Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health While The Gym Is Closed

Photo/Instagram: @stewartuy

Jiu-jitsu doesn’t cure mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, but it can help alleviate symptoms and improve your mental health even if you don’t have any mental illnesses. It’s a great stress outlet, a social opportunity, a physical and mental workout, and a simple escape from everything hectic going on in the real world.

With gyms closed and most of us forced to do solo drills, train with people who live with us, or not train at all, that mental boost we normally enjoy is suddenly gone. Particularly as we move into what may be a long period of self-isolation, it’s more important than ever to make sure that we’re taking care of our minds as well as our bodies. With jiu-jitsu mostly out of the picture for now, tending to your brain needs to be a priority.

1. Have some kind of physical energy outlet.
You can exercise will still practicing social distancing. Go running on a quiet trail. Do yoga or bodyweight workouts in your living room. Take a walk around your neighborhood. It may not be as fun as jiu-jitsu is, but stay moving. Ask yourself what type and amount of exercise would help you feel best, and do it. If your anxiety will go through the roof if you’re not taking steps to improve your jiu-jitsu every day, then keep doing solo drills and watching technique videos. If the pressure to stay in perfect shape is too much with everything that’s going on right now, at least commit to doing a few pushups and squats every day. Keeping exercise in your daily routine is good for your body, but your mind will also benefit from consistent movement.

2. Stay in contact with friends and loved ones.
Video chats are a blessing in times like these. Now is the perfect time to catch up (digitally) with long-distance friends you haven’t previously had time to catch up with. Message your teammates to see how they’re holding up. Spend more time video chatting with your family. Maintaining social connection is important for your brain, and with jiu-jitsu out of the picture, you’ll need to take advantage of technology’s gifts if the mats are usually where you get your daily dose of human interaction.

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3. Keep a healthy diet.
Unless you’re one of the people who’s able to maintain their normal workout routine even with the gym closed, you’re probably going to start seeing some unwanted weight changes. The calories that come from junk food won’t get burned off as quickly, and the decrease in exercise makes it that much more important to eat healthy, nourishing foods. Nutrition and mental health are strongly connected as it is, but if your mental health is also strongly affected by your ability to maintain a certain weight or body type, it’s that much more important to be conscious of your eating habits when you’re not training.

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4. Keep learning.
Whether or not you choose to spend hours watching technique videos while in quarantine, find something to keep challenging your mind. This is the perfect time to learn new skills and information that you haven’t had time for in the past because of jiu-jitsu. The sense of progress and accomplishment you feel learning a sport as mentally difficult as jiu-jitsu can be helpful in battling the feelings of worthlessness many people with depression experience. By doing something like learning a new language, trying a new hobby, or taking free online courses, you can keep yourself moving forward instead of feeling stuck.

5. Maintain a routine.
As someone who has worked from home for seven years now, I cannot overstate how easy it is for everything else to fall apart when you let your routine fall apart. This is an absolutely crazy time in the world right now, and unfortunately, most of our routines have now been disrupted whether we like it or not. With jiu-jitsu, work, school, and hospitality grinding to a halt, it can be easy to let other little steps of a routine — household chores, personal care, and family activities, for example — also fall to the wayside. While you don’t have to stick to a rigid schedule every day, make sure you’re at least completing your daily steps that keep you and your family happy, healthy, and functional. This, of course, includes continuing to take any medications prescribed by your doctor. Sudden increases, decreases, or stoppages in mental health medication can cause dangerous side effects, making it that much more important to make sure you’re still taking them as prescribed.

This is a tough time made even tougher by the lack of jiu-jitsu. Remember to take care of yourself and reach out to others if you need to talk. Chances are, they’ll value the conversation as much as you will.

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