Fun as Therapy

Fun as Therapy

Jodi DePaoli, L.P.C.


Recently, Cascade Health’s Manager of Behavioral Health, Jodi DePaoli penned an article for Lane County Medical Society’s Magazine, Medical Matters, about the critical importance of using fun and joy to help combat stress and depression. The article is reprinted here with permission from Lane County Medical Society.


A year ago this week, I attended my last in-person live theater performance. I remember the excitement of purchasing my tickets, planning where to eat before the show, and then talking about it for days after with my partner. The show had been great! It was the first time I had seen the play, and it left me filled with emotions and thoughts that I continued to ponder for weeks.

Then COVID-19 hit.

I have since held tickets for multiple events that have been canceled due to the pandemic, including comedy shows, concerts, and musicals. What was once a big part of my self-care and an activity that brought me joy has become non-existent, and I have no idea when this will change. I imagine this is true for you in whatever activity you miss. Perhaps you enjoyed going to the movies, painting classes, attending Zumba, traveling, museums and art shows, or were a season ticket holder for U of O football. The reality is that many of the activities we did to relax, find joy, and connect with others prior to COVID-19 are no longer available to us, and learning how to cope with this reality is vitally important.

As a counselor, I often ask my clients: “What do you do for fun? When is the last time you played?” The answers recently have all been similar: “Not much. Most of my hobbies are shut down.” This inevitably leads to a brainstorm session of what ELSE they could try doing to bring some happiness and stress- relief into their daily lives. If you find yourself struggling to fill your time with positive activities, knowing you need to reduce stress and have some fun, here are some things to consider that might just inspire you, too.

Think back to your childhood: What did you enjoy doing when you were a kid? Maybe you loved putting together Lego’s or jigsaw puzzles or spent your time coloring or doing arts and crafts. Chances are if you enjoyed it when you were younger, you would still enjoy it now! There is no rule that says adults can’t do these things too, so get in touch with your inner child and buy yourself some new crayons. [Ideas: Learn a new card game, paint rocks, make handmade cards and mail them to family].

Learn something new. If you ever wanted to become fluent in Spanish or learn to play the piano, there’s no better time than the present. Learning something new is essentially exercise for the brain. It also increases confidence, which will in turn make you feel happier. There’s a reason baking sourdough bread became a hit during the early days of the pandemic! With so much monotony in our daily lives, it can be a big boost to our well-being to develop a new skill set or master a new hobby. [Ideas: Take a virtual cooking class, download an app to learn a new language, study a historical event or time period that always interested you].

Create a challenge for yourself. A few years ago, I met a woman on a plane who was reading a book that looked interesting to me. I asked her about it, and she told me she was doing a reading challenge she had found online. They asked people from every country: “If you only read one book from my country, make it…” and then put a list together. This fellow traveler had challenged herself to complete this list after finishing a similar challenge for all 50 states. She had learned much about the world, our country, and herself while completing these self-induced goals. I have heard of people doing similar things since the pandemic, like watching every Star Wars movie in order or re-reading all of the Harry Potter series. Everyone loves the feeling of accomplishing something, so set a goal that feels fun and also challenging and give yourself something to celebrate! At the very least it will give you something interesting to share at a future post-pandemic dinner party. [Ideas: Pick an author and read all of their books, make every recipe in a cookbook, walk a 5k every weekend]

The people I see who are the happiest are the ones who play, the ones who find joy in the small things, and the ones who celebrate the ordinary. As we continue to navigate this pandemic and a life that looks quite different than it did a year ago, instead of waiting for things to go back to “normal”, try taking action to create some fun and joy right now.