A great way to reduce negative stress is to learn something new. It’s not just great for stress reduction, it’s also good for your brain!
According to the folks over at Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School learning a new and challenging skill causes your brain to grow which increases your cognitive reserve. Who couldn’t use a little extra ability to think and remember. Sign me up.
Choose a new skill to learn.
To get the benefits you have to choose something that you know relatively little or nothing about. It has to be a new to you skill. For example when I was in my late 30’s I chose to take up the piano during an emotionally challenging part of my life. Learning the new skill helped me in ways I am just beginning to recognize (but more about that later).
Choose something that you may have always wanted to know more about. It can be anything, but I would say making it as different from your daily grind as you can has an added benefit of adding variety to your life.
Choose anything that speaks to you, for me it was piano, but for you it may be learning Japanese or how to brew wine at home or anything else of interest to you.
Feel the burn
The next criteria is that it should be challenging. It has to have some elements that you may struggle with learning. This is what makes your brain grow. The brain won’t grow/change if you don’t give it a challenge.
In my piano learning I have struggled many a day with learning a new piece. My teacher is also sufficiently challenging me with something called music theory. He tells me it will make me better so I stick with it, but oh my goodness it is a struggle for me to learn the language of music theory.
To get good at anything we need to practice it. Another way to say this is repetition. The brain seems to love repetition. This is probably why children do things over and over as their brains are rapidly growing and building skills.
Also repetition creates an environment for growth that provides the perfect kind of stress to make your brain bloom. This happens with muscles as well. Think of a time when you couldn’t complete a physical challenge, but after sticking with it you were able to build muscle and power through.
How does any of this decrease stress?
Good question. Review that in the first paragraph I referred to negative stress. I conceptualize negative stress as the kind of stress that makes us grumpy and sometimes dysphoric. It’s a kind of stress that tears you down. Recall that in the post 5 Minute Stress Management we broke stress out into different categories of distress and eustress.
When we learn something new we are engage the benefits of eustress. This is the kind of stress that leaves us feeling accomplished or fulfilled. Cognitively we find this type of stress appealing which in turn tends to lead to positive emotions. Also doing something different that is off the beaten path of your life creates a great distraction from things that may stress you out.
What will your new be?
Drop a comment in the comment section.
Thank you for dropping by –Lynda