Depression and other mental health problems are especially known to fighters, who ride the frequent highs and lows of the fight game. It’s time to talk about it. . .
WHY GETTING IN THE RING IS THE BEST WAY TO FIGHT DEPRESSION
Is Muay Thai good for the body and the mind? You know the answer is a resounding “yes!” However, have you ever given any thought to the deeper link between mental and physical fitness?
Muay Thai (and really, any other kind of physical fitness) can do more than simply make your mind sharp. There are serious benefits to your mental health that are unlocked through Muay Thai and other ways to achieve physical fitness.
One hurdle to be cleared is the stigma attached to mental health, especially as it pertains to the biggest and strongest of us. Athletes are sources of inspiration for their discipline, stamina and work ethic. If you know your hero to be struggling with mental health problems (just like the ones we all suffer from to one degree or another), there is a tendency to perceive them as flawed in some way, though nothing could be further from the truth.
The first step to conquering our fears and anxieties is to address them in the first place.
MENTAL HEALTH: DON’T AVOID THE CONVERSATION
It’s unfortunate that talking about mental health has been taboo for many years. There has been and arguably continues to be a pervasive belief that anyone who talks about mental health or mental illness is weak. Thankfully, that stereotype is being broken by some of our most outspoken athletes.
Just recently, NBA players DaMar DeRozen and Kevin Love each talked about their personal struggles with depression and extreme anxiety. Also, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of WWE and Hollywood fame has repeatedly spoken out about his own severe bout with depression. On episode 095 of TMTG, fighter Jay Matias opened up about his struggles with depression and how he combated them the best he could. (Regrettably, Jay took his own life in early 2017.)
These three represent just a few of the voices of a growing chorus of people who’ve been willing to open up about their struggles with mental health. Allowing yourself to have a conversation about these issues isn’t a weakness, it’s a powerful capability.
You may be wondering if exercise can really help your mental health if physical specimens like DeMar DeRozen, Kevin Love and Dwayne Johnson all have had personal struggles in these areas. The answer is: absolutely! Exercise doesn’t mean that your struggles will disappear, but it does mean that you will have an outlet to help you deal with these issues.
Although science is not clear on all the particulars of why exercise is such a benefit to mental health, there is no disputing that it is a great help. Getting in the ring, in the gym or on the track will reap dividends far beyond the physical realm.
PHYSICAL FITNESS: HOW IT FIGHTS DEPRESSION
Feeling discouraged or depressed? The best thing for you may be to pick up your gloves and spar. Feeling overwhelmed? Running a mile or two could be just the thing that you need.
- Endorphin boost. Dozens of studies have shown that even moderate exercise can help boost endorphins. These hormones are key to reducing pain and maximizing pleasure. Although endorphins are unleashed during many different activities, exercise is one of the healthiest gateways to endorphin release.
- Stress reduction. Doctors say that taking some time for exercise will help reduce feelings of stressfulness. Although exercise won’t make your problems disappear, it will help you to cope with the feelings you’re dealing with in relation to those problems.
- Improved restfulness. There’s a difference between sleep and rest. You can get several hours of sleep without feeling refreshed in the morning. However, exercise can help improve your sleep cycles. Having a full night of rest will help your overall mental health. A lack of sleep only magnifies depression and anxiety.
- Added energy. Feeling tired and lethargic all day can be a drain to your mental well-being. Drinking lots of coffee and soda isn’t the answer, either. A good exercise routine will help give you the pep you need in your step, which will allow you to reap benefits to your mental well-being.
- Increased brain activity. Studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise is also a boost to the brain. Your overall brain performance is stimulated by the creation of new brain cells. Being able to think more clearly can be a great boon to your mental health.
EXERCISE ROUTINES: TIME TO MIX IT UP
No doubt you already have some fitness plan that you already follow. But maybe it’s time to change things up.
When was the last time you added to or changed your routine? Let’s consider a few modifications you can make:
- Get started. If you have a plan that you haven’t been following, this can be a source of discouragement. Don’t worry though, you can get back on track. Look for some small victories and work your way back to where you’ve been in the past.
- Consider yoga. Even if you enjoy high-impact workouts, you can reap a host of benefits from doing yoga a few times a week. Not only will you see increased flexibility, but the relaxation techniques you learn will be valuable as well.
- Hit the trail. You may already run, but have you thought about hiking on a local trail? Not only can this work out different muscles than running on a treadmill or a track, you also have the added benefit of being in the middle of nature.
- Join a class. When you’re at the gym, you may be a loner. Maybe you even wish you could spar alone! Have you ever thought about joining a class? With so many choices out there, you are sure to find something that interests you. Also, you’ll have the added benefit of having a built-in support group for encouragement and accountability.
- Get up early. Not an early riser? Join the club! But have you ever considered the fact that exercise early in the morning can change your mental outlook for an entire day? It may be difficult at first to get into the routine, but early-morning warriors swear by it and usually hate exercising any other time. They love how it has a positive effect on their day.
BATTLING DEPRESSION: FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE
In a fight, you can always look your opponent right in the eyes. When fighting the giant of depression, it often feels like you’re fighting an opponent you can’t see. While it’s landing blow after blow on you, you’re unable to fight back. It’s a helpless feeling.
Just know that, in this fight, you’re not alone. If you use the tools of physical fitness, plus social support from professionals, friends and loved ones, you have what you need to get put depression on its heels.
- Carl Turner is a Los Angeles-based personal trainer and freelance writer for boxing and martial arts brands (www.revgear.com). With over 10 years of experience, he has trained many clients and has helped them to reach their personal fitness goals. During his free time, he enjoys kayaking, hiking, and reading.