If you’re struggling with your mental health, care to give BJJ a try? There’s no way to sugarcoat it—we are in the midst of a global health crisis. The mental health disorders has been on the rise even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), things became even worse during the pandemic. The number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression rose, going from 10% to 40% of the total adult population.1
Photo by Francisco Moreno
What’s this got to do with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Well, while it’s no cure, studies have found that martial arts training is good for mental health. Martial arts, in general, has positive effects on people recovering from trauma.2 More than that, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has even added to the treatment of stress and anxiety disorders in military veterans.3
There are also many testimonials outside of formally conducted investigations. Thanks to Google, it’s not difficult to find anecdotal records of the positive effects of BJJ on stress and anxiety. But how, exactly, does it help?
What are the effects of BJJ on the body?
During a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, the human body experiences spikes in the level of feel-good hormones.4 We already know that exercise does that, but a less-known tidbit of information is that these hormones also help the brain recover from injuries faster.5 Since BJJ is a mental exercise just as well as it is physical, it improves neuronal functionality and cognition (As long as you, of course, keep hydrated. Otherwise, it won’t be much help.) In other words, it helps you think and function better.
In people with depression, a deterioration in cognitive function is often present. People lose concentration and become forgetful. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just because people with mental health disorders are too preoccupied with their thoughts. Instead, it’s because depression literally affects the structure of the brain.
It’s a well-accepted scientific fact that depression deteriorates synapses (i.e., the connection between brain cells). On the other hand, the strategic nature of BJJ as an exercise stimulates the formation of synapses. As a result, it may theoretically counter the synaptic deterioration caused by excessive stress.
Now that you know about mental health disorders and the positive implications of BJJ on depression, in particular, let’s dive into stress management strategies. What does BJJ teach us that can help us effectively manage stress and anxiety? In this article, we’ll go over five of them.
1 Proper breathing methods
Photo by Kelvin Valerio
Living things need oxygen to fuel all their living processes. Oxygen is one of the main components in breaking down the energy the body needs to move and function. Thus, the functionality of the body relies on the presence of oxygen, and the brain is no exception.
Think about it—faced with a problem that seems unsolvable, what do you do? Take a breather to think. When you’re in a tense situation, don’t you try to calm yourself down by taking deep breaths?
Abdominal breathing also improves mental clarity by increasing blood and oxygen supply to the brain. It also promotes relaxation by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Experts say that abdominal breathing optimizes the efficiency of respiration. It is the ideal way of breathing for situations when you require a lot of oxygen.6 A good example of such would be during strenuous exercises, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This explains the emphasis of proper breathing techniques in sports, meditation, and even basic stress relief.
2 Mental toughness
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a game of strategy. However, the mental conditioning that comes as a result of practice isn’t just in terms of intelligence. The fear of failure is a pervasive one that is typically linked with anxiety disorders.7 BJJ addresses that fear and boosts mental toughness by desensitizing a person to streaks of defeat.
Photo by Richard Bustos
Mental toughness is the ability to push past repeated failure with a positive and competitive mindset. In BJJ, it would manifest as the thought that it’s okay to fail experience defeat this time, as long as you learn and try again. Because that’s the thing in BJJ: you will always lose. There will rarely ever be a day that you will get out of training without getting submitted once. (Unless, of course, you’re one of the most advanced players.)
Such a lose and try again mindset isn’t confined to the four walls of the gym—it extends far beyond that and spills into other aspects of life. As a result, you become more open to new experiences and challenges life has to offer.
3 Changing perspectivesHowever excessive it may seem to anyone unfamiliar with martial arts, it’s true. There’s no denying that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu changes the lens through which we view the world. BJJ is an art that is more than strategy and technique—it is a way of life.BJJ is a practice that involves a lot of self-reflection. The BJJ gym is a place where people with different lives and diverse beliefs come to train togeteher. You’ll learn from them as much as they’ll learn from you. You’ll learn to thrive together despite your differences.In BJJ, players win through strategy and wit. Yielding to an opponent’s force as needed to set up your end goal. The patience they practice in the mats translates to level-headedness when dealing with life’s troubles . Life problems become puzzles to solve instead of insurmountable mountains of grief. They brainstorm to solve problems that arise. Most importantly, they learn to seize opportunities that come. These lessons serve well in life.
4 Self-confidenceSelf-confidence is the trust people have in their ability to succeed in their engagements in the world. Self-confidence affects successes, and successes impact a person’s self-confidence.8How does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu help improve self-confidence? Growth in BJJ is gradual yet continual. Nobody can learn techniques as a fluke. No one can buy or fake these skills. Instead, the player puts themselves through a long and arduous journey. They learn various skills and make them their own through training and practice. It’s a simple example of how they can achieve anything they put their minds to. In a sense, it also prepares them to take on more of the challenges of the world.
5 ComraderyThe protective effects of strong social networks on mental health have been well-known over the years. 9 Through complex processes, having a good support system boosts resilience to stress. And, thus, resilience to any disorders that may come as a result. This is one of the ways BJJ can help manage stress and anxiety in people.Each player gets up in each other’s personal space every time they train. And it’s hard not to form a connection with someone in that case. Doesn’t it make sense that they all grow closer as a community as well? Just imagine—growing strong communities among people trying to beat each other up. From an outsider’s point of view, it may be a novel concept. It’s a curious contrast, but the fact remains that it is usually true. There is no divide when training BJJ. Everyone stands on equal footing.When you step on the mats, whoever you are outside the gym becomes irrelevant. You’ll find common ground with your fellow practitioner before you begin seeing differences. And seeing similarities rather than differences makes for stronger human connections.
When people say that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will change your life for the better, they’re not joking. There are a wealth of benefits to be gained from the practice and philosophy of BJJ. The benefits to stress and anxiety management listed above are only the tip of the iceberg.
Now that you’ve read this article, you have a good idea of what you should expect in your Brazilian Jiu Jitsu journey. Hopefully, this piqued your interest enough to warrant signing up for beginner classes. If you’re thinking, “where do I find Jiu Jitsu near me?” then look no further. The Fight Center teaches the best Jiu Jitsu Brisbane has to offer (and, if you want to explore, even Muay Thai, Boxing, and Kickboxing). Sign up for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu here and read this article to help you get ready for your free introductory class.