. Scroll down to see pictures, and be sure to watch the video.

“Today was the first time I felt confident enough to go outside and be myself. My friends noticed how happy I was to be out doing something, which I was. I think it made their mood better as well as mine knowing that I wasn’t worrying about anything, just having fun with my friends.”

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“I played cricket with my office mates 2 days back and felt good, even though I was doubting it. I was apprehensive and little tense doing it. Yesterday I played badminton with my wife, and felt refreshed and it also helped my wife feel good. It was for a short period of time. I have attached a picture of my playing badminton.”

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“It was a playful afternoon. My partner was a pup named Charlie who proved to be on of best catch partners! He sat, ran and jumped regardless of how bad my throw was. I followed a new trail and we discovered green fields, mud puddles and creeks.. Birds were chirping away. Sun was out and I soaked it in smiling. Effect it had was brought joy, lots of laughing at our game, curiosity to keep walking and only wanted to stay longer. The effect on others was the story of our goofiness over yummy Mexican dinner. They laughed at my adventure. I hope others take time to leave the phone and screens behind.. There is more delight in each moment.”

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“Went to CrossFit, where we warmed up by playing dodgeball before our workout. The girls didn’t like it quite as much as the guys did, as they mostly hid near the back, but I think that everyone had a good time. It always making going to the gym to workout and working out itself much easier and more enjoyable to know that we sometimes play games like this. It took me back to high school when our school did a dodge-ball tournament to raise money for cystic fibrosis, and our team won. The real winners were the kids with CF though. Wait, that came out wrong.”

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“This week has been a killer, 65 hours working the bench as a pharmacist, a visit from my boss, 12+ hours of commuting over terrible snowy roads, the anticipation of finding out if I am still in the running for a promotion that I really want but am totally unqualified for, oh yeah it’s also February in Vermont so today’s high temperature is in the single digits. High stress, high anxiety, little sleep, not enough time to do much for myself, but I did get a chance to play. Yesterday was my only day off this week so I had a ton of things to take care of, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, chiropractic appointment, but it was worth it because it was time to hit the comedy open mic.

As soon as I made it into the bar I was greeted by a bunch of other comics, and was able to catch up with some people that I don’t see often enough. I was the second to last person to perform so I got a chance to watch a bunch of people work through new material before my name got called. It was one of those sets where I was able to get most of my jokes out and work on the timing and punchlines of new material, which is the most fun part of comedy, while making people laugh. Afterwards I was able to meet a guy who had featured my clips on his radio show and have a great conversation that was a lot of fun.

This morning when I woke up at 6 for a day that will keep me away from home until almost 10pm I was able to face the day with a smile because I was refreshed from playing, and I know that no matter what life puts in my way the next open mic is on Monday, and I get to play again.”

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“After an anxious day, I met a new friend under the hangar at Mueller Lake Park with lots of art supplies on Friday night. We made art for hours; people around us were training with light sabers and playing bocce ball. It was a fun environment and the fresh air was AWESOME. I felt peaceful and lost track of time; people around us wanted to know what we were up to, which facilitated conversation.”

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“Danced and sang at community festival. Enjoyed playing through dance and it lifted the spirits of others as well that at 74 years of age I can be happy and have fun despite living with chronic pain.”

“Hey Charlie and co, Thanks for putting this together! The reason I took it on is because I recently split with the woman I thought I was going to marry and feel like I’ve been trying to go about healing the “right way”: – meditating – going to therapy – working out at the gym – keeping busy – watching 500 Days of Summer with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and Lindt dark chocolate. Although they all helped a little, what’s honestly given me the most peace has been dancing and seeing friends, whether it’s through partner acrobatics or playing Call of Duty together. The play time has helped me feel that I can still feel love (and loved) while mending. So thank you for the gentle nudge in the direction I’ve needed lately.”

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“My wife is 10 weeks pregnant, and has been nauseous to the point of vomiting every day. She’s a student at Missouri State University, and her professors aren’t very forgiving, viewing pregnancy as a mistake. (We are ecstatic about it) I started a new job just over a month ago, and I’ve been working 12-16 hour days to help get us ready to pay for the birthing center and other bills, all while trying to pay off debt. We’ve been stressed every day, and losing sleep.

