I haven’t quite figured out if climbing is good for my anxiety or if it increases it.
As expected, I definitely have increased tension before the first climb of the day, starting the moment I wake up or even before. If it’s the first day in a new area or climbing spurt, and if there’s a bit of organizing to do before, there’s additional stress. To be fair, this apprehension is no different than a transition travel day or an exam day, for example. For these more stressful mornings, I’ve found that it’s helpful to breathe, not rush, stick to routines, eat a good breakfast, hydrate, shower, and take a few moments of quiet time. As I understand myself more, I’m more able to identify my anxiety quickly, allowing me to share my thoughts with my climbing partner. Putting the climbing day in God’s hands, as with any other worries, is vital.
I find that I have almost no anxiety after climbing, even non-climbing irritations. There’s a release. Perhaps the parasympathetic system kicks in. I think that climbing helps me with my daily anxiety, teaching me how to deal with the increased anxiety of climbing might help me deal with my lesser, daily worries: a desensitization or conditioning of sorts, maybe. It teaches me that confronting a worry is at times a helpful way to heal anxiety or at least manage it.
Ironically, there’s incredible mental peace, even in the mental fright and physical shaking, while climbing. I don’t know if this is an illusion and actually just hyper-focused fight-flight-freeze or if it’s really a calmer state of mind. Maybe, they’re the same thing. However, the clarity of mind on the wall, although super aimed (ie: “Where do I put my right foot?” “OK, I need to commit to this move.”), gets me thinking that it’s not quite the same as running away from a bear. Mind you, I’ve never had to run away from one! I was mindful of scorpions, snakes, and spiders at Red Rocks; not worried, though!
The first time I went climbing, when we ventured to Juno Wall in Jasper National Park, I remember having no fear. Because partially, I fully trusted my friends to keep me safe while being on top-rope; and somewhat because, I hadn’t taken the time to fully consider all of the things that could go wrong. As I improved and pushed myself to be as good as my climbing partners, I realized that a strong mental state is imperative in becoming a great climber.
I quickly found myself being petrified of climbing above my bolt when leading, stressed when there was extra slack in the rope, and always nervous of going over the edge when coming down after a climb. Researching, practicing, and talking with fellow climbers has helped me to build a strong mind. It was exciting for me to conquer some of my fears while climbing in Red Rocks. I had a looser grip while clipping; I didn’t scream every time I was lowered; and there were times when I didn’t think twice about climbing above my bolt.
Take for example our first day at Red Rocks: I strapped on my snazzy new climbing shoes and aimed for the mindset of “how small of a rock can my foot balance upon?” With my toes screaming in agony due to unbroken-in shoes, it was great to feel the strength and control that each tiny toe gave me. As I became more confident that “Yes! My feet will hold me,” my body shook less, and I had more energy to do more climbs in the days that followed.
Then there was Day 5 of our Red Rocks adventure. This was the day that I left my fingertips on the wall. I was so focused on conquering the route that I threw my cares (or most of them, at least) out the window and pushed through the pain of gripping the crimp holds on an ice-cold, shady route. Sadly, I never did end up sending the 5.10a, but I’ll be back to finish it; hopefully, with my fingertips still intact!
Whether it’s a fearful climbing day or not, I’ve loved climbing since I started. I love how my mind is clear and focused, and the energy that I normally use to worry and stress can be rerouted into climbing energy. As a developing climber, I believe that my mental strength is just as important as my physical strength.
Who We Are
Hi! We're Michelle and Silvain: a married, Christian couple that's always seeking to learn, explore, and take on new challenges. Our adventures take us up mountains, down trails, and to faraway places. Follow us as we live, love, and are crazy! Forever!!