Mental Health is a point of discussion right now, as people are more open in discussing their mental wellbeing as well as their physical wellbeing.
We asked our Martial Arts schools on how training can help relieve anxiety. Here is what they said.
Anxiety and the Martial Arts… Can it help?
Lucy Gray / Anxiety Coach & Owner at The Factory Martial Arts
Anxiety and the Martial Arts… Can it help?
Wow, when Nest asked me to write a blog on anxiety and the Martial Arts, it made me feel…well, anxious! “Oh, my goodness”, I hear you say, “the anxiety coach feels anxious, there’s no hope for me!” Let’s start by saying, anxiety is a totally normal feeling, it’s only when it becomes an everyday way of life and stops us from doing certain things that we need to explore why it occurs and what we can do overcome it.
So, let’s start by asking what is anxiety and how do you know if you have it? Two big questions, neither with a simple, nor generalised answer. Truth is, it is a different experience and feeling from person to person, however, let me try and explain the science behind it.
Martial Artists and coaches, have you ever heard of, or spoken about the fight or flight instinct? Many years ago, we needed this fight or flight response in dangerous situations to keep ourselves alive; think cave people needing to hunt for food and being chased by a ravenous lion or grizzly bear! In threatening situations, our bodies are pre-programmed with a survival instinct, and a part of our brain, called the Amygdala, sets off an alarm system. This system diverts energy away from your brain and stomach (yes, that’s the butterflies in your stomach feeling), and releases hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, as a stress response so you have the energy to stand and fight or flee the danger.
In our modern-day world, these threatening situations that our ancestors faced, are no longer prevalent; we hope that we don’t have to fight or flee from a grizzly bear in the local supermarket! However, your body’s threat response system remains the same and continues to look for threat and respond accordingly. If we face a particularly stressful situation or trauma, our bodies can remember the feeling of our response to this, and set off the same threat response in other situations or at other times, even though we may not be in immediate danger. This is anxiety. Too much of the stress hormones are drip fed into our system on an ongoing basis as we perceive to face daily threats; work stress, online bullying, school issues, traffic jams, deadlines, exams, etc, etc! None of these things are as dangerous as being chased down by a lion, yet, we can still perceive them to be as threatening and dangerous situations; too much cortisol in our system exacerbates the feeling of anxiety and we begin to have physical symptoms, headaches, nausea, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, etc.
One way that is proven to combat (forgive the pun!) this drip-fed stress hormone is exercise. Regular exercise reduces the level of stress hormones in your body and helps you to feel calmer and more balanced. Less stress hormones running around our bodies, means the physical symptoms are helped and subside. Exercise also releases feel good chemicals in our brain called endorphins, and these are natural painkillers and mood elevators that will help to combat those signs of stress and anxiety.
The best way to continue to combat anxiety with exercise is to be consistent. Consistency is the key to reducing those stress hormone levels and get your endorphins flowing. I find, that to be consistent, you need to find a type of exercise you can enjoy. Enter…Martial Arts! Not only is it an excellent way to burn calories and let off some steam, the way many martial arts schools and classes are set up, not only supports the exercise you need to combat anxiety on a scientific level, but also the self-esteem and confidence building, and personal growth and development aspect that helps you to tackle the mental side of anxiety. As you progress through a belt system and are part of a group of like-minded people, this helps you to stay committed and keeps those feel good chemicals flowing through the brain each time you attend a class or achieve a new belt or skill, keeping anxiety and stress at bay. And because going around punching people is not the way to do things, Martial Arts allows you to punch pads and bags in a safe, fun and controlled environment.
So, there you have it guys, a very brief summary of what anxiety is, how it is caused, and how Martial Arts can help you on your journey to overcoming it. As we know, anxiety is a normal feeling and something that can be overcome. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England, so don’t ever feel like anxiety is just something you alone are dealing with, and don’t feel like it’s something that has to define who you are. If you are struggling with anxiety and don’t know how to get help, or the help you have found isn’t working, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for further advice and to find out how an anxiety coach can help you. I want you to be the best version of you!
With loyalty and respect,
Sensei Lucy Gray
Owner at The Factory Martial Arts
I’m Lucy, a Martial Arts Coach, 3rd Degree Black Belt, qualified assessor and childcare practitioner and fully qualified anxiety coach. After working with children and adults for over 10 years, I have seen a huge increase in mental health issues, especially anxiety, and wanted to understand it properly.
