How to Fight Stress By Learning to Skydive

Skydiving helps decrease stress? What?!

OK, so the title of this post is sort of misleading.  Skydiving by itself probably doesn’t lead to decreased stress (it certainly wouldn’t for me).  BUT, learning a new skill (like skydiving, for example) can be a great way to manage the everyday stressors of life.

I recently came across this article about learning new things:

A piece outlining how the author took up Irish dancing and gained all sorts of wonderful new insights about herself (she was better than she thought she might be, and she became more confident when it came to learning other new skills too).  And low and behold, look what else was in the article:

A quote from an article I wrote 6 years ago about trying new things and the benefits to mental health.

Even though it’s old news on this blog, I still do believe in the importance of learning new things; and putting ourselves in awkward,uncomfortable situations so that we can experience the success of coming out the other side.  As this time of year is gray, cold and generally nasty in most parts of the country this time of year – it can be the perfect opportunity to take skydiving Irish dancing crocheting lessons.

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!




Learning New Things and Mental Health

Click on the picture to find out how to make this cute skirt - made for twirling and having fun!

Trying new things can be scary.

Whether it’s in a classroom, with a small group of friends, or even by ourselves, many of us cringe at the thought of trying something new and (eeek!) possibly failing.  But the thing is, learning a new skills can be great for our mental health.  Researchers tell us that one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves from certain types of dementia is flexing our mental muscles. This includes using our brain in new ways and continually challenging ourselves to learn new things.

But I believe the mental health benefits of learning new skills go beyond the neuropsychological benefits, and include aspects of psychological/emotional health as well.

  • Stress. A new hobby can be a great stress reliever.  Why? Because it helps us break out of our normal patterns of behavior.  And even better it gives our brains something to think about other than the same old same old worries (lack of money, annoying boss, unruly children).  My latest stress-busting hobby? Sewing!  Seriously, it has given me a new outlook on life.  And managing my sewing-machine phobia was super easy with sites like this.
  • Fun. I wrote a post earlier in the week about cheap and easy de-stressors.  One of the tips was to have fun.  Sounds simple enough, but in fact, many of us adults (and moms in particular) forget what fun is somewhere between managing chores, meals, and running kids around to soccer practice.  Learning a new skill can be a way to incorporate fun back into your life.  Skiing, cooking, race-walking – what’s going to get your heart pounding with joy again?
  • Social. Connecting with others is a fantastic way to reduce stress and improve your mental health.  Venting about a rough day, connecting over a shared experience, and being a support for others are all important.  What better way to beef up your social life than to pick up a new hobby and share it with other people?  Sites like Meet-up can be a great way to meet other people with your interests – from sewing to archery.

What new skill are you going to tackle?