I recently read an article on Social Anxiety and Jiu-jitsu on jiujitsutimes.com. Social anxiety is a very wide term that can cover a vast range of things from fears about fitting in up to some very serious issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder or living with panic attacks.
Scientifically speaking, situations that require physical activity are a much bigger issue for people suffering from diagnosed conditions and according to some researches this especially applies to women. Physical activity can undoubtedly have positive effects on a mental illness such as reduction of anxiety or depressive symptoms, increase of self-esteem and improved stress management but the people attached to this activity can make the situation somewhat more challenging.
Starting out Brazilian jiu-jitstu is very challenging strictly physically speaking. When we account for the fact that most of classes require you to have a range of partners the situation gets somewhat more complex.
The first problematic situation is dealing with just how small and awful you are at it. It’s not even about athletic predispositions as much as it is about being awful in front of a roomful of complete strangers shaking their heads at you all day long. This is a tremendous source of anxiety for all new beginners. About 7 out of every 100 people* suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder in any given moment of time which means that there is a scientific likelihood there’s someone else in the room having the same kind of trouble you have and feeling extra anxious about it as well. Structure of classes varies greatly from academy to academy so if you have trouble with this kind of thing, it would be beneficial to inquire about class structure as well so you can come with the right expectations.
There’s a sort of a wait and see mentality in bjj. Every student has to persist in BJJ to be accepted by the crowd. High overturn of practitioners makes most people lack the eagerness to get to know you before you earn it. This is not the easiest for the new person but it makes the relationships you forge all the more special. Yes, you might have an aching desire to feel like you belong but you have to put in the time and the effort to actually be a part of something.
*These numbers were taken from USA population based analysis but they don’t greatly vary in other countries. They’re barely ever under 15%.
Researchers have documented that social anxiety may occur in a wide range of settings connected to participation in athletics and physical activity. Given the physical and psychological benefits of engaging in practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, avoidance by socially anxious individuals may have profound health consequences on them. Fear of negative evaluation is also very present in such situations a coach or a sparring partner should generally be very supportive. Another relevant aspect, this time more relevant for men, is familial pressure to practice during teenage years. These individuals suffer from significantly higher fears relating to negative evaluations.
As the article that inspired this mentions, the first thing to do is be upfront about your problem. You should share your feelings/condition with your instructor. If you don’t tell anyone what’s going on with you, they can hardly be supportive and provide a healthy friendly environment.
If you have strong symptoms of any social anxiety disorder you should seek treatment. Your physician (and/or therapist) can help build mechanisms to deal with your symptoms. Getting yourself “in deeper” in situations where you’re already very uncomfortable can have adverse effects so make sure you’re deciding what you’re comfortable with.
For a person suffering from a social anxiety disorder to pick an individual sporting activity is already quite extraordinary and as such it deserves all the support it can find.
Written by Iva Djokovic, Psychology graduate and BJJ practitioner
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