Today we got comfy, made tea, got some snacks, and read books from our favorite fantasy authors. It wasn’t a very active form of play, but it felt absolutely amazing to just sit down together and relax, letting our problems take a back seat to our imaginations. We enjoyed laughing and sharing bits of the stories with each other, and sipping on warm tea with the sun shining in the windows.”

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“Back in September there was an incident that left me with PTSD. I had already suffered extreme Anxiety before this took place. I lost my house, my son, and much more after this incident. I have never been able to do anything like I used to before. My Anxiety has skyrocketed.

When I saw this challenge I decided to push myself to enter. I was able to spend time with my son, we built clay models, drew, played computer games, I read your book and went to buy vitamins after reading it. Pushing myself with this challenge has helped me greatly. My son and I have had a great time, I feel like I can continue this way and get rid of my anxiety once and for all.

I am also looking to sign up for one of your workshops once I have the money for it. You are a life saver, and this challenge has started to change me for the better. I never thought I would get the results I have already after a couple days. Thank you for all that you do.”

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“Got some water guns on my lunch break and sprayed some unsuspecting coworkers! It felt great and made every one laugh!! One of my coworkers said I’m just like a little kid. Yes! I love adding a bit of surrealism to everyday life. :)”

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“My “Play” came in the form of a date with my husband. It may not seem like much or as exciting as playing outdoor sports or going on a nature hike, but this is a huge milestone in my journey to recovering from my Anxiety. My husband and I got married on April 26, 2015, and my Anxiety started on July 23, 2015.

Before my Anxiety, my husband and I would always go on fun, exciting dates together. Before my Anxiety, one of our go-to eating spots was McAlister’s Deli. When my Anxiety was at its worst, I was scared to death to leave my house. Even going to the mailbox to check the mail would leave me in a panic. I have come a long way since then, and consider myself halfway recovered. Our town is small, but growing, and one new addition that was added is a new McAlister’s Deli. When it was in the process of being built, my husband and I promised that we would go there when it opened up. This is such a major milestone for me because, due to my Anxiety disorder, my husband and I have not been out to eat at any sit down restaurant since July 22, 2015. My Anxiety really ruined our dating life and love life.

When I saw your 48 hour challenge, it really motivated me to try something I haven’t done in months. I accepted the challenge and decided that I really missed goofing off and “playing” with my best friend in the whole world: my husband. We had fun taking Selfies. I even shoved the paper wrapping from my straw up his nose (hehehe). Our food wasn’t perfect, but I told him that I didn’t really care because it wasn’t about the food. It was about the experience and getting used to going out in public again.

For the first time in a long time, I could tell that my husband was happy. He even said that he was proud of me and complimented on how far I’ve come. Even if I don’t win a bunch of prizes through this contest, that’s ok because I still feel like a winner. After that experience, I feel brave and extremely proud of myself. I overcame a major challenge today :-) Thank you Charlie!!! <3”

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“I bought an inflatable kayak and took it out on the Rio Grande River. Rather than just go kayaking I even made a snapchat story about my adventure so I could share it with all my friends that weren’t able to be there. Not only was I laughing the whole time making making the video but I was also outside getting exercise in the sun. This increased my happiness tremendously as I had recently just moved to Texas and was feeling a little depressed leaving all my friends behind. My friends loved my video so much they even messaged me back telling me so and asking how I was doing making me even happier.”

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“After my long-distance boyfriend surprised me and came to visit for the weekend, I decided to show him where I work. When we got home, we got out of the car to go inside, but when we saw the size of the icicles that were hanging off of the side of the house, a sword fight was not optional. We broke off icicles, ran around, played with the snow, and had lots of laughs. By the way, I won. :) He may or may not agree with that though. It was really fresh outside and it really lightened my spirit. Not only that, but goofy moments like this one always bring my boyfriend and I closer together.”

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“My friend and I went for a walk in his neighborhood, where there are parks and other green areas. We came across a white, fluffy chicken running wild in his street. We agreed we’d never had seen a chicken like that before. We called it “lama chicken” and also “fashion chicken” because of all the feathers on its head. My friend tried to catch it but obviously the chicken was too smart for that. I filmed the ordeal and improvised a kind of documentary on the spot. It was definitely a fun moment for the both of us.”

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“Probably, 80% of the reason I haven’t jumped off a bridge when stuff has turned sour, is my group of high school friends. When most of us manage to meet up we usually go hiking or try some of our old school shenanigans. It’s pure fun and very nurturing, it’s makes life worth living. Here’s a video of our last hike.”

