I, a 27-year-old, bought a skateboard as part of a quarter-life crisis (I also bleached my hair blonde). Here’s how it helped me deal with stress and anxiety.
Every ‘adult learner’ has a different journey (I actually used to skate a little bit as a kid, but, prior to last year’s lockdowns, hadn’t skated for over a decade). But – from mums to tech bros to middle aged men – everyone agrees on one thing: it’s nostalgic.
For this British Vogue writer (and mum of four), skateboarding helped her remember the grungy boyfriend fantasies of her teenage years (and the fluoro pink ‘Pray For Dior’ skateboard deck she bought on her year abroad in Paris).
For this 35-year-old ABC writer, skateboarding helped her cope with the realisation that her friends were often too busy at work or with their kids to drink with her at the pub.
For this 25-year-old Vice writer, skateboarding was a response to the fear that she had become boring (she started skating in the hope that it might make her less depressed, neurotic and concerned with low carb dieting).
For this Vox writer in his 30s, the attraction was that “I was special in my own incompetence, and therefore beyond comparison.”
Despite sneering at all these desperados, skateboarding soon became my safe space. I started resonating with a culture that was cool, like, 20 years ago, and felt pathetically ~indie~ for doing so.
I became everything I hated: an old person who skated for weird, incomprehensible reasons, rather than a young person who skated for the hell of it.
I’d whack my headphones on and hark back to a time when there were no lockdowns, Blink 182 was cool and cortisol was a cream at the chemist (rather than something randomly making my heart race).
Although I wasn’t waxing lyrical about skating at the time (I thought I was just bored and hobbyless in lockdown), looking back, the whole ‘stress outlet’ and ‘nostalgia’ elements definitely played a role in why I found it so fun.
I also began to associate skating with beer – a great form of liquid courage.
There was also an element of masochism. Coming home battered and bruised is weirdly satisfying.
Watch as I try (and fail) to ‘roll in’ to the bowl in the video above
There’s also something nice about having something in your control. Even when you suck at skating, you can always improve. You can be mentally lazy and not plan things out – but succeed at a new trick through pigheadedness and luck.
When you’re feeling out of control with other things in your life (like a pandemic) it’s nice to have that sense of reassurance.
I don’t mean to give the wrong impression either. I don’t have clinical depression or anxiety. The pandemic didn’t affect me that badly. Oh, and I also have a weirdly resilient (some might say unwarranted) sense of self-worth. So I don’t mean to belittle those who have severe anxiety or stress, by claiming to have anything like that (so far in my life I’ve been lucky enough to only get stressed when there are good reasons to be stressed, which are usually caused by f*ck ups of my own making).
So I’m just trying to comment on the experience of a usually pretty chill person who found themselves a bit more stressed than usual during last year’s lockdowns, and how skateboarding helped me cope with that.
Even from my very limited experience, however, I can see how coping mechanisms can be addictive as well as helpful. If you skate late into the night, for instance, while smashing cans of VB, though you may de-stress yourself at the time, you could wind up making yourself more tired, and your stress worse the next day.
And that’s before you land flat on your back, and have to hobble around for a week…
To ask whether it’s risky to treat anxiety with a hobby, rather than therapy (given, it seems, everyone is going to therapy lately), I spoke to Dr Lars Madsen, a clinical psychologist on the Advisory Board at The Mindshift Foundation.
He told me: “I think that most people have a vulnerability to feelings of anxiousness – there is some evolutionary value in that – so anxiousness is a ‘stable’ characteristic of the human state.”
“Learning how to cope with anxiousness or negative feelings through a range of strategies is a good thing – talking to others is of course one way that we can learn how to deal with such – but does not have to be the only way.”
Dr Madsen continued: “There are many well recognised psychological benefits from engaging in physical activities that elevate heart rate and release all types of hormones. Whilst engaging in personally meaningful activities (like skateboarding) is also well recognised (and proven) as strategies for managing negative moods/anxiety.”
Dr Madsen also told me that doing a valued hobby can “engender a strong sense of purpose and meaning in a person’s life.” He explained that in addition to feeling a sense of competency, hobbies can assist with “buffering low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.”
“Taken together these feelings can improve general motivation, reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and improve mood.”
Dr Lars Madsen
No wonder skating is great for a breakdown…
As for the reason I enjoy getting bashed around a bit, Dr Madsen told me this is probably the experience of learning, pushing yourself to the limit and feeling on the edge.
“These types of physical experience can induce a state of what is described as ‘flow state.’”
Finally, on whether my skating was a healthy stress valve or an unhealthy escape, Dr Madsen told me: “That depends on what it is that is burning you out! I think for regular day to day stress and challenges (meeting deadlines, mortgage, groceries etc.) reality is stressful and demanding … sometimes there is nothing much to talk about or problem solve etc.”
In those cases, skating (or just exercise in general) could be a perfectly fine answer to your stress.
“A good run or gym workout [or skating] can help to discharge stress and recharge [in those cases]! But if the things bothering you are chronic and enduring issues (trauma etc.) then having these hobbies can be a distraction from dealing with problems that need to be dealt with to get on with your life.”
That’s not to say you shouldn’t have your hobbies, but that they might not be enough on their own.
After hearing all this from Dr Madsen, and after over a year of (re)learning to skate as an adult, I reckon skating is great. It fulfils a physical need (exercise), a social need (if you’re sociable) and even a spiritual need (#prayfordior).
It’s not a magic solution though. If you’re an antisocial, undisciplined introvert with night owl tendencies, it can create problems as well as solve them.
So to sum up: skateboarding is just a fun thing to do. And I guess there’s a reason it’s cheaper than therapy.
The good thing is that skateboarding is a lot more accessible than therapy. And for those that do it right (read: you don’t use it as an excuse to get drunk on a Tuesday or to blast ‘What’s My Age Again?’ on repeat), it can be great.
Plus: if your definition of ‘youth’ is being optimistic and bruised, then, sure, skateboarding can help you recapture it.