Can Karate Help with Anxiety?


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At times, coping with the challenges of life can be a tall order. At first, martial arts might seem violent and intense. But can Karate help with anxiety?

Here’s what I know from years of practice:

Karate and other styles of martial arts do help lessen the symptoms of anxiety in both children and adults. Karate provides a natural outlet for releasing pent-up frustrations and fears in a safe environment. But it also builds self-control and confidence. 

Gradually, it mitigates anxiety.

But it’s vital to stress that anxiety is a mental health challenge millions of Americans battle with. So, I am not providing medical advice here. It’s best to see a therapist if you’re battling anxiety.

With that said, there have been studies showing that martial arts help in coping with anxiety and related mental health issues.

In this article, we’ll explore the following:

  • Why are martial arts good for mental health?
  • How does Karate relieve stress?
  • What is the most peaceful martial art?
  • Are martial arts good for depression?
  • What are the best martial arts for mental health?

Let’s get into it.

Why are martial arts good for mental health?

Martial arts are good for mental health because they have both physical and mental components. Most styles are not really about fighting. They help foster greater confidence, resillience, stress reduction, and even happiness by increasing awareness and mindfulness. 

When we watch martial artists on TV, what we see are folks engaged in physical confrontations.

It’s fun to watch them. We want the person we’re rooting for to crush the other party. But, there’s a lot more going on when one considers martial arts at a deeper level.

Most martial arts, especially the most popular such as Karate, Kung Fu, and Judo, can be traced back to Asian monks in ancient times.

As such, these disciplines, in addition to being tools for combat, are also profound spiritual practices. Practices that foster inner and interpersonal harmony and effectiveness.

Let’s consider a few ways that martial arts have a positive effect on mental health.

Meditation and mindfulness are two of the key practices that make martial arts good for mental health. Many people report that both help them alleviate stress in their lives and make them happier.

And one only needs a short period each day. Martial arts help practitioners keep focused, alert, and calm even when confronted with challenges.

When people engage in martial arts, endorphins and dopamine are released, leading to a heightened and happier state. Naturally, both have a positive impact on one’s mood.

These rewards reinforce the habit of engaging more in martial art, gradually one’s skills improve, impacting one’s self-confidence.

Loneliness and depression are some of the challenges many people face.

These are often mitigated when they pick up a martial art because the sense of community is a defining feature of most martial arts. There’s a focus on respect, humility, and harmony.

Now, there are a lot of martial arts out there. A lot of styles are “hard-core,” while others are subtle. 

In a recent article of mine, I explored two soft styles: Aikido and Tai chi. In it, I spoke about whether they’re effective for self-defense, whether Tai Chi is even a martial art and how it compares to Aikido.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How does Karate relieve stress?

Karate help relieves stress by providing a physical outlet for pent-up emotions. Practitioners release anger, frustration, and stress while kicking, punching, and yelling kiais. Endorphins are released, which gradually relieves stress and boosts temperament.

And in time, the feeling of being overwhelmed dissipates.

Karate has mental components that are vital even as it’s employed physically. It’s also an intense physical workout. Kicking, punching, blocking, yelling… lots of fun!

As you engage in Karate, dopamine is being released into your brain. What’s dopamine? It’s a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for sending certain signals to the nerve cells.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals. It triggers feelings of pleasure and happiness. (source)

As we all know from experience, stress fades away when we’re in a really good mood. On a mental level, while you’re engaged in Karate, you’re focused on mastering the techniques or using them to defeat your sparring partner.

Both of you are having fun. You naturally forget yourself. It’s not easy for stress to thrive when your focus has been shifted to how fun Karate can be.

Stress, by the way, is natural.

It’s when it’s too much that it becomes a problem. Anxiety and insomnia could be ways in which stress manifests. Karate helps because the intense workout that’s involved would make you tired, making it easier for you to switch off.

You would have been switching off anxious thoughts while you were at the dojo. Over time, better sleep would also make you less anxious.

It’s not uncommon that teenage girls battle anxiety and lack self-confidence. Which martial arts help teen girls the best? 

