A climbing injury can have a lasting impact both physically and mentally. Overcome your setbacks with the help of Rebecca Williams, clinical psychologist and climbing instructor.
How well you bounce back is largely down to personality (a combination of genetic factors, early upbringing and experience) so, inevitably, some people will bounce back quickly and others take longer. However, there are some other factors which can aid resilience.
The first thing is to work out what kind of personality you are. Are you generally optimistic (you’ll be able put the setback behind you after a short period of time) or do you ruminate and beat yourself up after making a mistake?
If you’re in the latter camp (guilty m’lud) then don’t add to the burden by beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Accept that’s just the way you are and allow yourself some wallowing time. This also helps you to process your feelings rather than avoiding them, which tends to result in negative thoughts and imagery coming back stronger later on.
Research also shows that having varied social networks (a life outside climbing!) can help you to gain perspective and alleviate negative emotions. Next, try to move on your thinking, extrapolating all the learning you can from the situation. Adults struggle to accept that mistakes are the best way to learn and grow. Finally, don’t be afraid to go back to basics: step your grade, expectations or activity down a few notches. Concentrate on climbing well and in good form and gradually build up.
Be honest with yourself and understand the difference between actively avoiding climbs which trigger unpleasant feelings or memories (not good) and listening to your body and mind and taking it slowly (better). Avoidance is never a good way of coping, the analogy of getting back on the horse as soon as possible is a good one, but remember to walk before galloping.
If you’re struggling with repetitive and intrusive thoughts or imagery whilst climbing (especially after an accident), then the key is to stay still when these feelings start to arise, control your breathing and allow them to wash over you. Staying in the situation and reminding yourself that you are OK is far better than panicking and shooting up the climb or getting lowered off, which will just exacerbate the link between climbing and anxiety. In this way you will begin to retrain your brain over time.
Rumination after an accident or injury is completely normal; indeed trying to avoid thinking about a trauma is a sure-fi re way to make trauma memories stronger and stickier, so it’s important to allow yourself time to think through what happened. However, if you’re still struggling six weeks after an accident and having difficulties sleeping or concentrating, then it’s time to seek professional help.
After this time, it’s unlikely that the flashbacks will disappear by themselves and you should ask your GP to refer you for trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as you may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Rebecca Williams runs psychological performance coaching courses for climbers: www.smartclimbing.co.uk
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