Did you know that climbing can really help with our mental health, it allows us the opportunity to slow down and focus on something both mentally and physically; it can also help to stretch our comfort zones and meet new people!  We’re really excited to be working with The Chalk Effect Climbing Project who will be running 1:1 sessions for those that experience anxious feelings. We caught up with Yasmin, the well-being advisor and programme design lead for the Chalk Effect Climbing Project to learn more about the project, the benefits of climbing and what they can offer for you!

Hi Yasmin, it’s great to talk to you and it’s amazing that you’re going to be offering sessions at The Tide! If you could start by introducing yourself and how you got in to climbing?

I’m Yasmin, and I’m the well-being advisor/programme design lead for the Chalk Effect Climbing Project. I’ve only been climbing for 2 years, but I feel like I’ve taken to it quite well as I’ve always been very active and grew up doing ballet and contemporary dance. There are definitely some cross-overs between dance and climbing! My partner first introduced me to climbing – he’s been climbing for over 20 years. Climbing has become more than just a hobby to me, it goes beyond simply being a physical pursuit.

What is The Chalk Effect Project?

The Chalk Effect Project was created by our director, Jordan, in 2020. He spent 2020 researching, making connections and completing lengthy funding applications! Having climbed most of his life, and using it to provide clarity and peace through his own struggles, Jordan knew that climbing had the potential to help others too. He wanted to give back and share the social, physical, and psychological benefits of climbing with others who may be struggling with their mental health. The Chalk Effect Project promotes empowerment through shared experience, and uses aspects of mindfulness, exposure, CBT, and reflection. We offer group sessions and one-to-one programmes. Both have their benefits. For example, group work can be great for those who struggle with interpersonal skills as a result of trauma or anxiety. However, a one-to-one may be more appropriate to start with for someone who has severe social anxiety, for instance. We work with clients over a course of 8-12 weeks (or more) and focus on a variety of areas such as goal-setting, distress tolerance, communication skills, self-love (and many more). These topics are intertwined with the climbing. The skills learned in our sessions are very transferrable to real-world scenarios.

How can climbing help and how has it helped you in the past/present!?

Climbing is just as much about mental strength as it is physical strength. We learn to deal with our own limitations, practice patience, face fear, manage expectations, and be mindful.
Mindfulness is often thought of as sitting still and creating a blank and peaceful state of mind. While this may be true for some, that is not what we do at Chalk. We promote active mindfulness. This trauma-informed approach incorporates physical activity, deliberation, and focus on breath work. This is often more effective than simply sitting and trying to clear
your mind. Mindfulness techniques are used throughout the sessions to help with distress tolerance and lack of self-belief.
To give a more specific example of how climbing can help, I will use social anxiety as an example as it is one of the most common anxiety disorders we see. When an individual with social anxiety learns to feel comfortable climbing in front of others, they learn that people really aren’t paying that much attention what they are doing. This overestimation of how
much attention others pay to us is a cognitive bias known as ‘the flashlight effect’, and is extremely heightened in those with social anxiety. This often leads to a cycle of avoidance due to fear of negative evaluation from others. The more exposure individuals have to these feelings, the more the brain learns that those social situations are not a threat, and therefore, challenging those irrational thoughts becomes easier over time. This helps individuals to break the avoidance cycle. This exposure is learned in a safe and controlled environment and then provides the individual with the tools for tackling fearful situations in everyday life. For me, climbing facilitates a sense of spiritual connection to the world. It provides an ‘oceanic feeling’, a term coined by the French writer Romain Rolland, who referred to it as a feeling of “being one with the external world as a whole”. Climbing is a truly embodied process. I also enjoy the mental process of breaking down a climb and overcoming mini challenges (mental and physical) in order to achieve the overarching goal of completing a climb. It’s so easy to get frustrated when you can’t do a move and get caught up in the egotistical negative self-evaluations, but overtime I have learnt that some things are just too hard for me at that point in time, and that’s OK! Climbing has taught me to be kinder to myself. Recognising and managing limitations can be hard, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for everyday life.

What positive impacts have you seen on your service users?

Jordan has worked with many clients since starting sessions in 2021. He regularly tells me about the rewarding experiences he’s had watching a client overcome their fears and do things they didn’t think they were capable of. This has a profound effect on clients’ self-efficacy – they learn that their body and mind needn’t be trapped within the confines of
their negative self-evaluations. Clients report feeling more confident, more resilient, and find the social aspect of the climbing really uplifting and fulfilling.

Why would you recommend climbing?
The benefits of climbing for mental health are endless! An important aspect of the Chalk Effect Project is the social connection and trust – this can’t be attained in traditional therapies. Clients learn to trust the instructor in rope climbing, this is something which may be difficult for those who have experienced trauma, abuse, and/or severe anxiety. However, overtime clients build a trusting relationship with the instructor and learn important communication skills. Furthermore, through bouldering clients can learn to trust themselves and their own decisions – an invaluable skill for navigating all
aspects of everyday life and healthy relationships.

Anything else you would like to add (any other upcoming sessions etc that you’re running!) 

Chalk was set up in West Cornwall, therefore most of our groups up to now have run from Granite Planet. However, we have since made connections with social prescribers in the Wadebridge area and are now expanding to reach more people. Therefore, we hope to use the Tide for more groups, 1:1 sessions, and workshops moving forwards. We are currently
running a new 1:1 programme called Reaching New Heights which incorporates aspects of DBT and CBT, but this is almost full. However, we intend on creating new groups at The Tide in September once the 8-week programme has finished. We are also hoping to run a few one-off mental health; wellbeing workshops at The Tide over the summer – we will provide more information about this soon.

We want to take the time to thank Yasmin and Jordan for providing such an important service and we can’t wait to see new climbers at The Tide! If you, or someone you know may benefit from this please get in touch with The Chalk Effect.