So does bjj help with anxiety?
I have personally struggled with anxiety and have trained bjj for over 5 years. I also have a psychology degree from Rutgers University and originally pursued this degree to further understand anxiety related disorders.
So if you’re wondering does bjj help with anxiety you’ve come to the right place.
Why Does BJJ Help with Anxiety and Why Is Exercise Important
Simply put, exercise reduces anxiety, stress, and depression especially intense exercise like bjj that requires your entire focus.
Bjj helps with anxiety because not only is it a great form of exercise, but it helps you practice acceptance and focusing on the present moment. Both of which greatly aid in dealing with anxiety.
The two big themes in treating anxiety related disorders are:
- Focusing on the present
Anxiety causes you to fight the thoughts and feelings you are having – acceptance of the thoughts almost magically diminishes this anxiety loop and halts these thoughts in their tracts.
Next, focusing on the present moment lets your brain take a break from the constant worries that are caused by anxiety.
In addition, bjj has some other major benefits that aid with anxiety, stress, and depression such as:
- Utilizing Goal Setting
- Increased Camaraderie
- Creating Self Confidence
However, please note that these mental benefits of bjj as well as the physical ones are greatly influenced by the bjj gym you choose to train at, your coaches, your training partners as well as the overall culture of your gym.
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety related disorders I recommend speaking with a medical professional and if you are at all considering trying out bjj, I can’t recommend it enough because it really can help.
Acceptance and Pushing your Comfort Zone
A big theme in meditation and dealing with anxiety disorders, is acceptance.
Anxiety forces you to get wrapped up in your own thoughts, and you feel like you are unable to control them – fighting these thoughts and wanting them stop stop is part of the anxiety downward spiral which is often difficult to break.
Negative thoughts/feelings come up > you’re unable to stop focusing on them > you try to force them to stop which creates more negative thoughts
Accepting and acknowledging these feelings without chasing them or getting entangled in them is one of the first things you are taught when attempting to deal with anxiety related disorders.
In bjj, you are often put in very uncomfortable and even claustrophobic situations…nothing is worse that having a 230lb purple belt sit on your head from North South.
Your natural instinct will be to struggle and fight and ultimately, waste your energy and even become more vulnerable to a submission.
Once you accept your physical position, you can then methodically work toward a solution.
This acceptance is how you start pushing your comfort zone. As you become more comfortable with live sparring in bjj, you will learn to better deal with these stressful situations.
You’ll find yourself accepting these positions instead of recklessly fighting to get out and eventually, even working to logically and calmly handle them.
You’ll find yourself slowly becoming calmer in tough spots. Positions that used to make you want to quit, run home, and never train bjj again soon begin to feel like not that big of a deal.
Bjj forces you to become comfortable in these very uncomfortable positions, and this acceptance mimics a major technique for dealing with anxiety. Accepting the feelings or situations and then calmly working to a solution is something that everyone will learn in bjj and will certainly help with anxiety.
Focusing on the Present and Meditation
Have you ever wondered “Why do I feel good after bjj?” Focusing on the present is one of the main reasons.
In meditation, usually you are told to focus only on your breathe, the pure sensation of air entering into your body and exiting.
This gives your mind a singular thought to focus on. In every day life, there are dozens of thoughts constantly popping into our mind, and we are chasing these thought threads incessantly.
What meditation does is that it causes you to only focus on your breath and if other thoughts come up (and they will) that’s fine, just calmly bring your attention and focus back to your breath.
Just like in meditation practice, in bjj your mind is so focused on a singular activity that all of the anxieties and worries of your daily life simply are not present.
Actions that require your entire attention and focus like getting lost in a good book, playing an instrument, working on a painting, or riding your motorcycle give your brain some much needed respite from chasing all those nonstop thoughts throughout the day.
In bjj, especially in live sparring situations, your attention and focus is only on the moment at hand, usually on just trying not to get choked or trying to do the choking. This is one of the main reasons you feel so refreshed after bjj.
Bjj makes you feel good because not only does it release endorphins caused by the intense exercise, but it helps you clear your mind of all of your daily worries and concerns.