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“I played games with students to help relieve stress and anxiety. Everybody including myself felt less tense and more focused.”

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“There is an abandoned grain mill close to my office in downtown Buda, TX. I pass it every single day on my way to and from work. I have wanted to climb it for a long time and have talked about it often with coworkers, friends, and family. The conclusion I had come to was that I am a grown ass man and that climbing the local abandoned grain mill was not socially or legally acceptable. Well, on Friday, during my lunch break, I climbed it Charlie. I climbed the f*ing grain mill. It was like 10 stories high Charlie.  At the top, I felt inspired to show my ass to the entire city of Buda and I did. I mooned Buda, TX Charlie. The affects (for me): Liberation. Freedom. Unprecedented Happiness. P.S. The sole reason I climbed the grain mill was to win this bitch. I want that f*ing Ripstik Charlie.”

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“Woke up at 7:18 am this morning (it was nice to sleep in) and immediately felt the pressure to finish the project I’ve been working on. So I grabbed my laptop and headed upstairs to do some work. One of my boys was already awake playing video games in the family room. I felt a twinge of jealousy watching him laugh and joke with his buddies online while they worked together to beat another team. Then I thought, “What the hell am I doing?! It’s Saturday morning. I should be playing like he is.”

So I turned to my son and asked if he wanted to go snowboarding. No dice. He was more interested in his game. A bit bummed, I sat down, opened my laptop and started working. Around 8 am one of my other boys came into the room. Given the complete mess of hair and the mismatching clothes, he appeared a bit lost. Seeing my opportunity, I asked him if he’d be up for snowboarding. Pausing for a moment to consider his answer, he glanced back and forth from me to his brother playing games on the couch. It looked like he was leaning towards saying no. So I sweetened the pot a bit, and told him we’d go at his pace, anywhere on the mountain. He could call the shots. His response, “Cool. I’ll go get ready.” On the inside, I was stoked, but on the outside, I just played it cool.

So I closed my laptop, went back downstairs, and put my gear on. 10 minutes later we were in the truck driving to the resort. About 30 minutes into boarding, I could feel the stress dissipating, and about 1 hour into riding – work was a distant memory. A couple hours later I took the photo of us on the chair heading back up the terrain park. Great time, even better memories, and way more enjoyable than working on my laptop all morning. When we got home, I took a long hot shower, and then spent some time leisurely talking and cooking lunch with my wife. Life is good when you spend it doing fun things with the ones you love.”

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“Bringing play into my life has been a challenging process. I used to have a lot of guilt associated with not being “serious” and with doing things purely to induce feelings of joy. Reading Charlie’s work has helped me give myself permission to have fun. He helped me realize that even “serious” people (that is, successful people with accomplishments I admire) make time for fun. That, in fact, they prioritize it. I knew this on some level, but I needed my paradigm to shift so I could validate this in my own life.

Back to the story. It’s FREEZING outside today (-36 degrees C with the windchill – that’s -32.8 degrees F). Too cold for most, let alone our Chihuahua. It’s easy during Canadian winters to stay in and let depression and anxiety get the better of you. Even though I know better, I’ve left these conditions somewhat unchecked this season.

I’m so glad Charlie came up with this challenge because it re-inspired me to push my boundaries a little and get creative. The funny thing about play is that it’s got a huge ROI. I just forget that sometimes. Originally, my partner and I had a day full of practical, joyless, “to-do’s” scheduled. But then, I read about this challenge and suggested it to her. Being the supportive person she is, her response was, “Let’s do it. Let’s say ‘fu*k it’ to everything else today and have some fun.”

So that’s what we did! We came up with the idea to have a “costume game party”. We busted out some of our favourite board games, put on some music, threw on some ridiculous items from our Halloween bin (including some spectacular granny glasses), and dressed up the dog, too (it’s never a real party without trolling your dog!) We’ve been playing games, laughing, and joking around. After dinner, we’re going to attempt to build a new Star Wars Lego kit that we haven’t opened yet. It’s been an awesome day. We got to release stress and just be silly. We had fun with our pup, even though it was too cold to take her outside. We were also surprised that some unexpected, deep conversations emerged throughout the day. Even though we abandoned our to-do list, the day felt incredibly productive. Those other tasks will still be there tomorrow! Thanks for the challenge, Charlie. We are happier now than we were this morning, or all week. It was totally worth it!!”

