Focus. Breath. Rest. It’s a mantra climbers have repeated countless times while climbing. Focus, plan and execute the next move. Breath, find your center. Rest, take a short break to reset the brain. Achieving an ascent relies on these simple but effective stress management methods, and they can help us today as we deal with the stresses of self-isolation and quarantining.
In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, it’s easy to look at the news and feel anxious and stressed—and by extension hopeless. With cases increasing daily and a looming recession, managing anxiety is difficult but crucial. I’ve found that applying the skills I’ve developed through more than a decade of climbing—focusing on my immediate objectives, staying relaxed, and controlling my breathing—can help manage that stress. And these techniques aren’t limited to climbers; anyone can do them.
Control your breathing
As simple as it seems, managing breathing is incredibly helpful when dealing with stress both on and off the wall. Breath control helps climbers balance on tricky moves and find calm when they need to make their next clip. Similarly, controlling breathing is a key stress management tool for staying relaxed and focused now.
Jo Mary Bolles, a child and family psychologist, explains the physiological effects of deep breathing. According to her, controlled deep breaths “give your brain a shot of soothing neurochemicals,” effectively helping relax it. When you feel like you’re getting overloaded with negative news and anxiety, step back and breathe deeply to relax your brain and refocus on more immediate concerns.
Focus on the now
A major part of climbing is focusing on the next sequence of moves. When we climb we don’t think about the entire face we’re on—only how we’ll get to the next bolt. The same proactive, short term approach can apply to managing COVID related stress.
Because much is still unknown about the virus, we can’t plan for the next six months or year. We can plan for the next day, week, or month though. Planning and completing tasks like a home improvement project, weekly meal prep or exercise keeps you productive and feeling proactive instead of unprepared and isolated.
“One of the reasons we are being told to stay at home is that it’s something many of us can control,” says Bolles.
Being proactive has a bigger effect than just what you accomplish in the short term. It also helps establish a sense of agency in the midst of crisis. You might not be able to develop a cure, but you can make small efforts to improve your home or help your neighborhood while it plays out. Keeping to a proactive schedule also helps manage rest time, a key component of dealing with stress.
Get your rest in
While climbing, proactive resting is vital to preventing our bodies (and brains) from overloading. Effective resting not only lets us recharge our batteries on the wall, but also gives us a chance to control our breathing and clear our heads. Resting helps us give our muscles a break, as well as calming our jitters.
Resting during COVID doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping or napping, but any low energy, meditative activity that helps you regain your focus and give your brain downtime. The key is to give the brain time off to not think about anything—weeding your garden is meditative, planning your landscape project is not.
“I know songwriters,” says Bolles, “who say that there is something about giving your brain a break from what it is trying to do that allows it to reorganize.”
These skills, when practiced together, can help us all stay in the present and be productive. Remembering to focus on actionable goals, giving our brains downtime and establishing steady breathing patterns not only helps manage stress but keeps us proactive under pressure. When we can take care of the small things makes it that much easier to break the big things down to manageable chunks.
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