Strength, Rock Climbing and Recovery
I recently had a conversation with a client who started rock climbing. As a rock climber myself, I get very excited to see people taking up the sport. Over the years I have witnessed how rock climbing can be an important part of someone’s recovery, whether healing from an addiction, depression, anxiety, or a break up. I have seen it be a means of building both physical and mental strength and resilience
Specifically, climbing can help people re-engaging in pleasurable activities and exercise is an important part of treatment planning that I regularly discuss with clients. Rock Climbing can be a sport that falls in both of those categories — it can be a great form of exercise and a new hobby to engage in weekly. It can also can serve as much more.
In addition, climbing can also serve as a venue for community and relationship building. When rock climbing you often have to rely on a partner to support you in your climb. It creates an opportunity to meet others and build trust. When you are not climbing with a partner, you are often strategizing around challenging moves and encouraging one another. Eva-Maria Stelzer recently explored the role climbing can play as a tool in the treatment depression. She found that in addition to it helping build self-efficacy, it also served as a means of building social engagement. As oftentimes isolation can further worsen symptoms of depression, finding activities that promote social interactions can be key. (https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/bouldering-envisioned-new-treatment-depression).
Rock climbing also requires a great deal of mindfulness. Whether you are on rock wall in the mountains or in the gym, when you are climbing you have to be present in the moment, be aware of your body and physical motion. As with with many forms of exercise, and as I have found even more so with climbing, the sport requires to be acutely aware on the now, focus on your breath and movement. Clinicians are even starting to use rock climbing as part of part of their treatment planning around mindfulness. In this post by Climbing.com, a clinician in Tahoe, CA is interviewed on the details: https://www.climbing.com/people/climbing-for-mental-health/
Lastly, rock climbing is both a literal and figurative practice of facing your fears and pushing forward during difficult times which can be critical when recovering from a mood episode. Getting to the top of a mountain or climbing a hard problem helps builds confidence and can reaffirm the importance facing your fears in the face of challenge. It can teach you the value of trying again after you have fallen. In Jamie Bushell’s personal account of what rock climbing taught her about her own mental health recovery she discusses this further:
“In climbing, to fall means to make progress. To fall implies you are tackling a new challenge. We practice the act of falling with intent. I think that kind of makes it more like an art. Yes, the art of falling. I like that.”
To check out more on what rock climbing has taught Jamie about her own recovery, visit her blog here: https://themighty.com/2017/08/mental-health-recovery-falling-suicide/. To explore how climbing can serve as a tool for you, head to your nearest climbable mountain or indoor climbing gym soon.
Here are a few local Bay Area climbing gyms to check out:
Bushell, J. (23 Aug. 2017). “What Missing a Foot Hole in Rock Climbing Taught Me About Mental Health Recovery”. Retrieved from: https://themighty.com/2017/08/mental-health-recovery-falling-suicide/
Moore, H. (17 April 2017). Climbing for Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.climbing.com/people/climbing-for-mental-health/
Berkley, L and Everett-Haynes. (24 May 2017). Bouldering Envisioned as a New Treatment for Depression. Retrieved from: https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/bouldering-envisioned-new-treatment-depression