What was your favorite childhood activity? Whether it was doing arts and crafts, engineering Legos superstructures, or whipping something up in your Easy-Bake Oven, chances are, there’s still a place for these fun activities in adult life. Bringing back the activities, games, and toys from our childhood is a fun and nostalgic way to beat stress. These toys detach us from our devices and calm our racing thoughts so we can live in the moment while having some kid-friendly fun. Here are a few!
Color inside the lines
Coloring has similar effects to meditation. The repetitive strokes and concentration quiet our mind and soothe our worries. Coloring also opens your mind which leads to better problem-solving as you disconnect from whatever is occupying your thoughts.
Art therapists often recommend coloring books to relieve anxiety. No matter what level of artistic ability you have, you can probably color within the lines! After a long day, pour a glass of wine or brew a cup of tea, take out your markers or crayons, and color your way to serenity.
Build something with Legos
The act of building is so satisfying. We get to see our efforts come to life as a tangible thing. When I was a kid, Legos captured my imagination for hours on end. My siblings and I would create little worlds of characters, castles, and airplanes. Finding the right pieces and following the step-by-step instructions taught us to focus.
By engaging our minds and hands in a focused activity, playing with Legos is meditative. We zone out from the world and our stresses as we get immersed in creating something.
The Lego Group, realizing it has an adult market, offers complex kits such as Central Perk from Friends and the Taj Mahal. These large kits aren’t cheap, but there are plenty of smaller ones like the Hungarian Horntail from Harry Potter or the Ice Castle from Frozen.
Piece together a puzzle
Puzzles are good for both relieving anxiety and improving memory. Like Legos and coloring, they calm your mind through repetition and focus. Different types of puzzles have been used over time to stimulate the mind, starting with labyrinths way back when. They help trigger the relaxation response, the opposing response to the fight-or-flight stress state.
Putting a puzzle together forces us to make connections between colors and shapes, which strengthens the connections between our brain cells and helps create new brain cells. This improves our mental speed. A clinical trial featured in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that puzzles help us regulate distressing emotions and prevent chronic stress. As we think through our options—“Where does this piece fit? How does this section fit into the larger picture?”—our minds relax through contemplation.
Break out a board game
Research shows that the structure (rules, repetition, rhythm, etc.) of board games helps us manage stress. The fight-or-flight response is regulated within the context of the game . . . your biggest stress is figuring out how to get the win! So starting up a round of Sorry, Monopoly, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, or another game of choice can really let you decompress—getting lost in a world of fantasy and predictability.
De-stressing often comes from calm games, but sometimes you need to let your anxiety out in a more active (or aggressive) way. Channel pent-up stress and frustration into an energetic game of Whack-a-Mole or Hungry Hippo. These silly games will help you blow off steam.
They’ll probably get a few laughs out of you, too! Laughter is a proven de-stressor. When you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure increase then return to normal levels, which makes you feel relaxed. So direct your angst at some plastic moles or hippos.
Sew a simple cross-stitch pattern
Maybe you haven’t picked up a needle since your grandma gave you a plastic sewing kit as a toddler. The cross-stitch is one of the simplest stitches to learn, even if you’ve never sewn anything. You can get simple cross-stitch kits that have the design printed on the fabric (all you have to do is sew over it!).
I’ve always loved to sew, and it’s become such a stress reliever for me. The easy and repeated stitches really help me chill out and get into a meditative head space. The pattern you choose doesn’t need to have a practical purpose, either. My favorite cross-stitch pattern was a rainbow-colored unicorn—obviously, I made it just for fun!
Bake a batch of cookies
I remember begging my mom to let me “help” her make chocolate chip cookies in the hopes of sneaking a ball of dough and licking leftovers off the mixing bowl and spoon. Getting creative in the kitchen is a great way to relax. You’re off your phone, using your hands, get to indulge in something sweet or savory, and delicious scents fill your home.
Choose something nostalgic from your childhood to bake—chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, brownies, or another treat—and let the smells surround you. Sugar (in moderation, of course) can boost your mood and energy by decreasing the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body.
Adulting doesn’t mean rejecting your playful past. There’s no shame in bringing back fun things from your childhood to get over stress. These entertaining activities envelop you in nostalgic feelings and the carefree spirit of your five-year-old self.