Four Stress-Fighting Tactics Used by Martial Artists
- Pretend to be calm and relaxed even when your thoughts are in disarray. In the same way that water assumes the shape of its cup, your mind will soon conform to the attitude of your body.
- Clear your mind by breathing slowly and deeply. Be sure to hesitate for a few heartbeats between inhaling and exhaling, always with airways open — never clamp down on your breath.
- Trust your training and experience. Regain your comfort zone by taking a moment to call up a mental picture of a previous success during similar circumstances, either live or during training.
- Then go on auto-pilot. Think only about the present moment.
“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.” ~Kelly MgGonigal
This popular TED talk has powerful implications for martial artists. One of its important points is that Oxytocin — the so-called “hug hormone” — is actually a stress hormone. It helps protect the heart from the damaging effects of stress and encourages bonding with others during difficult times.
Could this be why the martial arts are such powerful bonding experiences? This is a must-see for martial artists:
I’m currently once again in a pitched battle with the demon STRESS. Over the years I have become very familiar with my old nemesis. Stress is the Moriarty to my Holmes, the Lex Luthor to my Superman, the Loki to my Thor. I chase him away or push him underground, perhaps force him to be my ally for a time*, but I never destroy him. To a certain extent he is a part of me, caused by me and given power by me, and to destroy him would be to destroy myself. But I have learned a few warning signs that he is plotting a Dormammu-like return and perfected a few tricks to get his evil genie back into the bottle.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
I’m so used to stress that I don’t even notice it until I get physical symptoms like:
- Canker sores (fever blisters or aphthous ulcers)
- General malaise and lack of energy during workouts
- Teeth grinding
- Dry and gritty eyes
- Loss of mental focus
- Lack of creativity
- Inability to sleep and/or non-restful sleep
- Blood pressure spikes (dizziness on standing or stooping)
Methods of Fighting Stress (in no particular order)
- Contemplation, Meditation, and/or Prayer. Get yourself a good book on the subject and start your daily practice (just so happens I wrote a sturdy little booklet on the subject that’s available for your B&N Nook, for your iPad, or in universal formats here).
- Vitamin D. You may be deficient, especially in the winter when you aren’t getting outside as much. You can overdose on Vitamin D, so follow package directions and do not supplement long term. Recent studies show that taking tons of vitamins may actually be more harmful than beneficial.
- Eat healthy. Cut out the salt and processed foods, eat more green leafy veggies, and try eating liver once/week (not fried). Liver contains CoQ10 which lowers blood pressure and fights stress.
- Watch the caffeine. Studies show that up to 5 cups of coffee a day may be good for you. What studies don’t show is that 5 cups of coffee a day can allow you to push harder and stay awake longer than you should. Go get some sleep and you might feel better.
- Take your workouts down a notch. If you workout a lot like I do (four or more times per week) you may be over training. Everybody’s different of course, but when I get signs of stress I change one or two of my weekly workouts to a simple walk or hike. This keeps my metabolism up but also gives my body a chance to rebuild and recover. It also encourages me to…
- Go outside. Build a fire in your fire bowl or chiminea and warm your toes while sipping some chamomile tea. Fly a kite with your kids. Take your dog to the park. As ‘kumbaya’ as it may sound, it is now an accepted fact that exposure to the natural world is nothing short of a cure-all. Seriously, this is a big stress-fighter. Undervalue the outdoors to your detriment.
- Eliminate it at the source. As a martial artist I subscribe to the theory that it is impossible to fight more than one opponent at a time. If I’m attacked by three goons, I use position to make myself a less available target and then drop the smallest man first so that I’m fighting two instead of three. You are not Bruce Lee and this is not a movie. Stop dancing around and letting your stresses punish you. Identify your stresses and, starting with the lowest hanging fruit, begin getting rid of them altogether. *This is about the only time when stress is your friend: when fighting it forces you to actually fix what’s bothering you.
- Use your head. Most stresses are mental — expectations and opinions of others, goals you want to hit but haven’t, self-criticism, etc. Can you actually, physically, materially touch what’s bothering you with your right index finger? If you can’t, then it’s largely imaginary, probably isn’t as bad as you think you it is, and needs to be put into better perspective. If you can touch it — let’s say it’s a dripping faucet, a nasty friend, a cheating lover, a bottle of vodka, etc. — take action to fix it, replace it, or get it out of your life.
- Acknowledge the Head and Foot Paradox. Let’s say that when you’re stressed you bite your nails or call your toxic ex-boyfriend. If you can’t identify what’s stressing you out, start by stopping the nail biting. Put some red pepper sauce on your cuticles, take up knitting, chew gum, or what-have-you (or delete his contact info from your cell). Sometimes your head leads your feet, sometimes your feet lead your head. If you can’t change the direction your head is taking you, point your feet in another direction. Maybe your head will follow.
That’s all I got. Hope it helps. But whatever you do, do something before stress takes it’s toll.
Stress is no joke. If you are struggling with stress and nothing’s working, see your doctor. I’m not a doctor.