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Taking risks

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About taking risks

Risk taking is when we do things that might be harmful or dangerous, but at the same time are exciting and give us a “buzz”. The key is to find the right balance. If you think you might take too many risks, read on to find more information to help you figure out if you have a problem with risk taking.

Do I have a problem with risk taking?

  • What sort of risks do you take?
    It might be driving too fast, or doing dangerous activities. It might be taking drugs or indulging in risky sexual behaviour (like often having sex with someone you’ve only just met). Risk taking is not necessarily wrong or bad for you, but if taken too far it can cause serious harm or even death.
  • Do you think you take more risks than other people?
  • Do you find you often look back on something you did and think you could have died or been seriously injured?
  • Do you often get into trouble for doing things without thinking it through?
  • Have you been injured or gotten sick because of your risky behaviour?
  • Do you find yourself doing lots of dangerous things, like driving way too fast , jumping from a moving train, or dashing in front of cars on the road?
  • Do you take a lot of party drugs without worrying about what they are or where they came from?
  • Do you have lots of unsafe sex?

If so, you might want to do something about it. You don’t have to give up the fun part of risk taking, but it is important to make it safer.

Why do I take risks?

Some people are natural risk takers, while others take risks because they want to get approval or respect. We also know that some people develop risk taking behaviour as a way of coping with other problems – feeling down or worthless or angry, for example. Some people start taking lots of risks after they have been through a highly stressful experience like a military deployment. They get so used to being “hyped up” – running on adrenalin – that life back home seems boring and pointless. In fact, excessive risk taking can sometimes be a feature of posttraumatic stress disorder.

What can I do about it?

So, how can you control your risk taking behaviour so that you get the benefits without the dangers?

Think about why you keep taking risks. Is it just because it’s fun? Or is it because you feel that life is worthless or that you would be better off dead? (If so, you might find the material on depression useful). Do you take risks to block out painful memories? (If so, check out PTSD). Is it because you are bored or lonely, with no enjoyment in your life? (If so, think about how to increase enjoyable activities  located on the High Res website.  Do you have problems with drinking or using drugs too much?  Do you take risks when you feel angry?  Are there times when you don’t care if you get hurt or even deliberately self-harm?  All of these are common in people who take excessive risks. Dealing with these underlying problems will reduce the need for you to take lots of risks.

What if I don’t want to stop taking risks?

Lots of sports – like sky diving, rock-climbing, or white water canoeing – can provide the kind of adrenalin rush that risk taking provides. For some people, other risks like performing on stage in front of a crowd can be a huge buzz. If they are done properly, all these things can be safe as well as fun. Here are some simple rules:

  • Assess the risk – think before you act. Just stop for a minute and think through the possible risks and dangers. Are the risks too great? Is it worth it? What can I do to reduce the risk and make it safer? For example, if I’m about to have sex with someone I don’t know, I’ll make sure I (or my partner) wear a condom. If I want to take drugs, I’ll make sure I know exactly what I’m taking and have someone to check up on me from time to time. If I’m planning a heavy session of drinking, I won’t drive afterwards.
  • Work out some ground rules for yourself and stick to them so you know before you get into the situation what is, and is not, a reasonable risk. Your “rules” might be never to be a passenger in a car with a drunk driver….never to have unprotected sex….never start a dangerous activity without checking the equipment…..
  • Work out what’s important to you and judge the risks accordingly. If physical activity and sport is important to you, don’t do things with a high risk of physical injury. If you value your relationship with a loved one, don’t do things that will damage it.
  • Find people whose judgement you trust, spend time with them, and use them as “sounding boards”. If everyone else thinks something is too dangerous to do, it probably is.

Having fun is a vital part of life and sometimes taking risks keeps us feeling alive. But taking too many risks can be sign that something else is wrong. If so, it’s worth sorting out those other problems before you do yourself serious damage. And if you are going to keep taking risks, just make sure they are calculated risks that you have thought through.

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