UKC

Climbing, anxiety and drugs?

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
 Kees 23 Sep 2021

In daily life I am not a very anxious, nervous, depressed or whatever kind of guy, but put a climbing trip on my agenda and I turn into a wobbly mess. I don't sleep anymore, eating gets difficult and I get a strong flight response. It's the totally unlogical kind of anxiety. Scrambling exposed broken ridges I am totally calm, while clipping bolts near my limit gets my panties in a bunch. Trad and Alpine are anxious too if it gets a bit difficult.

I am starting to get a bit sick of this. I want a good night sleep before a climb and don't want to loose a couple of kg on every climbing trip. Are there any over the counter drugs that could help me to calm down without influencing the climbing? Or should I ask a doctor for more potent stuff?

2
In reply to Kees:

Do you get enough out of climbing for it to be worth putting your mind and body through this? It doesn't sound healthy.

The standard answer is that finding a pharmaceutical solution is usually the wrong way to go. Trying some over the counter stuff like Bach rescue remedy may be worth it in your case, but it is likely to be mainly placebo effect.

Consider meditation, mindfulness, and focussing on the positive things that you will enjoy about your climbing trip 😊

In reply to Kees:

I'm sure you've given it a lot of thought already; can you identify what specifically is causing your anxiety? Is it a fear of hurting yourself, or a fear of failing/failing in front of friends, or...?

I only ask because, and I speak only from personal experience, I've found that being able to put a finger on the specific cause(s) seems to go a long way towards helping control or alleviate the problem. For me at least. But it's often hard to definitively identify the root cause.

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Dan Arkle:

Oh yes, I LOVE climbing. I am at it for some 30 years now and I had this problem for ever.

I understand that drugs are rarely a good idea, but I am a bit desperate at the moment. Last trip two weeks ago was bolt clipping multipitch in Austria with good friends, nice weather and delicious beer. The ideal climbing holliday. But I am still recovering from that trip.

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to tehmarks:

Hi, thanks for your answer. It's mostly a fear for the unknown, a fear of loss of control. On a slab I feel totally in control and am not very anxious, but when it gets steep it feels I could peel of any moment. (Until I am actually climbing there and all goes well). I am not really afraid of dying or getting hurt.

In reply to Kees:

That makes sense. What is it, if not a fear for your health, that makes you unhappy about not being in control, peeling off or otherwise failing? And could you stack the odds in your favour by training these weaknesses, say by getting indoors and focusing on improving your fitness and technique on steep ground? And/or perhaps forcing yourself onto these sorts of routes on second or toprope and getting mileage in until you feel more comfortable on that sort of terrain? That doesn't really help the fear of the unknown directly, but it might indirectly help you feel more confident heading into the unknown, known you've fully equipped yourself with the tools to deal with it.

I can empathise; I have similar problems (though thankfully nowhere near as problematic or severe), and as I'm sure is the same for everyone, the conclusion that I've come to is that it's complicated and multifaceted. What nearly always improves things for my specific problems is consistency. If I'm climbing regularly on rock, I feel confident climbing on rock. If I don't climb on rock for a month, I come back and feel all sorts of incompetent, useless and stressed. Hardly surprising really!

One thing that clicked for me recently and made a big difference - and it probably sounds stupid to say out loud - was realising that the rope isn't the primary safety system (in the context of mountain trad, but applies more generally); the primary safety system is my ability to climb the grade and not fall off, and the rope is there in case I make an error of judgement or something unexpected happens. Suddenly I felt far more in control of my destiny, because I started stressing less about 'oh but the gear isn't great' when the moves were patently within my ability. Haven't fallen off 4a in twelve years of climbing...so why stress about it every lead when the gear is below me!?

Not saying that will help specifically, more trying to say in a roundabout way that small things falling into place can make a huge difference to your confidence or stress levels, and identifying what it is that's stressing you is a huge step towards those things clicking. Don't give up hope! And most importantly, do the things you enjoy. Life is too short to try to force yourself to do the things you think you should enjoy but actually don't.

1
In reply to Kees:

I say weaknesses, but I don't necessarily mean they are actually deficiencies in technique — rather it sounds like they are possibly deficiencies in confidence* which may improve by focusing on doing more of that style. Realising through repetition that you're not going to immediately pump out, fail to place gear and deck as soon as it gets a bit vertical (definitely one of my regular concerns!), etc.

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to tehmarks:

For sure, doing it more helps me enormously. I have been on a training trip throughout covid and the steep stuff feels a lot less intimidating now. Actually I am now starting to dread the slabs :-0.

I have also been fall training and getting out on lead as much as possible, which certainly helps. But still...

For example, we planned one day the most difficult climb of that week, only 4 pitches long. I knew it was within my abilities, and quite short at that. I knew there were plenty of bolts. And still I couldn't sleep. That day I was nervous at the start, but relaxed as soon as I entered the crux. Climbed it totally in flow and easilly. Then the day after that we planned a longer but slightly easier climb and I finally could relax, and only had a healthy kind of tension right at the start of the climb. In fact I volunteered to lead all the hard pitches.

