The Benefits Of Climbing On Mental Health
Many of us are aware of the physical benefits of exercise and sports such as climbing, but can climbing also benefit your mental health?
In this post, three climbers share their stories of how climbing has improved their mental health, allowing them to manage anxiety, gain self-confidence and overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.
“I don’t think I can overemphasise how much [climbing] has helped me. It has improved my physical fitness, my confidence and my mental health in general.” - Rosa.
As a child, Rosa loved to climb trees and remembers creating her own grading system and giving her younger brother lessons! She first climbed indoors at age 10 and was “immediately hooked”. However, her parents discouraged her from climbing indoors and she was limited to trees. She really started to get into climbing in her early twenties, when she had lessons with her then boyfriend at Vertical Limit, and quickly became interested in climbing outdoors.
At the point in her life before she really got into climbing, she did not feel “very confident about anything”. But climbing quickly became an “integral part” of her life and her regular climbing achievements have helped her to gain the confidence to trust herself and to push past fear, both on the wall and in other aspects of her life.
She says: “In the rest of my life fear is often a barrier. But when I’m climbing it’s different. I know that I have to trust myself and push past the fear, and I almost always do. The satisfaction that comes from these achievements, no matter how small they may seem to anybody else, gives me strength in the rest of my life.
“When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can picture a specific moment on a climb where I kept trying, despite being terrified, and think to myself – if I can do that, then this is nothing.”
A couple of years ago, Rosa took the massive step of moving from the UK to Canada - something that a lot of people would not be brave enough to do. She has had some amazing experiences climbing in Canada, but she also looks forward to exploring the huge range of climbing that the UK has to offer when she moves back.
Her future climbing goals include climbing a big-wall, learning to route set and possibly getting qualified to teach climbing.
“Bouldering has had a positive effect on my mental health… I took it up regularly and I couldn’t keep myself away!” - Charley.
Charley has suffered from generalised anxiety disorder since her late teens which affects her on a daily basis. She says bouldering has been helpful in managing her anxiety and stress: “When bouldering, my mind focuses upon finding the best route to reach the top of the wall, and the concentration required to finish some routes enables me to forget about my stresses and worries. If I’m having a stressful day, I feel much happier after I have climbed up a few walls!”
A lot of climbers say that they have been able to calm anxieties and manage stress through climbing, and some describe their state of mind while climbing to be similar to the level of concentration and inner-focus that is often sought through meditation. Rosa also described how her worries faded into the background as she concentrated on a route: “When I’m climbing, I don’t feel like I’m relying on anybody else, I don’t worry about letting people down or what people are thinking about me. I don’t worry about anything except for the way I move my body in that exact moment in time.”
Charley says that bouldering has “boosted her strength, both physically and mentally” and having developed her skills from a novice climber to a more experienced climber has made a positive impact on her daily life as well as increasing her confidence in climbing: “[Completing more advanced routes] brings me a great sense of achievement, which fuels my determination to take on more difficult challenges, not just in climbing but in day to day life.”
She is keen to take on more climbing challenges in the future and to try something new: “I would like to try outdoor rope climbing as I have done neither of those things before. I enjoy the beauty and serenity of the outdoors and would love to experience climbing in this sort of setting. I’m anxious about climbing to taller heights, but I’m always looking to tackle a new challenge!”
“Climbing taught me how to be confident.” - Dave C.
Dave C, a Vertical Limit regular, has always climbed trees and had always wanted to try an indoor climbing gym. Unfortunately, there was no climbing gym in or near his home-town. Dave finally started climbing in indoor climbing centres and then outside when he moved away to university. He says he used to have low confidence, particularly in social situations, but things started to change when he made climbing his hobby at university: “Climbing has taught me how to make decisions, how to prioritise, how to take risks, manage risks and recover from things going wrong - leadership skills that have massively increased my confidence.”
The confidence that Dave has gained from climbing has changed the way he sees himself as a person: “I am stronger now, both physically and mentally.” Climbing is his primary method of managing stress. “Climbing for me is a way of clearing my head. If I can’t climb, I get grumpy,” he says.
Over the 6 years that Dave has been part of the climbing community in Worcester, he has made many long-lasting friendships and is also well-known in the local climbing community for his readiness to help other climbers. He enjoys teaching and wants to introduce as many people to climbing as possible.
In a few months, he and a friend will be big-walling in Yosemite, a climbing goal that Dave has had for many years. When asked if he could have imagined having the confidence to do big-walling in his teenage years, he replies: “I once said in my first six months into climbing to a friend, ‘if you ever see me attempting an E1, punch me in the face because it will hurt less than falling off’.” Dave has since climbed E1 and beyond, and occasionally free-solos.
We would recommend giving climbing a go to anyone who is looking at getting into a sport to not only improve their fitness but also their confidence, problem-solving skills, focus and leadership skills. Join our friendly bunch of climbers at Vertical Limit - once you’ve tried climbing, you’ll be hooked for life!