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!

 

 

 

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