By Jessica Wilkinson
I was never entirely sporty. I sampled several of my school’s clubs, including cycling, badminton, running – but I didn’t completely adore any of them. And looking back, I think I see why.
The social aspect of sports is a huge appeal to most. But for me, it was a chore, even a hindrance. My fear kept me from doing things like football or basketball; the speed and pressure of the competition and the possibility of letting down a huge group of people seemed incomparably scary. Plus, the idea of exercise can be intimidating; perhaps because you don’t know how to work the machines at the gym, or you may be afraid to play in a team of people in contact sports. This feeling used to be all too familiar to me – and it still can be.
It was this fear that made the Physical section of my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) pretty daunting. I had to choose a sport and commit to it for six whole months. The decision was quite a task, but somehow, I ended up choosing rock climbing. Something relaxed, something not heavy on teamwork.
But rock climbing is very much a two-person job, with one on the wall, and another belaying with ropes at the bottom. You rely on each other for safety and support, and communication is key. I suppose I didn’t consider any of that.
So, for my first few times trying climbing, I struggled. At the indoor centre, I was partnered up with another girl my age,
and I was unable to make eye contact with her. She’d ask me a question, I’d stammer a short reply. I did a few easy walls and tried bouldering (traversing across a couple of metre high walls without a rope). But while it was difficult, and my arm strength and general athleticism needed work, I found myself enjoying it. So much so, that after the six months I was required to do for DofE had passed, I kept climbing at that sports centre for almost three years. Building up my confidence took the better part of two.
I think I was mainly silent for the first few months. Every mistake I made felt catastrophically humiliating. However, I soon progressed to keeping up a few conversations while climbing, hesitantly laughing at my partner’s comments. Then, slowly, it became easier and easier to talk, to just enjoy myself. I felt my confidence growing and my fitness improving every time I went. Plus, the concentration and problem-solving climbing requires (doing your best not to fall and working out the best route to take is) served as a distraction from anything bothering me. It was incredible how my worries just faded into the back of my mind as I threw myself into scaling those walls.
By the time I left that climbing centre to move onto a new one, I was practically a different person. Not only had I become a skilled(-ish) climber, with my sessions being one of the highlights of my week, I had begun the journey to overcoming my social anxiety. I’d probably be a different person today if I hadn’t been thrust into taking that step, to try and surpass the metaphorical walls in my way.
I didn’t think that something as simple as exercise would be able to impact me the way it has. Part of my apprehension to do something physical was due to self-consciousness, and of course, my anxiety holding me back. For those who are experiencing something similar to me – give rock climbing, or any form of exercise a try. There’s no pressure to be the greatest. Just put yourself out there. It may impact you in the same way as me, and set you on your own journey to overcoming any walls in your way.
Exercise for Anxiety
By Jessica Wilkinson