It is well documented that exercise can help improve mental health and is even used to treat depression. Although some say that this has not been proven outright, feedback from patients has suggested an overall sense of positive wellbeing and decreased depressive episodes when exercise is fully incorporated into lifestyle. Even though research can contradict itself I can only really be absolutely sure about this…exercise, and climbing in particular, make me and keep me happy.
I both work in mental health and I am one of the “1 in 4” that experience some kind of ill mental health problem each year. From the age of 13-23 I suffered from an eating disorder and still have bouts of depression and social anxiety. Although I still have up’s and downs, as everyone does, I am happier, more relaxed and stronger than I have ever been. This is why climbing keeps me well and how it can help women (and men!) overcome issues – from feeling down and stressed to major social anxiety. It gives a general feeling of wellbeing and positive body image.
Social Element and Self Image – Climbing, particularly with people or in a group, is great for helping social anxiety or becoming less isolated. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems being treated at the moment in the UK. There has been lots of research done about the social element to sports and how feeling a part of a community can increase your sense of wellbeing and belonging. Out of all the sports I have been involved in I have found that the climbing community is the most inclusive and encouraging. There is no real judgmental culture in regards to ability and more importantly, in relation to image. I find that since I started climbing I am less concerned about what image I am giving to people or what people think about me, whether it’s about my personality or my bingo wings 🙂
Environment – I love climbing outdoors and would always choose this above indoor climbing, if practicable. This is simply due to my love of the outdoors and fresh air. I can say I am at my happiest when high up. This sounds odd, and I never really understood why, but if I can see as far as my eyes will allow me and feel the elements, the wind, rain or glorious sunshine, I am content. Now, climbing is a brilliant way to regularly get outdoors and be surrounded by natural beauty. Being at the crag and topping out on a great route literally feels like being on the top of the world. If that’s not good mental health I don’t know what is!
Endorphins – The feeeeel Gooood chemical. This is released into our bodies when we exercise. When climbing, this is coupled with adrenaline. The result = awesomeness.
Overcoming Barriers and Fighting Stress – If I have had a particularly stressful day and feel that I can’t get anything done or get anything right then going to the wall/crag and making that hard move or just climbing until my forearms are screaming will pretty much bring me back to earth.
Fighting the fear of failure – Climbing can help if you have a fear of failure or are feeling lost. Climbing gives you a great opportunity to start taking some risks and “failing”, such as falling. I would say that I used to have a huge fear of failure – it was something that was actually holding me back from trying new things and taking risks. Climbing put me back on track in life. It gave me a sense of purpose and almost a new sense of responsibility. Even though it is hard and often scary the rewards you get from sticking with it are overwhelming.
Physical Health – Physical health and mental health are closely linked and you are more likely to suffer from mental health problems if you are experiencing poor physical health. Climbing is a great way to stay fit and healthy and also have fun. I personally am not one for slogging out hours on a treadmill or watching Lycra-clad, made up women on the elliptical judging me in the huge mirrors of a gym!
Climbing is most importantly about letting go of our pre-conceived ideas of who we are or who we should be. It allows us to just have fun and that can be pushing hard or having a chilled out session. Like I said, I am happier, calmer, stronger and more self-assured than I have ever been and for that, I thank climbing.
Guest Post by Beth Thomas
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