The Mental Health Benefit of Finding an Activity That Challenges You
We face challenges in our lives every day, whether we like it or not. From getting out of bed in the morning, to taking care of our basic necessities, to getting to work on time — many of the daily tasks that many take for granted, we see as challenges to our day.
For me, one of my biggest challenges of facing my anxiety each day is when I set foot into my virtual or physical classroom. Speaking in front of crowds — or to a group of more than a few people I trust in general — gives me extreme anxiety. Each day, I must face this anxiety as I am a teacher by training. My job is to stand in front of a group of individuals – most of whom are judging me – and give them information about the subject I am most passionate about: biology. Most days, I am able to take a deep breath, focus on my lesson plan and move forward with the lesson. Some days, my mind draws a blank and I begin to stutter in the middle of class. I start to freak out and slightly panic, counting down the dreaded minutes until class is over and I can crawl under the covers.
Other days, when my mind is not racing, I face the challenges of my physical body and what it may or may not want to or be willing to do. These days, my body carries me through waking up, getting down from my loft bed and walking the dogs for a quick 10 minutes. Beyond that, it depends on how my body feels and I have learned over the years to listen to it. Some days, I can push myself to run a half marathon, like I did the other day. Other days, I can only muster the energy to sit at my desk to teach my classes and then crawl under the covers to hibernate for the day.
And then, there are the days where I purposefully put myself in the face of one of my greatest fears, pushing my boundaries in my physical, mental and emotional state. I make it a point to go to the climbing gym and face the wall once a week. It started as a way to stay active in the dead of winter when I was living in the Midwest. Now, it has become a passion of mine where I challenge all misconceptions I have of myself and force myself to see me beyond my limitations. Rock climbing has brought me a way to unleash my pent-up stress and frustration, as well as challenge my own views of what I can and cannot do.
Rock climbing comes in many forms; bouldering, top rope and lead climbing are the ones I participate in. I have a strong fear of heights and each time I ascend the rope and send a route, I remind myself I am greater than my fears. Each time I think I cannot send a route and I end up succeeding, I challenge my own thoughts that I am not enough and that I am weak. Some days, when I want to push my body until it gives out, I have to remind myself that the wall will still be there next week, that I do not need to be perfect in everything that I attempt. Rock climbing challenges my notion that I am not enough if I am not perfect at everything I set my mind to. Simply tying into the rope and free-climbing until the first clip in lead climbing is a success in itself. Making it to the top of the wall, no matter what route you take, is a success in itself. I feel very lucky that my body has allowed me to pursue this passion of mine, to allow myself to face my challenges each time I chalk up and tie into the rope.
I challenge you to find an activity that pushes you physically, emotionally and mentally, that asks more of you than you ever thought possible, and to give it a try. I challenge you to face those challenges day-in, day-out because you are stronger than you think. What is one thing you did today that challenged you?
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