How to harness positive mental wellbeing by rock climbing

Posted by Joanna Rowbottom on 02/02/2017

Did you know that rock climbing can boost positive mental wellbeing? Set up in 2008, Vertigirls is one such community group for women with physical and mental health impairments that are using rock climbing to feel empowered. We caught up with Christine, the founder of Vertigirls, to hear her thoughts.

After personally discovering the benefits rock climbing can have on mental wellbeing, Christine says it changed her life: “I have had fewer extreme episodes, which means I can be more involved in living and not so isolated and withdrawn. I also have more confidence, as well as trust in myself and in others.” And having felt the benefits herself, Christine felt this was something she needed to share.

What is it about climbing that can change someone's life?

For some people it’s that you’re not thinking about anything else whilst you’re on the wall, all your energy is focused on what you’re doing at that moment. For many, being ‘in the moment’ isn’t easy;’ we have busy lives, worries about work, or about family, and we are thinking about all the things we have to do the next day. With others it can be the benefits of the outdoors, the freedom to explore in the most beautiful scenery, the serenity of an isolated crag on the south coast.

It can also be the social aspect, the friendships you make, the trust you place in others, the supportive nature of your fellow climbers, the adventures and experiences you share with each other.

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Perhaps it’s the feeling of achievement and setting yourself goals, accomplishing something that you weren’t really sure was even possible, if you feel like you’ve been faced with a number of setbacks this feeling is invaluable. Of course there are the times where you don’t quite manage it, but you dust yourself off knowing you’ve put your all into it, you move onto the next project or challenge and come back to that one, once your throbbing hands have calmed down. It’s easy to see how that relates to everyday life and, perhaps, climbing gives us the tools we need to be able to face the challenges that life inevitably throws at us.

Shelley told us that climbing and being active has made her feel stronger mentally: “I have trained my mind to know it can calmly cope with challenges and not be defeated by them.” Whatever it is, Vertigirls has been providing a safe and supportive environment in which to experience all of those things.

Vertigirls: how it works

Christine set up Vertigirls in 2008 and ran free courses for women with mental health conditions at the local indoor wall. This progressed to holding outdoor climbing trips, which saw even greater benefits on mental wellbeing. Christine believes the best thing about Vertigirls is that it provides a safe and supportive environment and the women who attend can do as much or as little as they like. “If someone wants to come along and read a book, that’s fine, if someone wants to climb hard that’s also fine, it’s about what the experience is for that individual,” she said.

READ: How the paraclimbing series inspired Kate

Ellie is a member that aims to climb at least twice a week. She says: “Joining a club that is specifically (but not exclusively) aimed at women who have physical and/or mental illness and disability immediately creates the right environment for individuals like myself who need a safe, supportive and positive space to enjoy outdoor activities with people who understand me.”

For those who attend, Christine hopes it provides them with a step on their journey – whether that’s a climbing journey, a journey to a different activity, a journey to improved confidence, or to new friendships; Vertigirls opens up the possibilities. Having successfully received some funding from The Big Lottery Fund, Vertigirls has an exciting 2017 planned, with regular outdoors weekend trips and courses available.

Get in touch

Find out more about Vertigirls and its exciting plans by emailing vertigirlsclimbing@yahoo.com.


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