I have been asked numerous times if people with Anxiety should be doing certain mountain sports and the words of Tirol Info sum up my thoughts; “Never try to climb a mountain without being prepared”. This doesn’t just mean taking extra loo roll, spare knickers or additional snacks. For people with Anxiety, this means extra preparation such as being comfortable that you can manage your anxiety outdoors or even on a vertical rock face, having a plan if things go tits up, or understanding actual danger vs irrational anxiety worry.
Why do people do mountain sports?
There are many factors to consider, but firstly let’s think about why people may take part in mountain sports:
- Achievement: People aspire to run a half marathon, get promoted at work, get a degree, have kids, not drink alcohol, the list is endless. For mountain lovers, this could be to climb a peak, or complete a certain expedition. When you successfully finish an expedition, the sense of achievement is immense and this euphoric feeling can last for weeks and be triggered every time you think about the expedition. Even if you don’t successfully finish an expedition, this doesn’t mean failure, it means that you have listened to your body, the conditions and learned how to read a situation. This is an achievement with beautiful scenery. Either way, it is win win in the mountains.
- Fitness: mountain fitness is a different type of fitness compared to your usually gym session. Alpine-guides.com describe it as doing cardiovascular for extended periods of time with the added benefits of nature and scenery and they have noticed that people who always train indoors are never as mountain fit as those who regularly get their boots or trainers muddy. Personally when doing mountain sports, I feel free from Anxiety and fitter both physically and mentally.
- Experience: the best things in life don’t come for free. Amazing views and scenery.
Outdoor lovers would always rather workout in nature; there is something priceless about going to the loo with a view and having mother nature blow away the smell of sweat from under your armpits. If a gym helps you manage stress and anxiety then go for it and check out @_findingherway_ on Instagram. If mountains make you feel good, then you’re in the right place!
- Balance and positivity: being outdoors can help you to de-stress and clear your mind. If you set yourself a challenge to reach a summit and you do it, this could unleash your positive monkey and increase self-esteem along with a little squirt of endorphins. Even if you are unable to make the summit, you still made it out into nature, which is a positive thing. According to the BMC, hiking can help to heal our brains, help us concentrate and make us more creative and can help treat depression. This clearly explains why I have turned into a blogging extraordinaire.
- Present: being outdoors enables us to enjoy natural things in life and concentrate on living in the moment. Sometimes inside or in a city, we are surrounded by shops, TV’s and advertisements and are made to believe that we need things that we actually don’t need. Being outdoors enables you to get to grips with what you actually need in life.
Now we have highlighted why people might participate in mountain sports, we can think about the original question: should people with Anxiety participate in mountain sports. It is important to realise that if the situation is not considered properly, you could put yourself and others in danger. From my experience and perspective, there are pros and cons to people with Anxiety participating in mountain sports. I am a living example that you can participate with anxiety, but here are a few things to consider:
- Anxiety Management: where are you in the journey of anxiety management? i.e. are you able to control panic attacks and differentiate between irrational fears and something that is actually unsafe? When I first participated in adventure activities, I was able to manage my basic anxiety. Do you have a plan in your head if certain things trigger worry or panic? If not, then work with your doctor and mental health professional to come up with solutions to help you manage your anxiety. Additionally, check out some of the blogs listed on the resource page, they might provide handy tips on managing the basics of your anxiety.
- Fitness: Are you fit for the activity in question? There would be nothing worse than being mid via-ferrata and not being able to carry on due to exhaustion. The thought of this could heighten anxiety and create a bad experience. No one wants a bad experience; the idea is to create good experiences to aid with anxiety management. Let’s be honest, who would want to be lifted off the side of a mountain on a helicopter winch. Erm… no thanks.
- Activity Level: if you are able to manage your anxiety, have you tried easy activities to wean yourself into harder activities? For example, if your goal is to do a via ferrata, it wouldn’t be ideal to start off on the Pidinger; this has a 90-120min walk to the start of the via ferrata (uphill), then is 3-4 hours on the via ferrata, which is a grade D (they are graded A-E) and then over 2 hours descending. Perhaps starting on something similar to the Lehner Waterfall in Ötztal would be ideal for a beginner. I did the Pidinger last year, but I had worked up to it and was mentally in a very strong place.
- Qualified Guide: will you have a qualified guide with you? A guide will be able to judge which activity is suitable depending on your experience, fitness and mental mindset.
With all those points in mind, don’t let your anxiety ruin your life. With Anxiety Outdoors, it is possible to live a good quality of life and achieve the goals you want to achieve. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu.
What are your thoughts?
Love and peace