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“Needed a little boost in creativity, so I grabbed my colored pencils and my non-adult coloring book and headed out to sit by the pool to color me some happy! (Note: Adult coloring books are cool, too, but when you REALLY wanna play, these help bring the kid in anyone out! :D). Within a short time, I not only felt more creative, but more relaxed and ready to take on the challenges of my adult world!

And, as an added benefit, my significant other saw I was having such a good time, he got involved and grabbed his own page! Good stuff! Have attached a picture of my coloring book and pencils of choice for this challenge…thanks, by the way, for putting the challenge out there!”

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“I have a friend who is an aspiring photographer. She currently works for a local magazine and takes pictures of whatever her boss sends her out to shoot on that particular day, whether that’s the exteriors of popular restaurants or nature or special events going on around town. This friend of mine had little to no experience shooting one-on one with people, and one day she asked me if I would shoot with her. I was a little shocked and quite a bit nervous but I decided, hey, what’s the worst that can happen. I’d get some cool pictures and help out a friend in the meantime and that was reason enough for me.

Well, it turns out the shoot with my friend was way more fun than I could have imagined. One of the best moments of the shoot, hands down, was when I tried to take a meditative pose and find my zen, but someone in the surrounding area made a joke and all of a sudden it was like everyone within 10 feet of us was dying laughing, including myself. So, the meditative pose picture failed, but we all got a good laugh and I think that was worth a lot more.”

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“It’s been a pretty rough week with anxiety and stress but when I seen the challenge again today I just decided to take you up on it. When I got off work at 4 o’clock I took my 3 year old son outside to go ride his bike. So basically I just chase him while he rides. It’s easy to get him to go outside because he loves to but sometimes it’s hard to get me to go outside because I just don’t feel up to it. Once we were outside it was perfect about 65 degrees and when we started going my fear and dread just kind of went away, my headache went away and I felt pretty good. thank you.”

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“Doing a bit of coloring before bed… Definitely is calming. Which allows me to be more patient and better for my family to be around.”

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“I spent tonight playing Drinking Quest, a game we’ve never played before, at the grand opening of the brand new Storm Crow Alehouse, a nerd/gaming bar! Four of us learned to play. We had so much fun together :)”

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“I caught green tree frogs with my 2 children. Total fun and play and anxiety eased.”

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“I started drawing and playing badminton.And the best thing is that when i started drawing i didnt know what is going inside my mind like everyday I have to struggle my negative thoughts and never feel like doing something but now I know what to do whenever I feel anxiety,I got the medicine for that…:). Here’s some of my work I am sending you and I did pretty well I think.”

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“I have been visiting my family in Brazil this week while still working my regular hours remotely. Since this was the only way for me to visit my family I made the best of it but it has been a busy And stressful week so I made plans to play tennis, my favorite sport, with my dad today during lunch time and it was a lot of fun. We opened a brand new can of tennis balls, because it is always more pleasant to play with new balls and played in the sun. It was s great time and after an hour of playing I felt relaxed and recharged to go back to work and my dad was very happy to play a match with me since we only have opportunities such as this one once a year or so.”

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“My oldest son, Will is VERY into play. He’s always playing pretend with different guys and really anything he can find. We do a ton of art together, we read, we have dance parties, play outside, and today we had a “battle” with a bunch of animal beads he found in our craft cupboard. When I let myself play with my kids without thinking about all the things I have to do or about how messy my house is, it provides some in the moment relief from the worry of everyday life. His cup is also filled up because he revels in the attention. My anxiety gets the best of me somedays, but seeing my kids playing and then choosing to participate really hedges the effects of it overall while also creating positive memories for my family.”

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“So today I painted! Painting is a way for me to free my mind and stop over thinking everything! I painted a picture of a doe. I count this as fun, and I thought it may fall into the doodle category just a little bit haha(: I hope this counts!”

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“Everyday I emphasize art and creativity for my kids (ages 1, 2, 5 and 6). We read, we dance, we draw, paint, sculpt. During the week I’m away most of the day at work, but on the weekends I’m able to be more involved with their play and participate myself. Today we’ve had a dance party, played with bubbles outside, improvised stamps from old out of ink stamp sets and markers, and built a Lego set. Pictures are my 2nd oldest and youngest. We sort through, find pieces, count, and built it following the instructions or even creations from our own imaginations. Though I emphasize all the skills that help them grow, the biggest and most pronounced benefit is the smiles on their faces and love they feel and give to one another after participating in a fun activity.”

