(Photo:Flickr/ Dima Bushkov)

A new group in Washington, D.C., is striving to remind some of the city’s stressed out inhabitants that playtime doesn’t have to end just because their school days are in the past.

Spacious, founded by 23-year old Joey Katona and 51-year-old Cary Umhau, says on its website that the group is “engaged in a playful revolution to help people bust out of the straitjackets, cubicles and little boxes we all find ourselves in from time to time.”

According to The Washington Post, so far Spacious has planned events across D.C. such as “Be/Bring Your Own Kid Adult Recess,” which involved some of Washington’s most professional – and stressed – workers partaking in games such as Twister and tug-of-war.

But eventually, says The Post, Katona and Umhau would like to rehab decommissioned ice cream trucks and use them “to cruise the city offering services such as on-the-spot hairdressing, chefs serving up cookies and milk or ‘recess teams’ that will bring line-dancing flash mobs to downtown sidewalks.”

“This city is so obsessed with business and politics — you have to work 50 hours a week and then go to all the right happy hours — that we don’t prioritize recess and fun,” Katona said.

However, Spacious’ aim is actually part of a larger movement in the mental health community:

“In the past seven months, there have been four national conferences on the value of play; a fifth, ‘The Importance of Being Playful,’ will be hosted by the Minerva Foundation at the end of May at the University of California at Berkeley. A forthcoming documentary — ‘Seriously! The Future Depends on Play,’ directed and produced by Bay Area ‘play consultant’ Gwen Gordon — aims to illustrate how play restores health in communities around the world.”

“We stop playing at our peril,” said Gordon, a member of the Association for the Study of Play. “We think we are a playful culture, but we are really overworked. Americans on average have 13 paid vacation days per year, and most people don’t even take them. Other countries have 40. We take our weekends to play hard, but that’s really to let off steam from our play-deprived lives and just get enough energy to get back into the ring.”

Adds David Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, “Certainly stress levels are very high. People are working longer hours and also don’t feel valued, which gets tied to physical and mental health and motivation — so a conga line could be a great way to get people outside, get them moving and connect humor and happiness to work, and that’s important.”

According to the APA’s 2012 Workplace Survey, low salaries were the top workplace source of stress, along with lack of opportunity for advancement and heavy workloads.

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Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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