As the head of a martial arts centre, there is a lot of pressure to appear perfectly confident and poised at all times. This is what is often expected of a professional martial artist.
The motivated, positive and confident exterior is of course not always a true representation of what I am facing inside. I am human just like everyone else. We all struggle. Even those who claim that they don’t.
In my life, I have faced periods of struggle, depression and anxiety and while I may not be a trained psychologist or counsellor, I have had to play these roles in my own life from time to time. If you have ever suffered from anxiety and depression, you will know that logic and reason cannot help you to overcome these states of mind. You can’t reason with depression because at its most basic level, it is completely unreasonable and illogical. It is a black hole that can suck the joy out of everything that you once found enjoyable and leave you without the energy or will to get out of bed in the morning.
So as an aside for those of you who are fortunate enough to have never faced depression and anxiety, don’t try to ‘reason’ someone out of it. It just doesn’t work. In addition, an argument designed to point out how illogical someone’s state of mind is could just end up plunging them further into despair.
Why do we get depressed and/or anxious?
If you search online, you will turn up hundreds of really good websites and articles which discuss this question. A good resource to look at is: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/what-causes-depression .
My own perspective on the ultimate reason for the prevalence of anxiety and depression in modern society is that I believe that it is because our modern lifestyle does not match the lifestyle that we have adapted to live over hundreds of thousands of years.
The lifestyle that we are most suitably adapted to involves living in small, mobile, tribal groups which rely primarily on hunting and gathering for survival. The changes to our lifestyle with the advent of farming, establishment of cities and the industrial revolution have been far too rapid for us to perfectly adapt to. The process of adaptation is very slow and while we have been very capable in adapting to the constantly changing face of our world, there have been side-effects and casualties.
We can never go back to who we were before our world changed. This is a past which is forever lost to us. But we can move forward to a better future by acknowledging and understanding who we are and how we can adapt more perfectly to an evolving and imperfect environment.
If you are experiencing anxiety and depression and come to a point where you can start to take control of the situation, try to introduce some elements of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle into your own. I don’t necessarily mean joining a tribe in the middle of Africa, although this could be a great experience. I mean doing things like spending more time outdoors in the bush, camping and bush-walking. Spending more time with your ‘tribe’ whether that’s family or a bunch of close friends. Hunting, if you’re into it. Listening to simpler and older tribal music. Eating simpler foods that you have prepared yourself. I think one of the biggest benefits of Paleo and other popular diets is that they require you to prepare your food for yourself from simpler, more natural ingredients.
Of course, one of the things that our ancestors would have had heaps of in the past which is seriously lacking in our modern sedentary lifestyle is physical activity.
There are numerous studies which describe the benefits of exercise for people suffering from anxiety and depression. A good fact sheet can be found here: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/ExerciseandDepression.pdf
In my experience, a structured physical training program has been one of the most powerful weapons that I have used effectively against depression and anxiety in my own life. I have been actively following a dynamic, evolving physical training program continuously for about 30 years now. Aside from my professional qualifications, I suppose that my practical experience gives me some credibility as a fitness professional.
When I first started training, the main pillars of my program were strength, endurance and combat. Over the years, the nitty gritty details of my program have changed, but these main pillars still remain. I’m not really interested in talking too much about the details of my training program because it’s personal. It’s private. A little Zen garden in the chaotic madness of our world.
Over the years, I have relied on it for much more than just physical and mental improvement. I have often leaned on it heavily during times of great personal stress. In times of depression and anxiety, it has kept my head above water.
It has broken me.
It has mended me.
It has changed me.
It is at once as permanent as a mountain and as changing as the sea. It has been both a lover and an enemy. An intimate friend and a hard-nosed school-master.
I have often found that these feelings are shared by veterans of physical and martial training. They don’t often share much about their training program. It’s just too personal. Conversely, the younger players don’t have as much personally invested in their training programs and are more likely to Instagram every single punch, push-up or dead-lift. For them, it’s all about how good they look, not about what the program is doing for them personally. If they endure for a few decades, things may change for them as well.
I believe in the importance of a regular, structured physical training program for EVERY SINGLE PERSON. It is of fundamental importance to your personal well-being although you may not know it or understand why yet.
I am writing this article to say that you need to start training if you’re not already.
So how do you get out of bed and exercise when you don’t feel like you can get out of bed? At times like these, I have had to switch my brain off and just do it. You can’t reason with depression, so don’t even try. Just get up and get going. The more that you do this, the stronger your motivation to train will become. It’s all about fighting, isn’t it? The title of the article was how to fight depression and anxiety. So get up and FIGHT! Don’t think about it, just do it. It may not make any sense to you but it doesn’t have to.
Written by Lester Walters, Head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia
© Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia 2017. ABN 12 792 347 015