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“I played with a simple pink bouncy ball in the pit at the Joffrey Ballet – only on performance 3/10 but playing definitely made everyone laugh, smile, and get through it much better than we would have otherwise! Thanks for the challenge and suggestion, I never would have done it otherwise!”

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“Step One: Decide to take the day off to Play!

Step Two: Have a fabulous idea to take my husband, son and his girlfriend out for some fun!

Step Three: Get them all into the car and head to Tilt Studio. (a great new indoor arcade in our area) It was a surprise for the kids; they had no idea where we were going. Complete worry was all over their faces, as they admittedly feared it would be lame!

Step Four: FUN! We rode the Tilt-a-Whirl, played 18 holes of black light putt-putt and the adults “killed” the kids in laser tag. Although, I must admit that the staff gave us adults a few extra hints on how to score more points after giving the kids a head start in the field! There were games a plenty, too! We played many and watched as they played more.

Step Five: Whew! It is amazing how relaxing a bit and setting down all of the “stuff” we carry around, is good for the soul. We were tired, but smiling! And that was the icing on the cake.

Step Six: Definitely plan to do it again. I know that I will be more productive after a day of fun. In addition, what a Bonus knowing that we will do it again, makes me Smile just thinking about it!”

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“My name is Frantz and I’m a 32-year old postdoctoral fellow. I’ve been studying and teaching at universities for nothing less than the last thirteen years, that is, basically the whole of my adult life. People often don’t realize to what extent the academic job market is a competitive one for those who aspire to a career as a professor. Many are called, but few are chosen. « Deliveries » are measured in terms of « lines » on the C.V.: number of books and journal articles published, conference papers presented, grants and honors received…

Slowly, without fully realizing it, I have, over the years, become a person whose main concern is academic professional advancement, and I have been willing to achieve this by gradually subordinating all other aspects of my life to it. « Careerist », one could say. I’m now feeling life slipping through my hands like sand as I work all the time and am unable to enjoy free time guilt-free when I actually have some. By contrast, my partner, Christine, whom I met four years ago, treasures important things in life: she cherishes interpersonal relations and refuses to sacrifice her time to things that do not help her realize her full potential as a multi-dimensional human being. No wonder she’s an artist.

Yesterday, she invited me to go see a circus show entitled « Fly ». Because of the Valentine weekend, I couldn’t use the excuse of my work overload to say no. Having joined your newsletter recently, I also thought that it would help me enter into a more playful mode. The show itself was spectacular, with suspended hoops, pole dancing and partner acrobatic performances. There were also inspiring quotes between scenes. One, from Rumi, stated: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I felt that work, for me, has been such a barrier. Another, from Pablo Neruda this time, said: “I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent, and you hear me from far away and my voice does not touch you”. This quote remembered me of the story that you shared in a post when you confided to your girlfriend how you “felt dead inside, all the time, and … didn’t know how to fix it.” It deeply resonated with my own experience.

I think that the most amazing part of the whole performance was a little girl, in a fancy red dress, trying to imitate the performers during the acts. There are dance poles throughout the room, so she could easily hop on them, do a few tricks and quickly run to another one. Or jump on big exercise balls and do somersaults. I couldn’t help but be constantly absorbed by her playing around. In « normal » time, I would probably have been annoyed by the distracting gestures and noises that she was creating. But I decided to adopt another mindset and let myself be amused. I cannot think of a better teacher than this child to learn about pure play.

At the end of the performance, observing the performers all smiling from exhaustion and all satisfied with the energy they had unleashed, I realized that I had so far only been a spectator to others’ playing. I had been entertained, to be sure, but this still didn’t feel like having played. I then decided to take up the play challenge for real and give pole dancing a try. I tried to forgot all the people that were around me, gathered my courage and started a little amateur performance of my own. In this way my girlfriend and I played on the poles while the others gathered their things, put on their coats and boats, and prepared to leave. We were silly. We had a blast.

From now on I will approach such situations differently, with an eye open to opportunities for play. With my old phone, I took a few pictures of different moments in the evening despite the low light in the room. In the picture I chose for the Play Challenge, the little girl in the red dress appears in the background, reminding us of how good it feels to run around, play… and learn how to fly.”