May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Launched in 1949 by Mental Health America, Mental Health Awareness Month, a.k.a. Mental Health Month is dedicated to increasing awareness, fighting stigma, and “spreading the word that mental health is something everyone should care about.”
During this month, people are encouraged to share their own stories and listen and learn from each other about the importance of mental health. That includes everything from how to better support people — and themselves — during moments of crisis and struggle, to how we can preserve our mental well-being when things are going okay.
In that spirit we’d like to dedicate this edition of the blog to the influence that martial arts can have on all the above.
There’s no physical activity on earth that can cure mental health conditions — or single-handedly prevent them — and martial arts is no exception. To make a difference in your life, you don’t have to have something that fixes all your ailments, but martial arts training can have a very positive impact on its students’ overall mental well-being.
Let’s take a look at four ways that martial arts can improve your mental health.
Martial arts are an excellent source of exercise — and routine.
Doing a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis has a good chance of improving your overall mental well-being. According to multiple studies on the subject, doing at least 30 minutes a day three to five times a week can make a huge improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms.
If you cannot manage that much, a little movement can still make a big difference in your life if you do it regularity. Even just 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity at a time — which can include everything from recreational walks and gardening to slow kata practice — can make a positive impact on your mental health when you do them consistently for a long period of time.
Martial arts training is obviously a great form of exercise. The way that most martial arts programs encourage — and reward — regular training and practice also makes them an excellent choice for anyone who is looking for help with consistency and routine. All these reasons make martial arts a great choice for someone who would like to include physical activity in their efforts to manage their mental health.
Martial arts are great for stress relief.
Stress is a major threat to mental health. It’s almost impossible to feel any kind of balance, peace, or general sense of well-being when you’re overloaded and anxious. Martial arts might not be able to alleviate every source of stress — life is complicated, and no single activity is going to able to fix everything you’re facing — but they do have the potential to make some of it a little easier to deal with.
Martial arts training encourages mindfulness and teaches you how to breathe deeply, both of which are important tools for handling stress in daily life. Some martial arts will even teach you meditation techniques, which are also a very useful skill for stress management.
If that’s not enough, martial arts training can also be very cathartic. If you’re having a rough day or you’re feeling strung out, a good training session can be a source of instant relief.
Martial arts can improve your self-esteem.
When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be very hard to see your own worth and believe that your efforts in life will ever amount to anything — or like it’s worth trying at all.
Martial arts training combats these issues and nurtures its participants’ sense of self in some really powerful ways. The learning structure of practicing martial arts provides a number of opportunities for students to celebrate their accomplishments. Every time you learn a new move, every time you earn a promotion, and every time you win in competition, you’re learning to celebrate yourself and what you can accomplish. You’re also learning that the work you put into your training can and will pay off. When you make mistakes or even lose, you learn that that’s great, too. You’re not failing and you’re not the worst. Setbacks and learning from them are an important part of the process.
Martial arts foster a sense of community.
Another thing that happens when you’re struggling with mental health is that you can feel very alone. Again, martial arts can’t cure everything related to this issue, but it can be a place in your life where you feel a little less adrift in the universe. Martial arts training encourages teamwork and learning to grow together, and it provides a fun and supportive environment for working on yourself and your community, all of which helps to make you feel like you’re a part of something and that you matter. Knowing that you’re not alone and that there are people you can reach out to when you’re having a tough time can make a huge difference in your mental well-being.
Want to know more about this topic? Check out our blog post “What Are The Psychological Benefits of Martial Arts Training?“