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How to Be a Good BJJ Practitioner if You Have OCD?

How to Be a Good BJJ Practitioner if You Have OCD?

A world without issues is pretty unlikely. Examples of such issues come in the form of mental health problems. Mental health issues can affect the martial art community as well. Coaches and fighters are vulnerable to mental health issues just like anyone else.

Nowadays, there is more acceptance of mental health issues in society. People talk about it and seek help for their issues. Doctors suggest people exercise and adopt extracurricular activities to improve their mental well-being. Martial arts clubs help people feel more optimistic, build social networks, develop exercise plans, and widen their circle of friends which helps improve their mental well-being.

BJJ, like other martial arts, also helps diminish mental issues like anxiety and depression. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most common mental health issues in the world. Now the question is whether people suffering from OCD can still manage in the BJJ martial arts community or not? And can you be a good BJJ fighter if you suffer from OCD? Before digging into this subject, let's get to know what OCD is. 

1. What is OCD?

OCD is a mental condition that causes individuals to be overcome by their nervousness, perfectionism, and attention to details, who feel they need to be in control to overcome their anxiety.

What is OCD?

1.1. Symptoms of OCD

People with OCD can suffer from obsessions, which are intense and intrusive thoughts that make it difficult to focus. Individuals don't decide to have them of their own accord and occur at worryingly frequent pace. People with OCD spend hours fixing things. Fear controls their lives and they try to occupy their time to get rid of that fear. Sometimes disturbing thoughts are about germs or wellbeing, however, the causes of anxiety can be tied to almost anything

The second symptom of OCD is frequent compulsions. These are ritual behaviors that people with OCD do to help them deal with the anxiety, horror, or distress that often lead to obsessive thoughts. There are many types of compulsive behaviors. But they often focus on washing or cleaning, checking on things for safety, or repeating words or numbers.

1.2. Treatment for OCD

Unfortunately, you can’t cure OCD completely but you can manage it so that it won't become triggered as often. A few treatments help individuals with OCD quell obsessive thoughts and come up with productive behaviors that help them better control aspects of their lives.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is arguably the best treatment. In CBT, individuals strive to challenge their thoughts and change their behavior in a positive manner. There is a particular type of CBT called exposure and response prevention or ERP.

Such treatment options help us stop doing unhealthy, repetitive impulses, allowing us to better adjust to tension. After some time, uneasiness is easier to handle thanks to certain medications that help reduce obsessive thoughts and keep them under control.

Certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are utilized to deal with OCD. A mix of ERP and SSRIs is most often the ideal decision for certain individuals suffering from OCD. Therapy helps you better deal with disturbing thoughts and overcome anxiety. People can learn to challenge their thoughts and manage their behavior, allowing them to take control of their lives again.

Treatment for OCD

2. Is BJJ effective in dealing with OCD?

“The hardness on the mat will transfer to making life easier for you in real life.”
(Fabio Santos, Jiu-Jitsu VS The World)

BJJ helps in reducing stress and depression because it keeps your mind busy. A lot of people choose this sport to help deal with their mental conditions. For instance, what if a fighter has OCD. There will be so many questions that will arise in his mind. Like, is it safe for me to train in BJJ? Or would I be able to control myself in stressful situations on the mat?

There will be a lot of times when OCD will make you feel vulnerable and pressured in BJJ. Dealing with pressure is different from fighter to fighter. Some fighters treat BJJ as a fun activity in the beginning, but then quit later on because they cannot handle being under pressure. If you have OCD, it becomes much more difficult to fight under pressure. Georges St-Pierre, a former BJJ black belt, revealed how overcoming OCD made him a champ and how he walked away from the UFC Championship because of his battle with OCD,

"As a competitor, as a fighter, it's a good thing to have it because it makes you better, because you completely obsess about being a better martial artist. Every day, everything that you do is oriented toward a goal. This same obsession I have about my work, my job, to make me better, it was going to drive me crazy. That's why I took that break. I don't call it a retirement because I don't know if it will be, but, I had to step away from the competition for a while. I've been doing it for so long. First, I started because it was fun, I loved it. Then the fun became a business. Then the business with the critics, the expectations, the pressure; you're the target and everybody wants what you have. You become obsessive like crazy, so, I had to get out to keep my mental health."
(Georges St-Pierre)

