Blog Courtesy of Joanne Dowds MISCP.
Diversifying my physical activity, I went sea kayaking with my sister last the weekend. I’ve been a few times before and I thought it would be fun way to see a part of Dublin I don’t normally explore. For my sister (not the triathlete, I have 4, this one is normally active) she was keen to try something new. I really though the biggest worry of the afternoon would be limiting my sunburn. Not exactly the way it worked out. While very keen when on dry land, my sister was infinitely less enthusiastic when we hit the open sea, apparently that bit escaped her when I described the sea kayaking- she had some notion we would be in the harbor. While always very safe, she was absolutely terrified to be on the water on a small plastic boat in a wetsuit and lifejacket. Irrational perhaps, but put me at the top of all the escalators in Stephens green shopping centre and watch for the white faced, knuckle clenched twitching on the way down. I have known my sister from birth (strangely enough) and yet I could not talk her through it; not one word of what I was saying translated into relatively straight paddling motion, she just got more frazzled while drifing off towards the open sea. The instructor had much more success but more impressive was the infinite patience she displayed repeating instructions in a calm tone. I am not saying kayaking is easy but it’s not exactly rocket science; paddle in water, then pull. But it wasn’t know how, she was perfectly able to get the swing and we had been thoroughly walked and talked through on dry land, but fear dis-abled her, took away her capacity to rationally think and her motor control. It was sort of shocking how soon I ramped up to extreme annoyance, which only made it worse. The instructor couldn’t have been kinder or more understanding which took the edge off and it also gave my sister the freedom to ask for more clarification, more help and more impressively give her the desire to keep going. At one point I did ask if she wanted to stop – in my head thinking about how I would explain to my folks that she had gotten lost at sea. I really thought there was no way she should continue but she gritted her teeth and kept going. Persistence is always admirable, and to continue in the face of fear is the definition of bravery. After 3 hard hours, she was exhausted and euphoric to be on dry land albeit with a huge desire for a very cold gin and tonic, which she was too exhausted to drink even with a straw. It was interesting to reflect my own struggle with watching her battle on. I am not sure I was as kind or considerate as I could/should have been and despite my best efforts I wasn’t helpful.
Helping – to make it easier or possible, to give or provide what is necessary. Providing support that is required, in a way that can be accepted, at a time when it is needed, whether it has been asked for or not is a hugely valuable skill. And I am using the word skill, deliberately. I was trying to help her with the process, I am not sure I was having much effect on the outcome so I stopped. Being able to ask for and receive help from someone like the instructor who is infinitely more experienced at sea kayaking than I am, probably indicates that my sister a good judge of character.
Altruism or helping others has been extensively studied, is causes changes in brain activity that can make you happier, healthier and make life more meaningful. It is as good, if not better, for the helper as the helpee. For someone as consistently cash strapped as I am, it is great news that is much more beneficial to give of time than money. It is also much more beneficial to do be involved in something you are passionate about, being badgered into helping takes away the positive feels, it really needs to be your choice and within the limits of what you have to give. I think the airline safety line around oxygen masks as a great analogy; take care of yourself first so you have what you need to help others.
There are so many opportunities to help local clubs, organizations or opportunities to volunteer to help around exercise and activity. You get all the biochemical benefits of helping with a side order of exercise related endorphins. I have in the past been a marshal at cycling races and park runs. I know when I have participated in races or events it is the random kind and encouraging word of a marshal on the route has been enough to pick up the motivation or pace again. Clubs and teams across the country rely on their community to help organize and run events. One evening last week, I volunteered at a work related fun run. It’s an annual event for a good cause and easy for me to be involved with. And it’s fun, even as a volunteer. While I was happy to be home in time to catch the end of Love Island, I felt better in the world. Maybe it is the weather, or the mild constant state of dehydration but life feels a bit chaotic at the minute, so I am thinking about helping more. I haven’t signed on to marshal at my local Parkrun but I have looked up the application process- all progress.