This is the theme of a recent article of mine where I spoke about issues such as is 15 too old to start a martial art, whether Jiu-Jitsu is good for girls and which martial arts can help teenage girls with anxiety.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is the most peaceful martial art?

Aikido is the most peaceful martial art. Its essence is subduing an opponent without harming them. It abhors violence and harm. It’s about harmony and peace, and the application of the absolute minimum force required to use an opponent’s energy is used against them. 

But without harming them.

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around Aikido at first. It’s hard to see how a strategy that’s defined by non-violence can be useful in violent situations. How can you not harm someone who is trying to harm you?

To grasp Aikido’s philosophy, we must know something about its founder, Morihei Ueshiba. He served in the Japanese army. So, he was no stranger to violence.

Ueshiba had also learned several martial arts.

But at a point, he had a profound spiritual experience that affected his worldview. It’s a profound take on life.

To grasp Aikido, one might need a paradigm shift. Or the very process of learning changes one’s paradigm. Aikido is often translated as “way of unifying spirit” or “way of harmony.”

Its essence can be glimpsed in one of Ueshiba’s quotes.

“To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.”

You might be thinking this is beautiful.

An art that stresses peace and harmony. Perhaps that explains why it’s not used in MMA. I took the time to dive deep into that in a recent article of mine.

I revealed which Aikido techniques are allowed in MMA and which ones are banned. I also showed which MMA fighters are hip to Aikido.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Are martial arts good for depression?

Martial arts are good for depression as science has found a direct correlation between physical activity and improved mental health. Additionally, many martial arts feature mindfulness as a component which also has proven benefits on mental health. 

(source) (source)

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the choices that could predispose a person to be depressed.

Such that it becomes hard to find joy in almost anything! Physical and mental activities that are stressed in martial arts can be effective antidotes. (source)

In my own life, when I started training (again) in 2013, I was a mess.

I was struggling with my marriage, stressed out, and always had a million things going on simultaneously. Martial arts (we did a blend of Karate, BJJ, and incorporated elements of Aikido and Tai Chi too) helped ground me. It improved my ability to focus and be present and to release the illusion of control.

All of that resulted in a calmer demeanor, a more positive mindset, and the ability to stay calm when others were not.

But it’s important to stress that martial arts alone are not adequate to combat depression. So, the best thing to do is to see a licensed therapist if you’re noticing symptoms of depression.

Having said that, in countries such as Australia and the U.K., physical activity is often one of the therapies that are prescribed for those with mental health challenges such as depression.

Martial arts help because they are effective in making you feel less stressed. They keep you active, improve your mood, and make you sleep better.

Gradually, the cumulative effects of these make you more optimistic, and the dark clouds are lifted in no time.

What are the best martial arts for mental health?

Tai Chi and Aikido are the best martial arts for mental health. But almost all martial arts can help improve one’s mental health. The styles with the least focus on mental health would be MMA and Krav Maga.

So, you don’t have to sweat the decision. A lot of martial arts are similar to each other.

Do a bit of research and see which one you think you’ll enjoy. What’s the point if you’re not having fun, right? But on the whole, there are hard and soft styles.

In other words, some are physically demanding, in fact, violent, while others are a bit “laid-back”.

In the former, you meet force with force. Karate and Taekwondo are good examples. While with the latter, the focus is not meeting force with force but receiving and using the opponent’s force against them. Aikido is a good example.

A martial art that’s awesome for one person may be wrong for another. So, you have to decide what you want. Do you want the intense, force-for-force heat of Karate or something subtle, like Aikido?

Even when one has no mental health challenges, martial arts are awesome. 

In a recent article, I looked at the key benefits of learning martial arts and why we need to learn self-defense.

But I also explored the elephant in the room: do martial arts make you violent? And I spent some time on the side effects of martial arts.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

In the article, we looked at why martial arts are good for mental health. And how Karate relieves stress.

But even beyond that, we looked at some of the physical benefits of Karate too. After all, in kids under age 18, Karate has even been shown to help make them taller!

Then, we explored whether martial arts is good for depression. Finally, we checked out the best martial arts for mental health.


Image by Med Ahabchane from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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