“I thought you worked out?”
I wasn’t even half way up the mountain trail yet. My lungs burned as I gasped for air. My friend was giving me a hard time. He thought I would be in better shape.
“Yeah, but not at this altitude.” I reassured him. “Air’s too thin.” I tried to mutter in between breaths.
He laughed. He didn’t seem to be having such a difficult time.
I shook my head. We kept going. Eventually making it to the top.
In my pre-medicine days, I was a wannabe musician, a wannabe actor, a wannabe screenwriter, and a wannabe songwriter.
I once wrote a song about a guy that climbed mountains to escape his days of heartbreak and melancholy.
In the song, he made it seem easy.
Now, I’m a doctor. Two of the most common things I treat:
Can one help the other? How can I advocate getting high to help with depression? Let me explain.
Turns out, the song I wrote was somewhat prophetic.
Turns out, getting high can help cure depression.
But it may not be the kind of “high” you are thinking about.
There’s a new approach to treating depression: Bouldering.
What the heck is bouldering?
Bouldering is a form of mountain climbing.
That’s right, research has found that taking depressed people and having them climb up a mountain wall helps to heal their depression.
The mind is an amazing thing. The chemistry and circuitry that form to make you….you, is something to be marveled.
It is so powerful that the philosopher Descartes once said, “I think, therefore I am.”
In depression, the mind is hijacked. Thought processes become skewed. Physiological health often declines. People are more likely to die.
Depression causes sadness, sleep irregularities, lack of enjoyment, appetite changes, fatigue. In severe cases, people often think about dying. And in the most severe cases, suicide.
I use depression in the common sense of the term. There are several diagnoses the encompass depression: dysthymia, major depressive disorder, bipolar depression, psychosis with depression, perinatal depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
How do you treat depression? Well, it’s normally a combination of medication and counseling that works best.
There are over 100 medications for the treatment of depression. (And the possible side effects of these meds are even longer)
Counseling works for some. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an approach that I like (derived from Stoic philosophy).
And now, there’s climbing mountains.
The initial reports and research look promising to me. Bouldering can be done outside on a large rock or mountain. Or it can be done on a climbing wall.
The use of a climbing wall and safety harness makes bouldering highly accessible to many people. It can even be done inside in the air conditioning.
But how does it work to help depression? Well, I’m not completely sure. But here are a few ideas.
Your body makes natural “anti-depressant” chemicals.
Serotonin is one of these chemicals. Here’s a few ways you can use to try and increase your serotonin levels:
- positive self talk
Bouldering may have the ability to raise these chemicals. More research is needed.
People need people. This is a fact. And sometimes you need real live people. Not just Facebook.
In the studies done, people were put in groups and they climbed together.
By its nature, depression makes people want to close in on themselves. They have little drive or desire to be around others. This then becomes a vicious cycle.
It could be that because the subjects were put into a group activity, it was the social interaction that helped the most.
Bouldering gives you something to do and something to accomplish.
This is a good thing.
When you’re fighting depression, you often feel trapped inside your own skin. Afraid to venture out into the wild of the world.
Bouldering will require you to get better at something. Stronger. More confident.
Just by doing something, you are already in a better position than you were.
Life is an adventure. And you are the hero. But sometimes, you have to get out of your comfort zone and do something new to remind you of this.
Makes me think of the time my wife bought me a skydiving trip for my birthday. As soon as I opened the envelope and saw what it was, I had a panic attack. I told her “No Way I Will Ever Do This!”
And I didn’t.
Don’t be like me.
Bouldering requires intense concentration.
You have to know where your hands and feet are, and then you have to think about where they are going to be.
This concentration is a form of mindfulness. And mindfulness has been a useful tool for health and well-being for ages.
When the mind is focused on the task at hand, you aren’t thinking about your pain, your worries, your past, your brokenness.
The mountain only knows the NOW.
You may not be able to climb a wall, a boulder, or a mountain side. But, maybe you can try something else and get results. Try to find something that hits all the above points. Get creative.
You’ll never find what works for you if you don’t get started.
Here’s what works for me:
- I view life as an adventure
- I try new things (just not sky-diving or scuba-diving)
- I try to set and accomplish new goals for my life
- I want to help someone with some problem every day
- I want to surround myself with people that I love
- I try to keep my brain chemistry as naturally “high” as I can by exercising every day
- I live by a code
The idea is, maybe you don’t have the life you want. If you feel overwhelmed and depressed, start creating the world you think would be good to live in.
Depression may be a problem with your circumstances or your genetics or your environment or your chemicals. But you have some choices you can make. You still have a few cards left to play.
Find a mountain and start climbing.
You might not have access to a climbing wall.
But maybe, just maybe you could get the same results by trying something else. What could a little adventure hurt? You never know what’s around the corner.
If your life is in the valley, look up and start climbing.
Mountains are meant to be climbed.
I should probably tell you to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program or climbing a mountain. And please, if you suffer from depression, talk to someone. It could save your life.
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