It's mostly the anticipation, not so much the climbing itself (that has been different in the past when I would panic in the middle of many cruxes).

I don't really think drugs are the answer. How are people's experciences with mindfullness or meditation or something like that? I am an engineer and kind of suspicious about all that kind of voodoo

 Ciro 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

> Hi, thanks for your answer. It's mostly a fear for the unknown, a fear of loss of control. On a slab I feel totally in control and am not very anxious, but when it gets steep it feels I could peel of any moment. (Until I am actually climbing there and all goes well). I am not really afraid of dying or getting hurt.

How often do you lose control, and what happens when you do?

In most situations, losing control by peeling off the rock results in no problem. You mentioned multi-pitch sport climbing - there are certain things you need to stay in control of, such as avoiding a factor 2 onto the belay, but for the most part it should be fine to fall. 

If your fear of losing control is unjustified, the only way to cure it is to practice losing control IMO. Other approaches (such as trying to gain confidence that you won't lose control) don't address the underlying problem, and instead re-enforce it.

Edit: just seen your post that went up while I was composing mine. Sounds like you're on track with fall training, which should help. I imagine it'll take a while for the comfort on the rock to translate into comfort pre-trip as your subconscious gets used to the changes - unless there's something else underlying of course.

Speaking as a former engineer with a naturally sceptical outlook, I've found embracing things like yoga and mindfulness very helpful. I don't take the explanations provided by some practitioners literally, but it seems clear to me that centuries of trial and error and observation have resulted in systems of practice that tap into the autonomic and subconscious systems of the body in ways that we don't yet understand (and some that we do).

If nothing else, mindfulness practice during your time of pre-trip stress should help you pinpoint whether there are other aspects outside of falling that contribute to your anxiety.

Post edited at 11:03
 shantaram 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

It sounds like it might be time to have a break from climbing. Try some other outdoor activities that you actually look forward to doing and enjoy - biking, running, swimming, kayaking etc. Climbing was a major part of my life for 20+ years, but then I started to get anxious before going climbing and on the rock I wasn’t as happy as I used to be. I forced myself to climb, as I was a climber and that’s what I did. It took me a year or so to realise it was time to give it a break. As a previous poster said, life is too short to force yourself to do something you think you should enjoy, but actually gives you more stress and anxiety than pleasure. 

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to shantaram:

But when I actually am on the rocks I totally enjoy it. I love the movement and the feeling of accomplishment. 

It's the anticipation that gets me. And mostly in unknown territory. When I go to Belgium (I live in The Netherlands) for a nice weekend with the club it's not half as bad, because I know that place and many of the climbs.

 Munch 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

I can relate to a lot of what you're saying. Like you, I don't sleep well the night before and often wake up feeling sick and can't stomach food, which obviously doesn't help. I don't mind taking falls or failing on a route, it's more of a general underlying fear of the unknown (which is a huge part of what I love about climbing) that disappears as soon as I start climbing. 

A few things that I find help are;

Not overly planning a ticklist. There's obviously routes we all want to do, but turning up at a crag and having a go at what looks good can really help. Grades and expectation of what you should climb don't help, so leave the guidebook in the bag for a few routes. 

Having a word with yourself. I'm sure a psychologist wouldn't endorse this, but whenever that nagging doubt comes to mind, I tell myself "no, I'm not thinking about that" and try not to dwell on it. 

Water!! This is the big one for me. When I start getting nervous I've realised I stop drinking, which I think is a big part of waking up feeling nauseous, so have to force myself to keep drinking. 

Post edited at 11:05
 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Munch:

"no, I'm not thinking about that"  That's exactly what I am telling myself all night long

For sure it helps to go to the crag without a set of goals. That's probably why my trips to Belgium are not very anxious. I usually go without much of a plan and slowly work myself into harder and harder climbs. Mental warmup so to speak. But on an Alpine trip that doesn't really work, you have to make a plan, arrange your gear, get up early etc. It does help to go on hollidays without too much of a schedule and slowly work into the kind of things you want to do.

In reply to Kees:

> I don't really think drugs are the answer. How are people's experciences with mindfullness or meditation or something like that? I am an engineer and kind of suspicious about all that kind of voodoo

Nowt voodoo about the idea that thoughts and emotions can affect each other.

 It requires a reasonable investment in time and effort but there is a solid evidence base showing it to be as effective or more effective than medication, with the added bonus that you have learned some skills to prevent or manage any relapses. 

Up to you whether you consider this important enough to invest the time and effort needed - you actually need to do it rather than just read about it (a very common mistake). Although you also need to factor in the side effects that commonly accompany anxiety meds - there are costs to going down that route too. 

If you are looking into it then look for info on mindfulness rather than meditation. Meditation can be part of mindfulness but it is only one component. There are also online cbt courses which could be helpful - I think Living Life to The Full  is free to access.

 jezb1 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

Before thinking about drugs have you thought about getting some specific coaching?

I don’t just mean your average climbing coach but one who specialises in psychology, and is qualified in that field. 

