We say (and hear and read) it all the time: “Jiu-jitsu is my therapy.”
For many people, jiu-jitsu is truly the only thing that gets them through both day-to-day struggles and exceptionally difficult life circumstances. It’s a physical, mental, and social outlet that forces us to focus on the “now” instead of whatever else is happening in the world.
There’s a cruel irony, then, in what is currently going on in the world. As a global pandemic wreaks havoc on people’s health and livelihoods, the very thing that many people rely on to get them through tough times is now unavailable (at least in its normal capacity) in what is indeed a very tough time.
Setting aside whatever personal beliefs you have about COVID-19 or how we should be handling it, this situation has presented a difficult question that many of us are only asking ourselves for the first time: how can we cope when our main stress outlet is suddenly unavailable?
Those of us who have been badly injured, had an unfortunate change in our work schedule, or were otherwise left unable to train for an extended period of time may have already had to confront this issue. If you rely solely on jiu-jitsu to maintain your mental health, you’re walking a narrow line between wellness and devastation. When we have jiu-jitsu, this is fairly easy — we can get our daily dose of exercise-based endorphins, positive voluntary social interaction, mental stimulation, and that sweet, sweet sensation of “I did something productive today!” all in under two hours.
The downside to putting all of your mental health in the hands of your teammates is that you have to find other sources of inner peace if jiu-jitsu is suddenly unavailable, and many people have realized over the past few months that this is easier said than done. While you may be unlikely to find another activity like jiu-jitsu that ticks all the mental health boxes at once, you can (and should) have a backup plan that breaks apart the jiu-jitsu puzzle and delivers it to you in smaller pieces. Obviously, this is still easier said than done while living in an age of coronavirus restrictions, but it’s well worth the effort.
If you still can’t train jiu-jitsu, try to find activities that accomplish these four things:
By now, you’ve probably had it drilled into your head that exercise releases “happy hormones.” For some people, finding the motivation to stay strong and in-shape is easy, even when BJJ academies are closed. For others who truly only enjoy jiu-jitsu when it comes to exercise, this is a bit harder. Even if you can’t muster up the motivation to go for daily runs or complete your push-up challenges, though, make sure to get up and moving at least once a day. There are plenty of apps that can add some entertainment to your movement routine, such as Zombies, Run! (which may feel a little too real right now) or Pokemon GO (which is more suitable for people who prefer walking to running). Jiu-jitsu will be easier for you if you stay in great shape until your return, but for now, just do what you can manage.
Social distancing may be especially difficult for jiu-jitsu practitioners who are at their happiest when clinging to their friends like an angry backpack. We all know that video calls just aren’t the same as face-to-face interactions, but seriously, make the time to do it. Even for proud introverts, going from high amounts of socialization to only speaking to supermarket cashiers can be a shock to the system. If you’re still erring on the side of caution or if your area still has tight restrictions on how many people can be in a given space, carve out some time at least once a week to talk (with your mouth, not texting) with a family member or trusted friend.
If you can think about a big work project and your relationship struggles and what to eat for dinner tonight while someone is trying to break your arm in half, you’re better at multitasking than I am. Jiu-jitsu gives our brains a break from the constant stressors of everyday life and makes us focus on what’s right in front of us. It may not fit the exact definition of meditation, but it is, in fact, a highly mindful activity — our minds are briefly emptied except for the task at hand. If you haven’t tried meditation before, this may be the perfect time to do it. If you’re a beginner or just prefer to have some guidance, there are lots of apps for that (though Balance is my personal favorite). If meditation isn’t your thing, that’s fine! Just try to carve out some time in the day specifically for yourself, whether that’s by reading, playing video games, or practicing a new hobby.
Jiu-jitsu makes us feel accomplished — a sensation that’s hard to find when you live with a mental illness like depression, ADHD, or anxiety. Your routine may have become a bit monotonous since All Of This started, and feeling like your life has suddenly been put on pause when you had a bunch of great plans just a few months ago can be a huge downer. And of course, depression itself can make even “small” productive tasks like showering or washing a cup feel overwhelming. Even little bursts of productivity can be great mood-boosters, though. Some people insist on starting their day out by making the bed for this exact reason, but you can also accomplish this by setting small goals for yourself during the day. Timers can also be a great tool to boost productivity — haven’t you ever been amazed at how much you can accomplish in the two minutes it takes your food to heat up in the microwave? Make the effort to work toward a goal for ten minutes at a time, whether it’s cleaning, studying, or exercising. You don’t have to move mountains, but give yourself something to be proud of at the end of the day.
And of course, professional counseling can be a great way to discuss your emotions in a safe, trustworthy environment. You can and should talk to your doctor about medication if you feel like it might help you as well.
In a hectic world in which restrictions are increased and then lifted seemingly by the day, it’s more important than ever to have a few sources of stress relief. Choking out our friends may be the ideal way to maintain our mental health, but if we can’t…. well, we’re jiu-jitsu people. We’ll just figure out another way to come out on top.