I recently completed a course on Mental Health Awareness for Sport and Physical Activity. The course is run by Mind and UK Coaching, and I found it helped boost my knowledge of common mental health disorders (CMDs) and the positive effect physical activity can have upon them.
Unfortunately, the first study in the UK to measure well-being found only 14% of the population had a high level of well-being.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on people's mental health, with quarter 2 of 2020 recording the highest levels of anxiety in the population since 2011. Anxiety levels increased 12.5% from the same quarter in the previous year, and almost 25% of the population reported high levels of anxiety. Various factors determine a person's level of well-being, but the things we do and how we think can have the most significant impact. I wanted to share with you the New Economics Foundation's five ways to well-being and how martial arts training and other actions in your life can improve how you feel and function.
Well-being involves two main elements:
Feeling good (contentment, enjoyment, engagement)
Functioning well (positive relationships, control over one's life, a sense of purpose)
Connect... It is important to feel close to and valued by others. Social relationships act as a buffer to mental ill-health, and in contrast, a primary social network (the total number of close relatives and friends) of three or below is a predictor of CMDs.
Connect at Taekwon-Do... Turn your training buddies into actual buddies. Chat before and after class, check in with how they feel and what they have been up to. Get to know each other and connect outside of the dojang. Introduce yourself to new participants and encourage each other during class.
Be active... Regular exercise is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety across all age groups and has been shown to slow age-related cognitive decline. When we exercise, our bodies produce cortisol, a stress hormone. When stressed, our adrenal glands produce cortisol. Cortisol is a fight or flight hormone and can affect your mood, appetite and sleep patterns. Cortisol is also produced when we exercise as the body is under physical stress. However, this bump of cortisol is only short term and leads to lower cortisol levels at bedtime, leading to a better night's sleep.
Be active at Taekwon-Do... Exercise at an intensity that is appropriate for you. Slow down when necessary and switch out exercises that may exacerbate injuries or achy joints. Whilst it's great to use higher grades as inspiration and a tool to help improve your technique, remember your only competition is YOU. Clap at the end of class to acknowledge your hard work and celebrate every achievement from the first time you do a full push-up to passing your black belt grading.
Take notice... Being present directly enhances well-being. Savour the moment, be curious, notice the world around you and how it makes you feel. A study found that eight to twelve weeks of training individuals to be more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations led to several years of better well-being.
Take notice at Taekwon-Do... It's been nice to take my mind off work for an hour. I didn't think about X once I needed that. It's been nice to switch off after the day I've had. Most of us find that Taekwon-Do is a great opportunity to be present. It's hard to think about anything else when you're trying to remember a twelve move combination, trying to get the pads in the right place for your training partner, or trying to dodge a side kick! I find that a tired body equals a calm mind.
Learn... Not everyone has a positive experience at school or university. (Bullying, poor teaching, student debt) However, the act of learning enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction. Learn because you want to, not because you have to. Take up a new hobby, or revisit an old one. Learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument. Set goals and be persistent in your efforts to achieve them: Goal-setting is associated with higher levels of well-being.
Learn at Taekwon-Do... Taekwon-Do isn't just a physical sport; your mind also gets a workout. We memorise patterns, recite theory and learn the Korean terms for numerous techniques. After achieving one belt, we continue learning by moving on to the next syllabus. I'm incredibly excited about seeing some of our black belts progress through our black belt reward scheme this year. Some people tell me they don't like learning theory because it's difficult, but we should embrace challenges. Difficult things bring us the most reward. Besides, if Taekwon-Do were easy, it would be called football. ;)
And finally, Give... Research shows that giving makes you happier. Those who show a greater interest in helping others are more likely to report higher levels of well-being and happiness. Whether you give money to a charity or give your time through volunteering, the act of helping others leads to greater positivity and self-worth.
Give at Taekwon-Do...The function of leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers. I think of this saying every time I see one of our members helping another by taking the time to help them practice a pattern, passing on sparring tips or quizzing them in the run-up to a grading. This is especially prevalent in the months leading up to black belt gradings when the black belts rally around the candidates, keeping them motivated, perfecting technique and cheering them on. Smile. Give compliments. Offer positive feedback. Be encouraging. Say thank you. Help others.
That's it for now. Connect, be active, take notice, learn and give. I hope you found this interesting or took some ideas for integrating the five ways to well-being into your training or daily lives. Look after yourselves, and I'll see you on the mats.