The Mental Health Benefits Of Rock Climbing Will Take Your Well-Being To New Heights

by Julia Guerra

Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing in front of a towering wall with small, colorful pegs scattered along the structure. Around your waist is a snug harness, and you begin to scale the wall, one step at a time, climbing higher and higher. Every move you make is methodical, forcing you to think with your body as much as your brain. It’s a daunting activity, to say the least, but there are mental health benefits of rock climbing that exceed the physical ones, and you don’t necessarily have to be a master of the sport to reap them. So the next time you’re feeling anxious, or scared, or just stressed out from a hard day at work, I’m challenging you to step off the treadmill and climb up a wall, because the view is sure to make you feel exponentially better.

Like many sports, rock climbing is awesome for your physical health, as you’re sure to notice definition in your muscles and an overall improvement in your strength the more you practice — not to mention, the endorphins are pretty great, too. But, as important as it may be for rock climbers to have physical strength, Mammut pro climber, Sierra Blair-Coyle, says climbing also takes, and encourages, mental strength. “No matter how strong you are, if you do not approach the route/boulder in the correct way with good technique, you won’t be able to do the route/boulder,” Blair-Coyle tells Elite Daily over email. This technique, she says, "forces the body and minds of rock climbers to constantly be thinking on the wall," which inspires a sort of mind-body mentality outside the sport, as well.

I know myself, and I’ve never considered rock climbing to be much more than an exhilarating workout. Though, come to think of it, the only real memory I have of rock climbing was making it to the top of a very large wall in fifth grade. My class applauded for me, it was a great time. But aside from rock climbing being a challenging sport, this specific physical activity is recognized by many people as an incredible form of stress relief, not to mention it's super beneficial for your mental health in the long run. So if you’re looking to work off some steam or gain some mental clarity, here are the top five mental health benefits of rock climbing that experts say you'll reap.

Climbing Teaches You Patience

Rome wasn't built in a day, and unless you're a natural, rock climbing machine, chances are, this sport isn't going to be super easy to master from the get-go. The thing is, the concept of rock climbing isn't exactly complex, right? You slip on a harness and scale a wall with your bare hands and feet. In reality, however, Amanda Murdock, director of fitness at Daily Burn, says this kind of physical activity actually requires "a lot of time and patience to build the musculature and knowledge of form to be successful in your climbs." In other words, practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to rock climbing.

"Being proficient at rock climbing takes a lot of patience," Murdock tells Elite Daily. She adds that, when you come to understand that everything worth doing takes time, that life lesson is one you can apply off the wall in your everyday life.

Climbing Helps You Understand Fear, And How To Overcome It

What are you afraid of? Personally, I'm afraid of a lot of things, and heights is definitely one of my biggest fears. According to Murdock, a fear of heights is something a lot of people experience at the start of their climbing ventures, but in learning how to work through that fear, Murdock tells Elite Daily, this is yet another life skill that can be applied outside the sport. "When you master [trust, communication, and patience]," she says, "you will understand that you are safe and your fear is just an emotion."

In addition to helping you hone these mental skills, Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, adds that climbing can help you work through your fears on a physiological level as well. When you climb, Glatter tells Elite Daily, your body releases dopamine (a reward hormone), serotonin (a happy hormone), and norepinephrine (a chemical that regulates your homes), which, together, "serve as a natural and empowered approach" to your mental health, he explains.

It Also Teaches You How To Think More Mindfully

From what I understand, patience and mindfulness go hand in hand, and both can be learned through your climbing practice. In fact, Joe Prebich, Mammut North American CEO, says one of the best things about rock climbing is that the sport forces you to literally look at and consider every step and every move.

"In life, this is more important than ever; people are busy, and having those moments of elevated heart rate to truly focus on you and the challenge in front of you is what really makes climbing a perfect escape," Prebich tells Elite Daily. And because you're constantly forced to assess every situation, surrounding, and adjust when necessary, the sport keeps your mind "extraordinarily engaged and active," he says.

Climbing On A Regular Basis Can Be A Great Stress Reliever

Granted, I totally understand if the idea of climbing massive, high boulders or walls, with only small holds to grip and step on, doesn't exactly sound relaxing to you. But, according to Eric Hinman, a Denver-based rock climber and CrossFit and Ironman athlete for The GO Life, one of the most powerful benefits of climbing for your mental health is stress relief.

Now, don't be fooled: "Rock climbing certainly is an incredible stressor," Hinman tells Elite Daily, and the sheer act of climbing certainly isn’t easy. But, he adds, "the more times you expose your nervous system and your mind to these stressors, the less small stressors are gong to bother you." In other words, rock climbing is sort of a twisted kind of reverse psychology. And while you might feel a little freaked out in the moment, once you've made it to the top of the wall (or mountain, boulder, what have you), the daily stressors in life might just seem a whole lot smaller.

It Strengthens Your Mind-Body Connection

"Climbing is both a physical and mentally involved sport," professional rock climber Sasha DiGuilian tells Elite Daily. "You’re constantly confronted with these puzzles to solve — putting together seemingly impossible sequences and individual physically challenging movements," while also "using your upper body to pull, your lower body to push, and your core to maintain the connection with the wall."

Having a strong mind-body connection is also really important when grappling with a mental health struggle. As previously mentioned, your physical and mental health feed off of one another, and if you're experiencing a ton of stress or anxiety, eventually your body is going to respond to your hyperactive, nervous state of mind. Rock climbing teaches you how to listen to both your intuition and your body, and it shows you how to adjust accordingly so that you not only make the right decisions, but feel safe doing so, too.