Can toy bricks help millennials de-stress?

It has long been acknowledged as a great way to keep kids occupied for an hour or two. Now Lego is encouraging stressed-out millennials to rediscover their inner child – and in the process find some much-needed inner peace, one brick at a time.

In an online video advert, the Danish toy manufacturing giant shows a young woman trying and failing to master a yoga pose. Instead, she takes time out from her busy day to make a Lego ship as an antidote to the stresses of modern life.

The video is captioned: “Need an escape? Building with Lego bricks reduces stress and improves your wellbeing. It’s zen, in the shape of a brick.”

In her Ted Talk, businesswoman and yoga teacher Allison Osborne talks of the “quarter life identity crisis” suffered by people in their 20s and 30s who, she says, feel “profound angst and anxiety about the direction of their lives. It can start in the transition between the academic world and the world of work, or it can happen further down the line when they’ve checked all the boxes of what it means to be an adult, yet remain unfulfilled.”

Much has been written about the stresses that millennials – those born between 1982 and 2004 – endure. Largely educated to a high standard, and raised with aspirations to have it all – a good job, lots of friends, adventurous travel, health, wealth and happiness – they emerged from college just as the world’s worst recession in living memory hit. Their dreams were scattered like so many plastic building bricks on the floor.

Add soaring rents into the mix, along with unpaid ‘internships’, zero-hour contracts, living at home and having to rely on the bank of mum and dad far longer than previous generations, and millennials cannot be accused of having things easy.

It’s hardly surprising that many are turning to meditation, mindfulness, yoga and other therapies to keep anxiety at bay. There has also been a flurry of stressed snowflakes banishing their blues with the help of colouring-in books for adults.

And now, it seems, building bricks may offer another way for them to chill out.

Niamh Gregory has made Lego her work and play. As equipment manager with LearnIt Lego workshops, she can’t get enough of the popular toy.

“It was always a big thing in our family and it still is,” says the 32-year-old Dubliner. “My 28-year-old brother is building R2D2, and when I’m not helping my five-year-old daughter Ellie build toy robots, I play with Lego myself while watching TV or having a glass of wine. It helps me relax. My partner, Ellie and I are living at home with my mum while our house is being built, and it will be a house filled with Lego.”

Though more Generation X than millennial man, 40-year-old LearnIt founder Ross Maguire runs Lego workshops all over the country, and says they’re definitely not just for kids. And at the end of a long day, his wife Pauline encourages him to bring his work home with him.

“Pauline’s idea of heaven is watching Strictly Come Dancing while playing with a load of Lego bricks,” he says. “For our age group, we associate it with when we were kids. And because the action involved is repetitive and relaxing, it feels very therapeutic.”

There are bloggers who swear by the therapeutic powers of play, but experts urge caution in turning to the toybox for “mindfulness tools”. According to chartered clinical psychologist Mark Smyth, it takes a lot more than plastic bricks to solve the problems facing people today.

“Playing with Lego or colouring in pictures is not a solution for mental health issues such as depression or PTSD,” he says. “As a distraction, it can be a useful tool if somebody is feeling overwhelmed, but it’s not a magic cure. Having seen some of the claims online, I’d be concerned that the way these things are presented could give people false hope.

“As one of many enjoyable pursuits, it can be good to have a distraction like this. If you feel like going for a walk but it’s raining and freezing cold outside, for instance, then yes, something like Lego or colouring can be a pleasant way to pass a half hour or so.

“But we need to be careful. Mindfulness has become a bit of a craze, yet the evidence is not as strong as people think. Certainly, it’s a helpful tool, but on its own it’s not a cure-all.”

And while millennials have their own particular problems to deal with, for which they may find solace in anything from Play-Doh to board games, they don’t have a monopoly on stress, he adds.

“Every generation since time immemorial has had challenges to contend with,” says Mark. “Online bullying and poor body image triggered by upsetting experiences on social media are among the pressures facing today’s teenagers, while the parents of millennials had to deal with the previous recession in the early 1980s, while their parents before them had their troubles too.

“It’s cyclical. Singling out particular generations and telling them that they’re more stressed than others is not helpful.

“And having one age group claiming, ‘We’re more stressed than you’ pits generations against each other,” he continues. “Whatever makes someone feel depressed or anxious, whether it’s work pressure, body image, online bullying, financial worries or whatever, the feelings are valid no matter what the cause or the age of the person.”

Besides, Mark adds, people deal with stress differently depending on their “resilience, supports and coping mechanisms”.

“Protective factors go hand in hand with the risk of stress. What’s really important is to have strong supports like family network, education, exercise and positive relationships.”

In other words, if you want to colour or make a jigsaw, just as somebody else might potter in the garden or indulge in a hobby, knock yourself out.

But don’t call it therapy.

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