One of my bucket-list goals before I die is to climb Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro. Where did this come from? I’m not entirely sure. Yet something about climbing the tallest two mountains in the world has always appealed to me: I like challenges, and I can see no greater challenge to my physical and mental fortitude. However, even though I try to work out regularly, I’ve never gone rock climbing in my life. Therefore, keeping this bucket-list goal in mind, I decided to grab some friends and go rock climbing for my next adventure.
Rock climbing, as I found through my research, has been used as a technique to improve mental health. It requires high concentration and coordination, activates intense emotions, can be varied according to the individual’s fitness level and can be performed in groups. It has been commonly used as a form of therapy in studies for anxiety, depression, cognition, self-esteem and even improving oneself socially. Interestingly, rock climbing has also been shown to increase self-efficacy, as seen in a study of special needs children. Additionally, in a study comparing the effects of rock climbing to caving in delinquent youth, rock climbing was found to satisfy independence and feel rewarding significantly more than what was seen in those caving.
I was especially excited to go rock climbing because it seems to have become a bit of a fad at my school. I was the only one in the group who hadn’t gone rock climbing before, but I thought (hoped) that my current workout routine would be sufficient to keep up with the rest of the group. I got up to five rocks — six rocks? — and after realizing that there was nowhere to put my foot next, I ended up clinging to the rocks for the next five minutes and then falling down. The next couple of tries resulted similarly. Then, on my fifth and last try, I managed to get to the halfway point, which I consider a huge success.
As everyone had promised, I felt a huge sense of satisfaction after climbing (even if I didn’t reach the top) and it was also really cool to be so far off the ground. It’s demanding in a different way from organized sports, and requires the use of different muscles from the ones I normally train at the gym. In addition, compared to any other activity so far, I just felt a sense of fun — like the kind of fun I had as a kid when goofing off in the playground. It was definitely a throwback to my preschool days, and I can definitely see why rock-climbing is touted as a stress-relieving, self-esteem building activity.
My advice to others interested in rock climbing is to find a rock-climbing group — it is always more fun to do it with lots of supportive people surrounding you and cheering you on! I also recommend you start out in a gym as opposed to outdoors. Wear comfortable clothes and be prepared to get discouraged — but don’t give up. For those who have a fear of heights, this activity might be a little bit more daunting. However, I’ve learned from rock climbing peers with previous fears that rock climbing actually helps alleviate said fears, which can hugely improve one’s self-confidence and mental psyche. Above all, have fun channeling your inner child!
A very important topic is that of mental health in medical practitioners, notably medical students. According to a study in the Student British Medical Journal, 30 percent of medical students report having a mental health condition — with a majority of 80 percent stating the level of available support was poor or only moderately adequate. This column was born from these alarming statistics and aims to stimulate conversation on mental health in medical students, from providing suggestions on how to maintain one’s mental health to discussing the taboo and stigma surrounding conversations on mental health in practitioners and students, and how to eliminate it.