Life – It’s Like Riding a Bike

Riding a bike is regarded as one of those skills that once learned can’t be forgotten. As a parent and now grandparent I have had the privilege of watching several children learn to ride a bike. It is both frustrating and satisfying. The frustrating bit is that it is hard to teach things that you do automatically, and the satisfying part is when they have that ‘eureka’ moment and crack it.

Learning the mechanics of riding the bike though in some ways is the easy part. There will be lots of times when they are ‘tested’ by the weather, new terrain or seeking to learn more advanced skills like ‘wheelies’ and these are the parts that remind about ‘life’.

Stress is a part of both life and learning. It can be a good thing that helps us to take on new challenges and learn new skills and I saw this in action the other day when my bike riding grandson decided to take on the challenge of a bike track at the park with steep descents and banked corners. I could tell he was a bit nervous as he waited at the start but over the first hill he went ( I looked away I confess) but he managed it and returned triumphant and wanted to repeat the experience.

Undoubtedly he had a bit of stress hormone but it was good stress, it enabled him to rise to the challenge – it was what we all cope with when we are put in new or difficult situations and the fact that he was successful, in this case not falling off or giving up because it was too scary, means that his brain will remember that success. In turn that means in bike riding terms at least he will probably be confident about his next challenge, safe in the knowledge that even though he is a bit scared it is okay because form this experience his brain will have learned that a bit of stress is ok and he will be successful.

But of course, what we know is that kids do fall off bikes and numerous other things but generally unless it is particularly painful, they will get back on and be prepared to have another go.

In many ways we seem to regard stress these days as something entirely negative, but it is essential if we want to develop. Learning something new is often stressful though usually it is what we could define as good stress.

But we know not all stress is good. There is also tolerable stress – when things feel a bit out of control but if we have experience of good stress situations in the past and we’ve handled them then we can often react positively to this stress too.

The stress that is harmful is the stress that seems to go on and on, stress where we feel out of control or unsupported in. To stick with the bike analogy, it would be like ending up riding through a thunderstorm when it’s getting dark and being faced with a huge hill or maybe a bike that isn’t working properly or as the rider not feeling well. Of course, in this situation we could jump off the bike to reduce the stress, make a call and ask our personal cavalry to come and rescue us. But we all know some stresses aren’t like that – we or our loved ones might be ill, we might suffer loss of other kinds or face the stress of job loss, or harassment and in those instances, it can seem like the stress is out of control.

But what we also need to remember is that in every situation there are some elements of control, even if only our own reaction. The tips below will help you to make sure that if the stress is not good it can be maintained as tolerable rather than toxic, but it is up to you.

Take care of your body

Like a cyclist, an athlete rather than a child, we function better when we take the time and effort to look after our bodies, get enough sleep, take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet. But these are all the things that become difficult when we are under stress, so it is important to make a big effort even when we don’t feel like it – doing these things will help.

Take care of our minds

Looking after our bodies will also help our minds but so too will doing nice things that we enjoy making sure we socialise with folk we care about and allowing ourselves some treats like reading a good bookor watching a film, even enjoying a relaxing bath can help. But guess what?Those self-care habits are often the first things to go when we feel stressed.

Accepting the stress and working on our response

Simply accepting that you are in a difficult situation can help. Acknowledging that this is outside of the usual, or what you have coped with before can help you realise that it is okay to find it tough. The other important thing is to recognise that sometimes we can’t change the situation, but we are always able to consider our reaction to it and generally we are stronger than we think.

Allowing ourselves to be helped

We all like to support others but sometimes we seem to have a hard time accepting support from others let alone asking for it. But that is what friends and family are all about – we all have times when life is like cycling along a country road and other times when it is literally such an uphill struggle that it is hard to keep going, but it is possible and may help us grow stronger in the long run.

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