It’s Mental Health Awareness Month again. Since 1949, mental health activists, professionals, and supporters have been using this time to talk about what’s going on in our brains and how we can better take care of ourselves — and each other. Mental Health Awareness Month’s goals include increasing awareness, fighting stigma, and normalizing open and honest discussions on the topic. As Mental Health America puts it, “mental health is something that everyone should care about.”
Last year, the AWMA Blog marked the occasion by looking at how martial arts training can improve your mental health. This year, we’re going to try something a little different.
Because as great as martial arts can be for mental health, it’s not a cure. Which means that, if you struggle with mental health issues and you participate in martial arts, there will probably be a time in your life and training when you’ll need to juggle both. We’ve put this list of tips together to help you take care of yourself and your mental health during training. So that you can enjoy the benefits of mood-boosting exercise without accidentally making yourself feel worse in the process.
Check in with yourself.
One of the great things about martial arts training is that it helps us become more in touch with our minds and bodies. And one of the ways we can apply that greater awareness and by occasionally stopping to take stock of how we’re feeling in your training and in life in general. Take a look at your mindset and your feelings. Is there anything off? Anything that you might be able to improve? Anything that you might want to keep an eye on?
If everything seems all right, that’s great! Keep doing what you’re doing. But if something doesn’t feel right, you can start looking at what options you have for taking care of yourself and getting any help you might need.
Reach out to your community.
Another great thing about martial arts is that is fosters such a strong connection between everyone involved. If you find yourself struggling and you’re looking for someone to talk to, consider talking to a trusted coach or training partner. You do not have to suck it up or suffer alone.
And if you see someone struggling at the gym, you might want to consider asking if there’s any way you can help them, too. We’re all there to learn and grow together, and taking care of each other is an important part of that growth. Plus, the more we talk about issues like this, the more we fight the stigma that surrounds them — and the easier it becomes to reach out to each other in the future.
Be kind to yourself.
When we train, we might sometimes feel pressure to be mentally and physically strong. And sometimes we take the wrong messages from our training. Focus, determination, and self-esteem are all valuable qualities for a martial artist to have. And martial arts is an excellent way to improve those qualities. But mental strength doesn’t mean that you’re perfect. We’re all going to have moments of distraction, lack of motivation, and doubt. That’s just part of being a human! So if you find yourself in a mental rut, don’t beat yourself up. And don’t put too much pressure on yourself to immediately get out of it. True strength comes in embracing your struggles and learning to work through them — or with them!
(And if you’re dealing with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, please keep in mind that these issues can distort your perspective of yourself. So if you find yourself thinking that your training is off or that you suck at a martial arts, remember that you might not be seeing your true value right now.)
Know your limits.
When you have a physical injury in martial arts training, you treat it. You identify the issue. You take the proper steps for recovery and rehab. And you take any actions you need to protect yourself from further injury, including training with greater awareness, adding new exercises to your routine, or wearing a support or brace.
We can — and should — take care of our mental issues the same way. No one should have to try to power through their pain and run the risk of making things worse. We can rest when we need to. Seek treatments and other actions that can improve our mental health. We can also take steps to better protect or brains and everything they do in the long term. That can include everything from cultivating a supportive community at the gym to learning to recognize the early signs of mental health issues and how to respond.