In my late 20’s, driving home, singing along to the John Legend song “Ordinary People” (ironically enough), I suddenly felt very strange.

I had a massive adrenaline rush (the kind you get when you nearly hit another car perhaps) that “fight or flight feeling”  a rushing tingling feeling in my legs and stomach that went into my hands. I started to panic a little, what on earth was happening?!  My heart started racing, strangely my lips started tingling with pins and needles…was I having a heart attack!?   I started to feel like I could not breath so easily anymore…

I made it home in a panic, the feelings did subside, but I was left with utter confusion at what had happened.  Perhaps it was just a one off?

Over the next few months, these feelings started happening at very unpredictable times, in the queue for the cinema, at a gig, in a bar and even with friends.   These strange feelings that I could not really describe, light headedness,  like I was losing my balance  and this started happening a lot.   What was it?   The more it was happening, the more I worried about it, which then seemed to compound the issue and it started happening more, having a knock-on effect in other areas of my life.

No one would have known how I was feeling, I didn’t tell anyone.  I thought perhaps I was going a bit mad or I simply had something physically wrong, either way I tried to deal with it on my own.   This was not a great plan, as keeping it to myself meant not only did it continue, but it seemed to gain momentum.

After a few months, I decided to see the Doctor, convinced it was a physical issue and I needed a brain scan!  The doctor said I was suffering with anxiety.   I was so shocked, I am ashamed to admit, I was even a bit offended “ I am a kickboxer, I don’t suffer with anxiety”.

Throughout that time, martial arts training was my saviour.  As soon as I walked into class, I left everything at the door.  Anytime in the dojo, became my refuge and this made me realise, these strange episodes only happened outside of the dojo and if there was anything physically wrong, how on earth was I training 6 days a week?  Perhaps the Doctor was right…

I was referred for some sessions of CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) and went along feeling a bit daft to be honest, what on earth was I going to say, what if they said I was mad!?   At the first session, it became clear, this was not a physical issue (although had physical affects) it was a mental health issue.   I was given the tools to manage and recognise anxiety and as a result have not suffered with those episodes since.

A few months before this all happened, my dad had been diagnosed with a serious illness and life altering surgery, the anxiety happened a few months after he got out of hospital.   I had not recognised the signs or appreciated the situation’s effect on me.  Hence why it came seemingly out of the blue.

I never associated myself with feelings of panic and wrongly assumed that I was not the type of person.  Of course, I was.  Anyone is.  It can also manifest itself in all sorts of ways, Sleep problems, racing heart, nervousness, muscle tension, random rashes and itching, digestion issues and irritability.

We are very aware of how we should look after our physical health, how much water to drink, what foods are healthy, how much exercise we need, however,  there is still a long way to go in understanding “how much” and “how” we should look after our mental health and just how crucial it is.  Not looking after mental health, is a bit like going to the gym and only ever working your arms, eventually you just might fall over.

I wanted to share my experiences after learning that some students have been suffering with anxiety and depression.   Sadly 1 in 5 people are now suffering with this, which has risen sharply since the COVID outbreak.  Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK in men under the age of 50 and in females has risen nearly 98.2% in under age 25 since 2012.

Martial arts have been a huge help to me mentally and physically especially during that period, exercise and movement can really help with decreasing anxiety and improving stress levels.   In addition, I practise regular meditation and mindfulness to make sure my mind gets a gym work out too.   Mindfulness has brought a great sense of contentment to my life and the acceptance of life’s ups and downs, which in turn offers a bit more freedom and choice.

If you have any concerns about how you are feeling, please chat to your loved ones, friends and/or GP, sign up to Headspace or a mindfulness course, there is lots of help available and always be reassured that you are not alone.  Just how you would go to the physio when you pick up an injury, this is no different.

Healthy mind in a healthy body.

Sensei Jo

Take time out now, with this simple breath meditation:

Professional athletes sharing their experiences with mental health

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