In some cases, others take failure in stride and learn to control their OCD through BJJ training. For instance, Ryan Ridgway, director of Mind Health Solutions, a boxer, and an MMA martial artist, has OCD. And in his case, martial arts helped him to manage his OCD,

“Thankfully, I discovered training, boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). This was my personal kind of therapy, and I have since gone on to have two professional cage fights. Over time I have learned to manage my mental health condition in a number of ways, as well as make a few mistakes along the way. There’s no magic pill or one solution and I know my condition will always be a part of who I am, but I have found ways that work best for me to manage the symptoms.”
(Ryan Ridgway)

In this scenario, BJJ works as exposure therapy to treat OCD. On the off chance that you're new to the idea of ERP treatment, this is how it works:

You work on something you've previously struggled with in a controlled environment to see if you can handle it. The goal is that the more you practice, the more comfortable you become doing a certain task, and feel less stress in the end. This type of treatment will force you to confront your fears, but that is the point. In any case, you should approach this method slowly. Adopting BJJ as ERP therapy along with OCD medications can help you manage any mental health problems.

3. Fundamentals to Become a Good BJJ Practitioner If Suffering from OCD

3.1. Consider Compulsion As a Problem Rather Than Anxiety

Always remember that negative or disturbing thoughts have no benefit. So try to avoid overthinking. Focus on fixing your compulsions rather than your anxiety. Trying to fix your compulsions will help you stop doing them and make it easier to handle stressful situations. This diminishes anxiety and builds up mental toughness. When your mind is relaxed then it will be easier for you to come up with strategies to defeat your opponents.

3.2. Avoid Perfectionism

Many BJJ practitioners with OCD are obsessed with perfection. Don’t get sidetracked trying to do everything perfectly. Instead, try to overcome this compulsion by telling yourself that it is more important that you are trying rather than getting it right everytime. Remind yourself of your previous achievements that had previously been challenging for you. Appreciate that you have made progress and don’t stress out when learning new BJJ skills. This will give you the motivation necessary to keep working on BJJ.

Avoid Perfectionism

3.3. Always Expect the Unexpected

OCD patients may encounter unexpected situations that cause increased anxiety and makes it difficult to make rational decisions. But always being prepared for unexpected situations in BJJ is what makes a good practitioner. Don’t let the unexpected ruin your concentration. You have to embrace unexpected situations as opportunities to grow stronger. With this approach, your OCD will not be as much as a hindrance to your BJJ training.

3.4. Be Willing to Accept Risks

For better performance on the mat, a BJJ practitioner with OCD must always be ready to accept risks. You must understand that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. The biggest risk for your mental health is not taking steps to recover from the deteriorating condition you have. You cannot completely get rid of any challenges in your life and overthinking will only worsen your condition. So treat BJJ as a way to deal with challenging and unexpected situations so you can better prepare for risks.

3.5. Try to include conditioning exercises in the training session

A BJJ practitioner with OCD must include cardiovascular and strength exercises in their routine. Moderate-intensity cardio exercises improve stamina and reduce OCD symptoms. These exercises will help improve your cardiovascular system, as well as help reduce stress and anxiety. During exercise, hormones like oxytocin and endorphins will be released in the body that boosts your metabolism, improves blood circulation, and reduces anxiety, having a therapeutic effect on the mind. All these factors help improve your endurance in BJJ.

3.6. Proper Medication

Along with ERP therapy, a BJJ practitioner should regularly take the proper amount of medication. This will improve their overall fitness and improve their ability to grapple even with OCD. OCD medication includes antidepressants which maintain the chemical balance in the brain. Main antidepressants prescribed for OCD include SSRIs. SSRIs raise the levels of serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin carries messages between neurons in the brain and the body. Serotonin is responsible for better maintaining body functions like mood swings, sleeping, digestion, nausea, etc. OCD is triggered by a disruption of chemicals that negatively affects parts of the brain. To deal with these communication problems, fighters are given high doses of serotonin to diminish OCD symptoms.

Fighters should not change their current intake of OCD medication without seeking the permission of their medical health practitioner.

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