I reckon that’s worth a shout first.

 Jon Stewart 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

> are there any over the counter drugs that could help me to calm down without influencing the climbing?

No. Anti-anxiety drugs are prescription only - they're either antidepressants, sedatives or beta-blockers.

Over the counter, all you'll get is placebo.

As others have said, I'd try non-pharmaceutical methods first, since drugs have side effects but stuff like meditation tends to have side-benefits. 

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Natalie Berry - UKC:

Yes that article actually triggered me posting this. It was very insightfull. I had never thought about this being somewhere on an anxiety spectrum. 

In reply to Jon Stewart:

I don't think anyone has suggested this. Have you considered that you might be confusing or misidentifying how you feel as anxiety?

Anticipation and over excitement (or arousal in sports language) can sometime makes us feel similar to if we were anxious. Have a look at inverted u theory  (low arousal- boredom, medium - optimal performance, high - panic, poor performance). For me this sometimes manifests as not wanting to do something, where as actually I really really want to do it, I'm just panicking about it beforehand (often leading to poor performance and a negative experience).

Tools that can help;

Breathing (during, helps lower heart rate)

Imagery 

Visualisation (including how will I feel at different points)

Positive self talk

 bpmclimb 23 Sep 2021
In reply to jezb1:

> Before thinking about drugs have you thought about getting some specific coaching?

> I don’t just mean your average climbing coach but one who specialises in psychology, and is qualified in that field. 

> I reckon that’s worth a shout first.

+1    was just about to suggest the same thing

 Al Randall 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

I find that the anticipation of going climbing or mountain biking is a great laxative but not sure if this is down to fear or anxiety. I've been climbing and been like this for 55 years.  During that time I have experienced extreme fear on a number of occasions but my bowels stayed in tack so I put it down to the excitement of  going.

Al

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Alex Riley:

That's a very interesting take on the issue Alex!

Maybe it doesn't really matter though. Too much arousel or anxiety. It needs to be dealt with somehow.

As we speak I am searching for some mental coaching locally. There seems to be someone at a local climbing gym who works with this.

 magma 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

weed?

2
 magma 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

> It's the totally unlogical kind of anxiety. Scrambling exposed broken ridges I am totally calm, while clipping bolts near my limit gets my panties in a bunch. Trad and Alpine are anxious too if it gets a bit difficult.

anything that relies on other people? or a vertigo thing when it gets too steep? soloing the inn pinn would be fine but a shorter/steeper bolted route would give you the heebie jeebies?

re weed see here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604171/

 Root1 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

Do the outdoor things that don't over stress you, and you may come around to tackling the more stressful things later in life. Mindfulness has been mentioned and is very effective. Monash  university (Melbourne) does free mindfulness courses online.

 wbo2 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:, JezB,others

Is there a particular sports psychologist who 'go to' for climbing related issues or the similar.

 To the OP- I think this is more common than you think 

 Michael Gordon 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

Is climbing difficult stuff important to you, or do you just love getting out climbing? If the latter, and it's only the anticipation of the former which causes stress, then I'm tempted to suggest changing your goals to easier routes which inspire you.

 Jon Stewart 23 Sep 2021
In reply to magma:

Weed is really unpredictable. While it looks like CBD may have good anxiolitic properties, once there's THC involved it's a totally different story. While weed makes many people feel relaxed, for others (me) the effect is basically a panic attack: heart racing, dry mouth, negative thought spirals. This is even with a low dose. Not a drug I'd recommend for anxiety! 

 profitofdoom 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

Here's my wisdom, such as it is:

Lower your grade to a level where anxiety is less 

Do not use drugs 

Enjoy your climbing. And good luck 

 Michael Gordon 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> While weed makes many people feel relaxed, for others (me) the effect is basically a panic attack: heart racing, dry mouth, negative thought spirals. This is even with a low dose. Not a drug I'd recommend for anxiety! 

Yes, I thought it'd been linked to paranoia and depression.

 jezb1 23 Sep 2021
In reply to wbo2:

Rebecca at Smart Climbing is highly regarded.

> , JezB,others

> Is there a particular sports psychologist who 'go to' for climbing related issues or the similar.

>  To the OP- I think this is more common than you think 

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Well, my climbing level is allready pretty low. I onsight around 6a and have a few 6c redpoints on my credit. Much lower and the climbing becomes quite uninteresting.

Years ago I totally gave up on alpine rock. I still remeber the exact spot where I threw in the towel. Meanwhile I have slowly build up again. Did some trad in Wales and Germany. Did bunches of sport multipitches in the typical holliday climbing resorts (Leonidio, Orpierre etc). I did have one fabulous summer where I did the Dibona in the Ecrins. Since then it's slightly downhill again. It's itching again. I would love to sample some nice grade V's in the Dolomites again, but don't know if I could cope with that.

 Michael Gordon 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Kees:

Trad perhaps holds more interest when climbing a good bit below your limit?

 Kees 23 Sep 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

More scary too. And The Netherlands are not the trad hotspot of Europe...

But I'll put it on the list.


This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
Loading Notifications...