Are you flipping your lid?
Have you ever felt like you’ve completely lost control of your brain and body on the wall?
When you left the ground, all of the risk involved with climbing the route in front of you felt completely reasonable. You knew the fall was within your ability, that the falling terrain was clear of obstacles, and that you had an experienced belayer. You had decided that you would stay committed to challenging moves even if you weren’t sure that you could make them.
Now, just five minutes later, you are clinging to the wall and sobbing, or maybe lashing out at your belayer, or maybe even feeling too paralyzed to say or do anything. You want to talk yourself out of it- the bolt is clipped at your waist, after all, but it’s as if your body isn’t listening.
You might have flipped your lid.
In this video from Dan Siegel, Siegel provides a metaphor for how the brain functions using the “hand model” of the brain. He describes how, when we experience enough stress, communication dramatically decreases between the parts of our brain that control our threat response system and the parts of our brain that control our rational thinking and analysis. Even if we are typically a very “rational” person, when our lid is flipped, we are unlikely to be able to think our way out of a situation.
So what can we do?
When our lid is flipped, it’s important to first signal to our body that we are safe. Depending on the situation, this can mean decreasing or removing the stressor or we might be able to signal to the body that it is safe using internal and external awareness drills that orient us back to what is actually happening. Until our threat response isn’t in overdrive, we will continue to struggle to take in coaching from ourselves or others that appeals to our rational brain.
A helpful question can be:
What would be a small step that I could take to feel safer or more comfortable right now without completely disengaging from the experience?
Can I take one step down and shake out? Can I ask for a take and then try again? Do I need to swing around on the rope or look around at the landscape, looking for something that I might have missed before when I was having tunnel vision? This curiosity can lead us in the direction of integration, where all parts of the brain are working together and we feel like our favorite version of ourselves.
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After a take or a fall I always see another pinch or toe I missed. I say, “I should have zigged instead of zagged “. 😏
Totally! It’s wild how much more we see once we feel less stressed. It’s interesting to explore the feedback in both directions on this- using our eyes to direct our attention outward can decrease the stress that we are experiencing and promote integration of the different “parts” of the brain. Decreasing the stress level also makes it easier to notice things with our eyes!
I was belaying 2 people who definitely “flipped their lids” this weekend at The Red. One very experienced climber and one beginner. The beginning climber was on a top rope and the experienced one was attempting a challenging on-site of a long exposed PG-13, 11b off width trad climb. Each climber had a similar out of control, crying, hand wringing experience that verged on traumatic. The top rope climber was physically not in any danger. The trad climber was about as objectively safe as you can be on such a climb (on take after building robust gear nest with a clean fall). It was a pretty intense experience to be apart of. The novice said “I don’t know what happened!! I looked down and just couldn’t control myself” and was lowered to the ground. The trad leader eventually finished the route after about a hour and said that was “the biggest freakout I’ve ever had climbing even though I knew that I was objectively safe.” He apologized for the “drama” and thanked me for my patience. This was a timely post.