I have been through my own anxiety journey and have spent a great deal of time researching ways to help myself as well as supporting the vast array of children and adults who I have worked with who have developed anxiety and have sought martial arts as a solution.
I opened a full time martial arts school in 2016 in Sutton in Ashfield, and after seeing lots of student who took up martial arts due to anxiety and depression, I have re-branded the school The Factory Martial Arts & Wellness Centre, as I truly believe martial arts can help in all aspects of your life to help you become the best version of yourself.
Anxiety about going back to school
Jacey Cashman / SKF Martial Arts Dojo Chief Instructor and WAKO GB Kickboxing National Coach.
Pumping heart and shortness of breath.
Uncomfortable back, shoulders and neck ache.
Chest pain, dry throat, headache and the inability to get up and do anything.
These are a few physical symptoms of anxiety and those that suffer from severe anxiety say it is hard to explain. If you have suffered you may say it feels like a knife stabbing you in the chest, then there is the emotional hijacked of your normal self and negativity following every move. All this is an explosion in your brain sending your thoughts spiralling out of control into what can be identified as a panic attack.
Firstly, I just wanted to paint a picture of how some people express living with anxiety, it is no joke. Anyone, any age can suffer and if not highlighted and worked with can lead to severe mental health problems.
For this blog I am going to approach this subject with my knowledge and years of experience as a Martial Arts instructor and how to help with children and anxiety going back to school.
Anxiety can rear its ugly head at anytime in life but usually a traumatic event can trigger the physical and emotional onset. The unprecedented times of national lockdown and prolonged change or lack of routine is a trigger that has caused many children to become anxious about going back to school, so do understand you and your child is not alone. If you are a school age child reading and relating to this ask your parent to read it.
Identify & Listen
My first piece of advice is to identify there is an issue (be honest to yourself) and be ready to support your child with time, listen to their feelings and what they are saying. Respect a child’s feelings but it is very important not to empower them by asking leading questions. It is normal for a child to feel worried from time to time and a firm but supporting “lets get your uniform on & go to school” is sometimes needed.
However if your child is showing significant signs of anxiety understanding something is wrong is important.
Some of the signs to watch out for;
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Sense of danger, panic or doom
- Ongoing difficulty sleeping
- Significant changes in behaviour
When listening to your child try to understand what they are feeling and why. Then help them work through their difficulties. Starting a diary can be a very useful tool to share feelings, writing it down even using pictures for young children may help them.
Encourage their interests and get involved with their life
As a parent this will cost you time and expenses but the value to your child’s life will be priceless.
Martial Arts is a great activity to get your child involved with because it is fun, active, teaches life skills and is really cool. Wether their interest is Martial Arts, a sport or activity you would do well to try a few different clubs to see which instructor / coaches connect with your child. You will likely find somewhere that you and your child can get involved together. What is very important is to encourage these interests, get children active and give them the opportunity to learn something new.
Build positive routine
This starts as simple as creating regular routine of bedtime, eating and activity but you already know that. Having a direction, motivation and especially physical exercise helps this massively. You as a parent need to also keep to a promise of a routine with taking them to their club even when life gets really busy and deadlines start pinning you down. Planning your week for this is essential. Get a diary, calendar or an app on your phone. Reward charts are a useful tool when looking to encourage younger children into routine and an incentive for all ages maybe needed to get them out the door to start something new. Remember to keep this positive rather than a negative for not doing something and lead by example.
If you are looking for somewhere to start get in touch with a local Martial Arts club. A good instructor / club will be ready to listen and support you. Martial Arts is an interest enjoyed by all ages, girls and boys. The positives are endless with unique reward systems and opportunities to get involved with exciting events, making life long friends, memories and a way of life.
Always get support if you have concerns about your child’s mental health. You can talk to their school teacher, school nurse, social worker or GP.
If you would like to speak to our chief instructor Jacey Cashman about how Martial Arts can help you or your child please get in touch.
Written by Jacey Cashman full time SKF Martial Arts Dojo Chief Instructor and WAKO GB Kickboxing National Coach
Jacey '2fast4u' Cashman
SKF Chief Instructor
5th Dan Black Belt
WAKO GB Coach
WAKO GB Events Committee Member
GB Grand Slam Commissioner
Warrior of Light