After over 15 years of training, I have found that Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) can positively and negatively influence mental health. The positive side of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mental health I will discuss is how training BJJ can help get you out of isolation, build confidence, promote healthy lifestyles, and provide access to mental health resources. However, potential risks are also present, like using BJJ to avoid therapy, increased competitive anxiety, overtraining, unhealthy social media comparisons, and exposure to toxic teammates. To maximize the benefits and mitigate the pitfalls, I suggest strategies that include cultivating mindfulness on the mats, reframing setbacks as learning, bonding with teammates over struggles, separating BJJ from self-worth, and taking breaks when needed. While BJJ alone cannot cure mental illness, it can set someone on the path to greater mental well-being when approached consciously.
The Positive Impacts of BJJ on Mental Health
Getting Out of Your Head
Even the simple act of getting out of the house to go to BJJ training can have immense mental benefits. Being isolated at home can lead to negative thought spirals and echo chambers. The commitment involved in travelling to class and being around other people helps break you out of these mental traps. Even when you don’t feel like training, forcing yourself to show up provides a mood boost.
The process of training BJJ involves constant challenges, whether it’s learning a new technique, sparring with difficult partners, or competing in tournaments. Over time, overcoming these small challenges instils confidence and mental toughness. Each little “win” in BJJ class contributes to a backbone of self-assurance. This confidence can carry over to other areas of life.
Promoting a Healthier Lifestyle
People drawn to BJJ are usually interested in health, fitness, and self-improvement. The BJJ community tends to promote positive lifestyle habits around exercise, nutrition, mental training, and personal growth. Being immersed in this culture can nudge you toward living a healthier, happier life overall.
Providing Access to Therapy
BJJ academies function as tight-knit communities. It has been explained that through this network, you may organically gain access to dietitians, sports psychologists, and other professionals who can help with mental health. Veterans of the academy might share recommendations for quality therapists in your area. The bonds formed on the mats facilitate this helpful exchange of information.
Potential Risks of BJJ for Mental Health
Avoiding Therapy in Favor of Training
While BJJ and other forms of exercise can complement therapy, it should never replace therapy and medication. Some mistakenly believe that BJJ alone can resolve mental health issues. However, instructors are not mental health professionals. Relying solely on BJJ could backfire without proper clinical treatment.
Increased Anxiety Around Competition
The stress of an upcoming competition can amplify anxiety. It has been shared that the weeks leading up to a tournament can be filled with snapping at people and being on edge. Obsessively focusing on winning can strain relationships. Learning to compartmentalize training and maintain balance in daily life is essential.
Overtraining and Burnout
Elite competitors may train 4-6 hours daily, but most can only handle 1-2 hours of hard training 3-5 days per week. Attempting an unrealistic training regimen leads to exhaustion, diminished returns, and heightened risk for injury. Listening to your body’s limits helps avoid burnout. Consistent rest is crucial.
Unhealthy Comparisons on Social Media
The online BJJ community constantly shares training tips, techniques, and accomplishments. However, consuming this content can promote unconstructive comparisons. You may feel inadequate next to teammates or competitors posting nonstop about intense training. But social media highlights an idealized reality. Your path should focus on daily progress, not others’ perceived success.
Toxic Coaching and Teammates
BJJ will lead you to interact with a diverse range of personalities. While most teammates and coaches are supportive, you may encounter individuals with abusive tendencies or mental instability. It has been advised to be aware that shared interests do not equate to shared values. Protect your training environment and speak up when necessary.
Strategies for Optimizing the Mental Impact of BJJ
Cultivating Mindfulness on the Mats
BJJ requires deep focus on proper technique, positioning, and timing. Devoting your full attention to these details in the present moment develops your mindfulness muscles. Apply this same mindset when stressful thoughts arise off the mats. Acknowledge anxiety or negative self-talk without judgment and return your focus to the current task.
Reframing Setbacks as Learning Experiences
In both BJJ and life, you will encounter setbacks when a technique fails or you lose a match. How you interpret these moments will dictate their impact on your confidence. Rather than dwelling on failure, view missteps as data gathering. Figure out one thing you can improve on for next time. Small refinements accumulate into major progress.
Bonding with Teammates Over Shared Struggles
Open up about your mental health challenges with trusted teammates. Discover that many face similar struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, etc. Feel empowered knowing you’re not alone. Check-in regularly with each other on mental status. Teammates can provide key peer support.
Separating BJJ Goals from Self-Worth
Avoid tying your self-image to arbitrary markers like belt promotions or tournament performances. View BJJ as a journey of growth, not a series of outcomes that define you. Evaluate your self-worth outside competitive results. Progress at your own pace based on your values and life circumstances.
Taking Breaks When Needed
Intense periods of training can exacerbate mental strain. Recognize when you need a break for both physical and mental recovery. A few days off after a competition or during personal struggles can work wonders. You may return with renewed motivation and perspective. Rest is an underutilized training tool.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mental Health
BJJ can be a transformative experience with significant psychological benefits. However, the intense nature of training carries inherent risks if not managed consciously. Fortunately, by employing some of the tactics above, you can optimize your BJJ training to lift your mental health rather than take you to darker places. Although BJJ alone cannot “cure” mental illness, its inherent lifestyle factors and lessons on the mat may set you on the path to greater well-being.