Mental Health and Risk Taking

That's me taking a risk a couple years ago.  Yikes

That’s me taking a risk a couple years ago. Yikes

Risk-taking is one of those things that can be both good and bad for mental health.  Examples of unhealthy risk taking:

  • speeding
  • taking illegal drugs
  • having un-protected sex with strangers
  • playing with firearms in unsafe ways

You get the idea.  Sometimes when people engage in these behaviors continuously, it can be a sign of mental illness.  But what I really want to talk about is the positive side of risk taking – the part that is actually good for your mental health.

Here’s how it works: when we get to a certain age with certain responsibilities and drive minivans (OK, maybe that’s just me), adrenaline can become noticeably absent from our lives.   I’m talking about the good kind of adrenaline, the kind that kicks in when we do daring, thrilling and sort of scary (in a good way) things.  Examples might be:

  • taking a rock climbing class
  • dancing on stage
  • giving a talk on world religions
  • participating in an improv comedy sketch

The first part of our life is filled with risks.  Swim races, class presentations, new schools, riding a bike  – childhood is chock full of risky, daring events that are scary at first but almost always work out in the end.  And after the adrenaline and nerves have subsided, kids are left with a new found confidence – something that is immensely important to good mental health.  The problem is, when we become old boring mature, these opportunities are harder to come by.  So we have to seek them out.

I wrote this quote on my phone at least a year ago after I heard someone say it in an NPR interview.  I am sad to say I didn’t write down who said it or what they were talking about, but here it is:

The key to keeping yourself fresh and relevant is to do things you don’t know how to do

I love this idea, and it fits perfectly with the notion of risk taking being a part of good mental health.  Now get out there and do something that makes you nervous!

 

 

 

How to Stop Worrying About Ebola

Even if you have tried to ignore the stories about Ebola over the past few months, the news has been impossible to avoid.  And now that the disease has hit close to home, many of us are left with worries and fears concerning our own health.  While we know that sitting in our living rooms worrying about it won’t do any good, it can be hard to know what else to do.  So, I have gathered a couple great resources on managing worries around Ebola.

My favorite tip is to take a break from news coverage.  When we are bombarded with media coverage about any event – including this one – it can cause significant anxiety.  And lots of anxiety over a long period of time is no good for our health, or the health of our families and communities.

Check out some other resources here:

How and Why You Should Ease Your Ebola Fears – Your Mind. Your Body:

It’s important to always stay alert, to be informed and take precautions if you think you may be at risk for coming into contact with any virus. But to help maintain emotional well-being, it’s critical to ease Ebola fears by reviewing the facts, maintaining perspective, and upholding hope.
Keep things in perspective. Limit worry and agitation by lessening the time you and your family spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage. Although you’ll want to keep informed — especially if you have loved ones in affected countries — remember to take a break from watching the news and focus on the things that are positive in your life and things you have control over.

The Psychology of a Text Message

As I wrote about a couple of days ago, I am weathering the storms and flooding along with my fellow Northern Coloradoans. It’s been a pretty amazing time – as anyone who has been through a natural disaster can attest. Fears, worries and anxieties butted right up against feelings of strength, hope and awe at the heroes and helpers among us.

Now that the danger has passed (at least for my community), I have been able to sit back and reflect on the last few days.  Here’s what I have come up with:

Text messages matter. 

What I mean is that in times of crisis or grief (or any big event, for that matter), reaching out to people can mean a whole lot.  And the reaching out can be as small as a little text like “I’m thinking of you” or “R U OK?”  It takes just moments, yet it can be so powerful.  Sure, a short voicemail, email or Facebook message will also do.  Just something that lets folks know they are not alone and that someone has them in mind.

I’m a little bit ashamed that I haven’t been better at reaching out to friends and family when I know crises have struck their communities.  I’ve never wanted to be a “burden” or “get in the way.”

Now I know better.

No one is bothered by receiving a quick note of comfort or support.  And it is something we can all make time to do.

Want to help flood victims? Check out these opportunities.

 

Coping with Flood-Related Stress

Flooding in Colorado

Flooding in Colorado

I live and work in Northern Colorado, and this week we have been in the midst of some pretty significant flooding.  Sure, we are used to big snows, tornadoes and persistent droughts – but this flood thing is new to many of us.  What all these weather-related events have in common, though, is the anxiety, fear and worry that accompanies them.  It can be especially tough on our littlest family members.

With my own anxiety, fear and worry swirling, I am trying to use the coping strategies put forth by others before me:

TURN OFF THE TV!  Yes, I know all-caps is the typist’s form of shouting – but I think it is something to shout about.  I estimate that it takes the local news  5-10 minutes to update me on everything I need to know about the storm, the flooding and a bit about the world outside of Colorado.  After that, the pictures are repeated, the warnings more urgent and the predictions more dire.  It’s no wonder that after about 10 minutes of watching (or reading, or YouTubing or Facebooking) I notice my anxiety level soar.  So, this tip is kind of a no-brainer: watch the basics then TURN IT OFF!

Connect with the gang.  Folks often describe feelings of closeness with their community during tough times. I am seeing this all around me.  Neighbors chatting, planning and organizing; co-workers banding together to help the cause; community organizations reaching out in ways they normally don’t.  Connecting with your community can be a really effective way to combat the emotional turmoil that accompanies natural disasters.

Keep on keeping on.  Whether we realize it or not, most of us have some pretty effective stress management strategies on board already.  For example, I love to watch House Hunters as a way to wind down. Other folks might find reading, praying or walking to be particularly effective at managing stress.  The key is, now that we are REALLY stressed, let’s not forget the coping strategies that work for us. That might mean getting creative and reading by candlelight instead of lamp light, but the effect is the same.

For more ideas about managing distress related to the floods (or other natural disasters), check out the American Psychological Association’s Help Center.