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The mental health benefits of learning a new skill

By Alison Rodericks

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed our lives forever and, as we navigate through this strange time, it’s important that we look for the silver lining. While we come to terms with job loss or cuts to wages/hours, it’s imperative that we use our time at home wisely – for introspection and connection as well as personal and professional development. 

If you’ve suddenly found yourself with time on your hands, you’re probably thinking about learning a new skill – something you’ve been meaning to do, but just never had the time. Until now.

Research suggests that adults need to keep their minds active, especially as they grow older. In fact, learning a mentally demanding skill can improve cognitive functioning and slow down ageing. 

Here are some of the benefits of taking up the challenge to learn something new.

What are the mental health benefits of learning a new skill?

  1. Improves your brain health and memory.
  2. Increases your mental wellbeing and happiness.
  3. Fosters connection with others.
  4. Keeps you relevant. 

1. Improves your brain health and memory.

cognitive function concept

Neurologists tell us that learning a new skill changes the physical structures of the brain. By stimulating neurons in the brain, more neural pathways are formed; the more pathways that are formed, the faster impulses can travel. 

This brain chemistry increases the white matter (myelin) in your brain. Learning in later life is a way to protect the brain against ageing because it promotes ‘neuroplasticity’ (the brain’s ability to develop new neural pathways). 

It helps you gain a new perspective on the world around you and trains your brain to handle a wide range of challenges. Classes and courses are great ways to do this. 

They engage cognitive skills, such as visual comprehension, short- and long-term memory, attention to detail, and even math and calculations which goes a long way in improving your brain health. In fact, it could stave off dementia.

2. Increases your mental wellbeing and happiness.

Knowledge fuels self-confidence. Research has proven that lifelong learning, whether acquiring a skill like bookkeeping or taking up an activity like bird watching or a pastime like pottery, can greatly improve your mental wellbeing as it adds meaning to life. 

Learning something new makes you a more interesting person to be around. It improves the quality of your life and also deepens the relationships you have. It can boost your self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose. It activates the release of the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine in the brain and helps you cope with the stress and strain of everyday life while increasing your energy levels and immunity. 

Spending time on something creative – whether learning to kayak or taking up coding – has threefold benefits. It acts as a distraction from stress; it allows you the headspace to reassess your problems; it builds up self-esteem and confidence when you meet and overcome your challenges.

3. Fosters connection with others. 

networking concept

Learning a new skill can keep your social skills sharp. Let’s face it, as we grow older, it is easy to become more socially-isolated. However, if you attend classes on social media marketing or do an online course on counselling, for example, you have to interact and communicate with other people on a regular basis through group participation, conversations and discussions. 

It gets you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to try new things. What’s more, ongoing learning helps you remain employable as it shows potential employees that you can adapt to change and have what it takes to learn new skills. 

4. Keeps you relevant.

The modern world is moving at a break-neck speed and you need to stay on top of the game or get left behind. This is why professional development through study and courses is a must. It makes you relevant even when younger or more qualified people join your profession. It opens doors of opportunity. 

If you’re wondering what to study, do a bit of introspection: What have you always been interested in or passionate about since childhood? Do you have a hobby or side hustle? The satisfaction in learning something new and exciting, whether as a hobby or for your career, will definitely bring you joy and satisfaction.

Interested in learning something new? 

Online courses allow you to learn whatever you want, whenever you want – at your own pace. Upskilled has a range of courses from Advanced Diplomas to Short Courses. You might find a new passion that you didn't even think of! If you’re still not sure about which role you’re most suited for, you can chat to one of Upskilled’s education consultants by calling 1300 009 924.
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