Falling seems to be everyone’s least favorite thing, mainly because it can be scary!
It’s important to note that fear is entirely natural, it’s your body trying to keep you from harm. Identifying fear can be essential to learning how to work through or exist alongside fear, so before we get into the questions I left you last time, I want to offer you some background on fear in general.
There’s 5 main fears all of us share, according to Dr. Karl Albrecht.
- Extinction – death
- Mutilation – bodily harm
- Loss of autonomy – being physically confined / restricted, immobilized or paralyzed
- Fear of separation – being rejected, abandoned
- “Ego-death” humiliation, shame, worthlessness
We often have to confront of each of these types of fear when we rock climb, and they all happen to be present in falling. Remember though, these fears are completely human and can be tough to work through, they’re big and potentially woven pretty deep into us. Try not to judge yourself for having them and instead of being upset by their presence let’s try offering ourselves a little empathy for being human and get to know our fears so we can learn how to quiet them.
Now let’s go back to the questions from last time, and I’ll offer some lines of thinking that could be helpful:
Are you scared of heights?
Heights are inherent to rock climbing.
The best tool you have is simply taking small steps. 5ft up one day, 6ft the next. Gentle exposure increases comfort automatically, so slowly expanding your comfort bubble is a great way to start working with this fear.
Also, a fear of heights can often be triggered by the visual stimulus of looking down. So really, don’t look down.
(not to go without mentioning, there’s something to be said about your energy moving in the direction of your focus, so if you’re staring at the ground instead of where you “want” to go, you’re not just not helping yourself out)
Untrusting of equipment?
I’ve always been a fairly trusting person in life and I started off that way with my gear too. Where I started climbing, bolts are regularly replaced by the local climber’s coalition and really well maintained. It wasn’t until I started climbing places that weren’t as taken care of that I learned more about inspecting fixed gear and what to put your life on.
Not everyone is like me though. Some people have a harder time trusting gear to keep them safe, and my advice is get to know your equipment!
Research and learn to inspect/take care of every piece of your personal gear. When it comes to safety equipment–all of that is really rigorously tested. If that doesn’t quiet your mind, read the info packets with your gear, look up the tests online or at places like the Petzl Institute in SLC. I’ve also found thorough and regular gear inspections to be really helpful. Petzl has inspection checklists available to the public. Take the time to look at your gear. I do a monthly rope and rack inspection. learn more about where you’re climbing, learn how to identify and report bad bolts and who is replacing them.
Donate to you’re local crag maintainers! Route maintenance isn’t cheap.
Are you scared climbing above your last quickdraw because the distance of the fall concerns you?
Same as in the last question, to mitigate this fear I’ve found the most powerful tool for me has been knowledge.
I did a bunch of research on falling, the physics and mechanics of it all. Being able to define and measure a fall and its impact made a huge difference.
The internet is full of resources on this.
Are you scared untrusting of your belayer or spotter?
Then why are they spotting or belaying you? You have every right to be as picky as you want about the person who has your life in their hands. There are things we can and should do to help our belayer or spotter understand our needs. The biggest thing is to communicate. Talk about what kind of coaching you need or don’t, where you might be scared or where you may fall. Tell them how you’re feeling and how you like to be belayed or spotted. No one can know your needs if you don’t communicate them.
Does bouldering freak you out because every fall is a ground fall?
Every bouldering fall has potential risk. We can mitigate that by learning to fall properly, placing pads clean and correctly, and a using a spotter.
Personally, I’ve taken huge steps back in my bouldering after a knee injury I received during a boulder fall. I struggle now with getting high off the ground and often need a spotter but I am open with whoever I boulder with about my fears and how emotional I can be. Communicating about it allows creates a safe space where I have armed my support system with information.
With most of these questions, a pretty clear theme is the fear of physical harm, but before we close this episode, lets quickly address the remaining fears– rejection and humiliation.
Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us have some of our ego involved in our climbing. If climbing has become a part of your identity it can be especially hard to separate our climbing performance from our self-worth. I know that I’m 100% guilty of being angry at myself for not climbing how I thought I should have. It’s important to give yourself the grace and understanding that not every climbing day is our best day and progress is not linear. There are a million and one reasons why we fall, and falling is never indicative of your value. I like to often view falling as an indication of how hard you are trying, how much you are willing to push yourself. Whether it’s a fall from a V0 or a 5.13, falling means that your climbing outside of what’s easy for you, and that’s awesome!
Reframing our relationship with falling can be difficult but perspective shifts make all the difference. All the energy we spend being angry or upset over a fall could be redirected to our next burn, and visualizing success- something that may actually work in your favor.
Energy is a currency, everything we do costs a little, choose carefully how you spend yours.
Tools to take away:
Acknowledge your fear, say it out loud and accept it as it is. Knowing, “I’m fearful that my rope wont catch me” will help you make a plan of action to start working through your fear. It can seem like acknowledging what you’re afraid of makes it more real, but in reality ignoring fear will only cause it to grow even bigger.
Have a fall practice day. Have your belayer call out “fall”, when they say it, do it! No matter what. Fall practice in a controlled setting where risk is as minimal as possible can make you feel more comfortable with falling as a whole. Bouldering? Practice safe falls there too. Start low and move higher as you feel comfortable, all with perfect feet-to-butt-to-back rolling form. Rolling is much safer than trying to stick the landing.
Understand your own limitations
There is a big difference between being fearful of a situation and taking small steps to work through it, and being an absolute wreck with fear and putting yourself in a position to make dangerous choices because you’re too distracted.
Take an honest inventory of yourself before you climb. Your anxiety or worry may not even be related to climbing that day, but regardless of why it’s important to know where your headspace is each day. It’s perfectly okay if today isn’t the day for a big push on your project. Sometimes taking a small step back is the smartest thing to do.
Love and Sends, Tuesday