Anxiety causes you to constantly think and worry about the future usually by getting wrapped up in negative thoughts that likely will never even come to fruition so focusing on the present task at hand is a natural antidote.
Goal Setting and Depression
A big theme in people who struggle with depression is that they don’t have anything that they are passionate about, and furthermore, they don’t have any goals that they are actively working toward within those passions.
Bjj solves both of these issues by giving you something can be passionate about and something to create goals for.
Setting goals, however small they may be, give you something to work toward. This can be extremely empowering when you reach these goals.
Some goals of mine when I first started bjj were to:
- learn escapes from common positions
- train at least 3 days a week
- compete in a tournament
- get my blue belt
If you suffer from depression each day seems like it has no meaning, like they blend together while not really accomplishing anything.
Creating daily, weekly, yearly goals in your bjj training will help you realize that you are actually taking steps each day and each week toward improvement, no matter how small they may be.
Social Anxiety and Camaraderie
For those who struggle with social anxiety, taking a bjj class where you are forced to not only interact with your training partners but constantly be in their personal space can seem like a nightmare.
BJJ forces you into these situations and can seem like both a blessing and a curse especially when starting bjj.
An indirect reason why social anxiety can be so debilitating is because it limits your connection with others.
There have also been massive studies done as to why certain areas of the world have more centenarians than others.
A big correlation has been found to be camaraderie and connection with others and your community. Personal connections have been shown to enhance your life in numerous ways and when you suffer from social anxiety you are sorely missing out from all of these benefits.
Initially, when starting bjj, you may find it hard to maintain daily conversations with your training partners, never mind choosing a partner to drill and roll with.
Bjj forces you to interact very closely with your teammates. Overtime, you will begin to build connections with them.
Some tips for dealing with social anxiety and training bjj:
- introduce yourself to everyone you meet
- be open about your experience level
- be willing to learn from your teammates
- have a sincere chat with your coaches (about your anxiety)
“I used to suffer from intense anxiety and even stomach pains before bjj, but overtime, through making social connections and gaining more experience on the mat these feelings have nearly completely subsided.” – zack
A final note about social anxiety, bjj has a social hierarchy built into the belt system. I promise as you get more experience and begin to rank up to the next jiu jitsu belts it will become easier and easier to show up.
Mental Toughness and Self Confidence
As you train in bjj you will gain confidence both in your skills at the gym and in your social life.
There will be tough training sessions that may make you want to quit but choosing to continue to show up will increase your mental toughness and self confidence. You will being to take a different view of yourself over time.
You will slowly become the type of person who decides to put in the work no matter what, and you will find this special skill growing inside of you and useful both in the gym and in your personal life.
Bjj is tough and not many people can make it from white to blue belt, but if you decide to stick with you, you will slowly become the person who has grit, discipline, and is willing to put in the work.
Jiu jitsu is probably the number one activity that I could recommend to someone to improve their lives overall
One of the main reasons why bjj is highly recommended to improve your life is because it increases your self confidence and mental toughness like no other sport can.
It gives you a chance to see yourself as someone with discipline and the ability to show up even when it gets tough.
This is extremely rare, and it should be praised as an achievement both on and off the mat.
Final Word – Does BJJ Help with Anxiety
Again, bjj helps with anxiety because not only is it a great form of exercise, but it helps you practice acceptance and focusing on the present moment. Both of which greatly aid in dealing with anxiety.
If you’re someone who struggles with anxiety like myself, I strongly recommend trying out bjj. You will quickly learn that it will quell many of your anxious thoughts.
Remember the hardest class is the first one.
You will meet other people, learn an highly beneficial skill, and get a great form of exercise. All of these have helped me personally with my own anxiety.
Bjj gives you the mental benefits of acceptance, staying in the present moment, goal setting, social connections, and self confidence.
Choose your gym carefully and invest in yourself through bjj training. Even if you don’t want to train, show up – you will come out of class feeling clear minded and level headed every single time.
I hope this has answered the question thoroughly of “does bjj help with anxiety”. Aside from speaking to a medical professional, understand that bjj has some incredible benefits that can help your anxiety through many ways.
Hope to see you on the mat – Zack