Fighting the Fear Factor

Moab, UT Fear. I hate fear. When I became a mom, my day-to-day fearfulness went through the roof. It even hindered my desire to do anything somewhat adventurous. [I wrote an entire post on this here.] This post isn’t about those fears. But the physical, cascading effect of panic.

As I mentioned in last weeks post, “Can’t escape the tears…“, my head just hasn’t been in the game this climbing season. I am stronger. I am a better climber. I have had no injuries or traumatic falls. But I am panicing on the rock.

Panic can be defined as: Sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior. The sudden and uncontrollable part, is what I remember most.

Here is where I share a really embarrassing moment: I totally freaked out, broke down into tears, became completely illogical on a 5.6 climb. [For those of you who don’t climb, this is easy. VERY EASY.] I was only six feet from the top. An arms reach from my husband who was grinning at me. Until he saw my face…then he said, “Love, you are okay,” and I snapped. I-am-not-okay!

I was safe. But my brain didn’t get the memo.

Breath. Deeply. Purposefully. 

Yes, this is a little like birthing class. Since I wish to forget the days of painful labor, I am going to relate it to yoga. I am not sure you can go to a yoga class without doing a breathing exercise. And thank God. Cause by the time you are holding Warrior II pose for 3 minutes, breathing deeply is necessary.

According to the Calm Clinic, anxiety always accompanies shallow breathing. Learning to control the simple in-out flow of breath can give us immense control over our bodies.

Make the choice to enter uncomfortable situations.

man on rocks

Have you ever been to a “hot yoga” class? I hate heat. But I walked into a class anyways. It took everything in me not to flee. My panic response was triggered. And I spent the next 60 minutes in 110 degrees, breathing deeply and fighting that panic. It worked.

And it worked on the Bastille Crack when the pressure of a hanging belay, a very full bladder, and a husband who “got off route” and headed up a harder variation began to pull at my seams.

It is natural to run from our fears. But not everything that is natural is beneficial. It reminds me of that Bible verse, “Everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial.”

The age-old-adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” applies here too. But enter these panic-inducing situations with a plan on how to manage your panic. When the panic rises: Stop. Breath. Slow your heart rate. Then look around.

Pain is inevitable but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy.” -Tim Hansel

Trust your gear, your partner or your skill. 

Sometimes you just need to fall. As I read on Upskill Climbing Blog, take test falls, take real falls. I’ve found this to be very helpful. Maybe not a huge fall. Maybe just relaxing for a moment, sitting back in my harness, reminding myself that the gear works. Often, I realize I can trust the gear and my belayer. And I move on in confidence.

For more great tips on how to manage your fear while climbing, check out NWOutdoorGrrl Blog.

Have you had a panic attack? If so, what do you do to fight back fear? Are there things that have heighten your mental resolve?

Join us later this week as we discuss ways to teach and help your kids to fight their fears.


8 comments on “Fighting the Fear Factor
  1. I’ve never really been in a panicky situation before (while climbing). I’ve had some sketchy moments but nothing I couldn’t get thru w/ a few deep breaths. I’ve bailed off routes that I didn’t think I could finish w/o taking a huge fall (that’s something I know I need to work on, I *hate* falling). I’ve panicked partners by rapping off of 1 bolt after lowering them because we didn’t get the beta that the route required a 2 rope rap or by running it out and getting off route. Those things didn’t really bother me though, I guess I just get caught it up in the moment and focus on what needs to be done. I can be emotional about it later.

    I’m glad you found something that worked. I’ve found bikram yoga really helps my climbing. Besides physically (strength, balance, grip strength) it helps mentally with focus and breathing.

  2. This is a really nice post. I often wonder about how many women are out there climbing with anxiety issues or disorders. When I hit about 29 years old, my anxiety hit me. I stopped being able to sleep, I stopped being able to have relaxing evenings at home, and I stopped being able to have fun climbing outings. It was terrible.

    Yep, I have been right there with you, in tears at the top of a 5.6. I’ve actually gone further, and done some crazy stuff to get out of a situation that was not even dangerous. I wanted to climb, I REALLY wanted to. I knew I could, but my lymphatic system was in overdrive and out of control.

    I did a lot of yoga, which helped a bit. I did some counseling which helped a lot. I took some medication that was the real key to recovery. I think there is an unfortunate stigma around getting medical help for mental issues, and that’s so sad. There is a terrible anxiety-depression spiral that is easy for some women to fall into, and incredibly difficult to climb out of. Lives have been lost to this, it is a real thing.

    Women who have lost their ability to do things that they once loved should consider a trip to the doctor’s office after a few weeks of yoga. Being able to come around from years of anxiety and panic is one of the hardest things I have ever done, but one of the most important. I would not be the happily, courageous, strong woman I am today without the help of my doctors and a little bit of medicine.

    • Kate- Thanks so much for sharing about your own journey! I have a friend who had intense post partum depression. The depression/anxiety issue is real but no one likes to talk about it. So thanks for sharing!

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