My very first six months on the BJJ mats involved a lot of nervous pooping. It was all so new to me – the proximity, the exhaustion, the getting my ass handed to me. I would show up to train and immediately have to drop a deuce. My stomach often felt like it was battling an entire bag of Lay’s WOW potato chips. At my darkest point, I was mainlining Pepto-Bismol in my truck outside the gym.
As luck would have it, my gym at the time didn’t have a working shitter either. I’d have to hustle over to a restaurant down the block and sheepishly ask to use their restroom. Worse, said restroom was basically an outhouse in the very back replete with a rusted metal toilet from Black Dolphin, overflowing trash and dim lighting best suited for turning tricks and/or serial killing.
After 5+ years on the mats I thought for sure that I’d beaten training anxiety. Unfortunately, I recently noticed the telltale signs of it creeping right back up like that lake blob in Stephen King’s The Raft. I’m certain though that my lack of consistency on the mats resurrected it. Injury and insomnia followed by frustration and apathy lead to a precipitous drop in my training volume. Instead of showing up 2-4 times a week I was maybe training 2-4 times a month.
As many of you already know, training anxiety is very common in BJJ, especially for newbs. Still, it’s a strange one. The mind conjures up the most idiotic phantasms of what might possibly occur on the mats. Anything from catastrophic injury to poorly timed bowel movements are all game:
“Is today the day that I finally get DDT’d and break my neck?”
“What if someone tries a low single on me and my knee does a Joe Theismann?
“If I don’t tap fast enough to a triangle and I shit my pants how hard will it be to change my identity and flee the country?”
And, of course, there’s our lovely, homuncular ego showing up to add its loose change to the emotional equation:
“I’m tired. I might get tapped by a lower belt.”
“I’ve been sucking lately. I better not train until Mercury is in retrograde.”
“Today feels off. I should go to Five Guys instead and overthink my life.”
Sometimes it’s just this dull, indefinable dread. Regardless, often the best remedy for any and all anxiety is a direct and repeated confrontation with the source (unless it’s your mother-in-law. In that case I highly recommend this).
As with claustrophobia on the mats, exposure therapy is our friend. It’s like saying, “I disbelieve!” when playing Dungeons and Dragons and charging toward that Mind Flayer anyway (side note: I haven’t played since the 9th Grade. Still, long live Drizzt Do’Urden).
In other words, you accept that one’s fears and anxieties are illusory in spite of one’s emotional response. In our case, it means showing up to train regardless of all the harrowing hypotheticals that surround us like bogeymen.
It’s no surprise that after putting in a consistent three months on the mats again, my training anxiety has dissipated to nothing. Sure, sometimes training can feel like a chore, but that weird, peripheral dread that crept back into my head has disappeared.
It might sound counter-intuitive, particularly when dealing with the ridiculous arguments that anxiety loves to produce, but the more you train the less anxious or nervous you’ll become. At the very least, give it shot if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. What’s the worst that can happen? Don’t answer that. Just go get on the mats already.
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