When I was in high school, it wasn’t particularly a athletic individual. I used to bench the junior baseball team and dropped out of the freshman basketball team after two weeks.
And yet I still wanted to find a sport suitable for me, so I chose the climbing. I didn’t do well either, but I liked the feeling it gave me. It seemed like she helped me focus. On Fridays, I became a distracted mix of hormones and teenage angst. On Sundays, I hung terrified fifty feet off the ground, and on Monday schoolwork seemed easier. like something so spooky can make the world seem less chaotic and stressful?
There is no doubt that the exercise it’s good for your heart and mental health. Or that calming activities like yoga and tai chi can help us feel refreshed and recharged. But what about less calm activities? Is parkour jumping off a roof or hitting a tennis ball on the court good for the mind?
You traditional exercise psychologists may say no, because anything that raises stress hormones, whether through fear or aggression, is not good for the mental health. Smaller studies have reinforced this conviction; one suggested that “the competitive nature” of squash is less relaxing than weight or circuit exercise, while another found that adding stress to a bike exercise compromises immune function. And certainly this year of the Olympics was a lesson in the dangers of overstressing elite athletes on and off the field.
But this does not mean that emotions like stress or aggression do not take place in the exercise. Almost every athlete passionate about the sport will say that their sport is a mental help and physics, at the same time. You need to clear your mind, get some of the pressure off. For some, these seemingly negative emotions during exercise are the only reason to exercise.
Being terrified is a good life skill
It may seem strange that, for me, the best way to deal with stress is to basically flood my brain with it, but without things like rock climbing or kayaking, I don’t think I could make it through these past 17 months.
You adrenaline sports have long been known to war veterans who deal with cancer disorder. post-traumatic stress. A group of creative German scientists also experimented with rock climbing as a form of depression therapy. The results were moderately good, but the very fact that scientists chose to climb suggests some emotional benefits of fear. As strange as it sounds, the fear can be deep therapeutic.
Omer Mei Dan, orthopedic surgeon from Boulder, researcher and former professional jumper from base-jumping, and Erik Monasterio, a forensic psychologist at the Otego University of New Zealand and a mountaineer ever since, have tried for years to understand the role that extreme elite athletes’ personalities play in choosing to risk their own lives and then processing these experiences. They’ve found time and again that for people who climb or jump off cliffs as a form of work they score high on their need to look for new things and a low “pathologically” concern about getting injured.
“They need to overcome themselves, designing a really difficult route in the climbing, at the windsurf, trying some new trick,” said dr. Monastery. He and dr. Mei Dan even suggested that these personality traits confer some kind of resistance to psychological traumas.
For some, they said, it’s possible to experience the fear it’s the stress while flying in a half pipe with your skateboard or jumping out of an airplane train your brain to handle these emotions at other times in life.
Release some dammed energy
Psychologists formerly considered the human mind like a tube or hose that occasionally gets clogged with emotions, and that people need to release the pressure to stay healthy. THE “catharsis theory“, as it was known, said that if you’re angry, you should go out and hammer some nails.
This concept didn’t help much, in part because researchers found that when angry people relieve themselves by hammering nails, they will often return to feeling just as angry (or even more angry) than before. And yet catharsis is real; it’s a good cry watching a sad movie or even a night of eating the hottest tacos you can stand. Crying in particular can help us process emotions and release the anxiety, said Lauren M. Bylsma, an expert on emotions at the University of Pittsburgh. And that’s why athletes should feel good after a competitive game or a scary ski race.
“When you have a high degree of emotion and then there’s that discharge, it can provide this cathartic experience and you feel this release of tension,” she said. “I’ve seen the application of this not just to crying or sadness, but also to fear”.
Sometimes a little aggressiveness can help
So how to explain the negative emotions that occasionally help us clear our minds?
“We can’t clearly separate emotions into positive or negative,” said Abigail Marsh, associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University and author of The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psycopaths, and Everyone In Between (The Fear Factor: How an Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone in Between, in free translation). “THE anger, for some people, is described as a negative feeling. But others describe it as a positive feeling” .
This could not be more obvious in competitive youth sports than Dr. Marsh called it “a formalized, culturally accepted form of aggression.” There are parents who put naughty children in football, karate, or wrestling in the hope that they will somehow find a balance. But does this work?
Many studies over the years have shown that young people, often men, who participate in aggressive sports tend to approve of violence, and even to resort to it more often than people who engage in other sports or who are not athletes. But Mitch Abrams, a sports psychologist from Tinton Falls, NJ, and an expert in health control. anger in athletics, I said this is a bit exaggerated.
For some people, he says, using aggressive feelings in a sport can help control their feelings. He even occasionally prescribes aggressive activities such as martial arts, as a way to face the trauma. But he’s also cautious and doesn’t prescribe this to people with tantrums, saying that it takes a certain degree of maturity to control aggression.
“There is a risk,” he said. “If you feel better after hitting something, you can probably hit something again in the future.”
rest and digest
The most important thread that connects the intense emotions to exercise may be less to psychology and more to biology. Both fear and aggression trigger the sympathetic nervous system – the so-called response of fight or flight.
By doing this, then they can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system also called “rest and digest“. Sympathetic system responses are defined by a high level of cortisol, hypertension and rapid heartbeat, sweat and dilated pupils. On the other hand, the parasympathetic reactions provoke low pressure and heart beats, increased metabolism and, most importantly, a cortisol cleaning by the system. It is the deep, almost spiritual calm that comes after the storm.
The Doctor. Monasterio said it took him a few years of climbing as a teenager to identify this. “At the time, I didn’t realize what was turning me on – which is this calm that followed extreme exercise.”
The answers of the parasympathetic are difficult to stimulate, although some claim that breathing exercises and meditation can produce them. But the simplest way to get to that calm is to stimulate a fight-or-flight response. Alejandro Lucas Mulas, a researcher at the European University of Madrid, who has studied the parasympathetic system in sports, found that the feeling after intense exercise can last for hours, making a person calmer, happier and less likely to explode or get stressed.
I recently discovered the pleasure of exercising with a boxing dummy (with a particularly good punching face), which gives me a sense of release like climbing, but which can be done closer to home. Am I chasing a response from the parasympathetic? Do I look for emotion or do I look for post-emotion? In the end, it’s not clear whether science already has the clear answer.
Of course, when I’m terrified on top of a rock somewhere, I’m not having much fun at that moment, but just desperately trying to get to safety. Only later, tired and somewhat battered, looking at the top of the mountains at sunset, can I really enjoy the climb. And I walk back along the trail, totally tired, and smiling, relaxed, ready to face the week ahead. / TRANSLATION BY ANNA CAPOVILLA
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