Submitting Anxiety with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

IMG_0053After grappling with agoraphobia and panic disorder for over twenty years now, I have tried just about every treatment option possible before finding the right fit for me. Everything from medication to yoga to therapy and finally Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) to discover the benefits of what I consider to be a very effective form of active meditation.

When I first started getting panic attacks and ended up having to quit my job as a prison guard, medication was a godsend. Finally, I was able to do the simple things that had seemed impossible in the recent weeks. Little things like going to the movies or even going out with my friends and having fun.

A few months later however, I decided to get off the medication and try to continue my progress without any pharmaceutical help. The side effects of taking antidepressants and anxiolytics were starting to take its toll. Besides, I’ve never been a big fan of taking medication. It wasn’t easy but I managed to ween off the pills and take my anxiety head-on. 

I blog for World Mental Health Day

In order to help better manage my emotions, I signed up for a yoga class. It really helped induce a state of relaxation. Actually, after the classes I was usually very calm and relaxed. The problem however was that in-between yoga sessions, my anxiety would increase and it seemed harder to stay motivated so I knew I had to find something else. Mindfulness meditation was the in thing to do at the time so I gave it a try. Although the principles of mindfulness meditation is relatively simple, I found it incredibly difficult to try to remain silent and focus on my breathing. It seemed like every thought I have ever had would present itself during my attempts at meditation. Maybe I should have continued trying but it became frustrating and I looked for alternative solutions to reduce my anxiety.

At the same time that I was looking for a magic solution to manage my panic attacks, a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym opened up a few streets away from my place. Being curious, I signed up for a few classes to see how it was. I had always been curious about MMA. Turns out I don’t like being punched or kicked. When we practiced ground routines, or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu however, I really enjoyed the challenge. Once we started grappling, it seemed as if time had stood still and all my thoughts had disappeared from my mind except for the present moment. It was impossible to think about anything else when somebody was trying to submit me. My mind was focused on what was happening to me right now and nothing else.

When my trial membership finished, I signed up at a BJJ school and started training two to three times a week. After a few weeks, I noticed that my anxiety had decreased significantly and I felt much better about myself. It is then that I realized how BJJ was a form of meditation that allowed my mind to empty itself of all other thoughts while being focused on the present moment. Isn’t that what meditation is all about?

Today I am a blue belt in BJJ and still try to go train every week. Having a family and working full time doesn’t make it easy to train as often as I’d like but when I start to miss a few classes, I can feel my anxiety rising. It is at that moment that I make it a priority to find the time to roll. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with anxiety and I’m glad I discovered how to successfully grapple with mine.

Learning From Violent Offenders

We are taught young to seek out the best possible sources of information when trying to better understand an issue or problem. If you need information about the law, a lawyer is a better choice than a banker. If you need to know about human behaviour, a psychologist would be a better choice than an engineer. Somewhere along the way though, this message seems to go into a grey zone.

I remember taking a criminology class when I was in university. We were discussing violence prevention and what we can do as future criminologists to prevent violent crime. When my turn came up, I suggested we interview as many violent offenders as possible in order to learn from them: learn what had motivated and fuelled their anger; learn what had prevented them from acting out on different occasions; continuously learn as much as we can from them in order to incorporate these findings in preventive, educative and prevention programs.

Well, apparently the teacher wasn’t too impressed. The prevention programs were already available and the correct answer was to apply these programs (as-is) in schools to educate and prevent an escalation of violence and crime.

Having worked with offenders now for over twenty years, I maintain my initial hypothesis. I have learned more about anger and violence from the offenders themselves than any book, lecture, or training session. Actually, I have learned more about myself from trying to teach them than I wanted to. In prison, it seems inmates are always observing their environment for little details. When they have a new case worker, they will meticulously observe and analyse them to see if they if a working alliance will be easy or difficult to establish. After a while, they will tell you things about yourself you hadn’t noticed. It turns out I wear too much black clothing, touch my elbow before challenging a participant’s erroneous thought, and the list goes on.

It always seemed like a no brainer to me to get to know my clients better than the files that accompany them. After all, wouldn’t the best source of knowledge about violence be from someone who has a problem containing their emotions and acts out their anger? Doesn’t it almost seem pretentious to think we can study emotionally healthy well balanced individuals while not consulting, interviewing or studying the ones afflicted by this behaviour in order to create programs aimed at taming their anger and violence?

Violent offenders, while they are incarcerated or on parole are usually quite open about what makes them tick, what calm them down and what makes them explode. By carefully listening to what they have to say, we can learn a lot about violence and discover different treatment options that would not only benefit them, but would benefit society as a whole.

For anyone working with offenders, addicts, or any other behavioural problem for that matter, I would suggest that listening to what they have to say can go a very long way towards recovery. It is after all, a symbiotic relationship that can help make the world a better place to live in.

Ron Forte is a Positive Psychology Life Coach who lives and works in Montreal. He teaches people about emotions management and zen living. One subset of his many clients is an interesting group: people on parole, learning proven methods to change their outcomes.

Visit his website to find out more about his services, blog and upcoming book about how violent offenders have successfully turned their lives around by using some simple techniques that can be applied by anyone to better the quality of their lives

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Ten Tips to Increase Intimacy

Given the recent statistics about divorce and relationships, it would appear that being in a relationship involves a lot of hard work and effort. What ever happened to the happy Hollywood ending we all strive to reach?

The fact is relationships do take a lot of hard work. These efforts however don’t have to be difficult and tend to pay off exponentially. After the honeymoon stage, when all is not new anymore but rather familiar, we tend to take the other person for granted and neglect to invest ourselves in increasing intimacy.

David Schnarch, world-renown sex and marital therapist, once said “Cellulite and sexual potential are highly correlated.” What he meant by this statement is that the older a couple grows together, the greater the intimacy and the better the sex. In fact, research shows that intimacy and sexual pleasure are potentially better at 50-60 years of age. This is accounted by the quality of intimacy that can be cultivated with maturity: To feel really known by your partner, and continuing to get to know each other on a higher level.

Here then, are ten tips that can help strengthen a relationship by increasing intimacy:

  1. Curiosity: Be curious about your partner (ask them how their day went, listen, and ask questions).
  2. Appreciate them: Let them know you appreciate them (share a gratitude journal with them about the things you appreciate about them).
  3. Open up: Let them become your best friend (share your dreams, goals, fears and insecurities)
  4. Rituals: Set up routine rituals (plan a romantic date once a month, sign up for an activity together).
  5. Show affection: Hug each other, kiss, and hold hands. These little attentions can say what words often can’t.
  6. Compliments: Giving a compliment is an easy way to make someone feel special. Mark Twain once said “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
  7. Celebrate positive events together: When one partner celebrates a positive event (raise, promotion, award, personal goal, etc.) both partners should celebrate it together. This creates a sense of togetherness and intimacy.
  8. Constructive conflict: When interpersonal conflict arises between partners, challenge the behaviour instead of attacking the person (“I don’t like it when you…” instead of “You’re such a…”) Doing so enables the conflict to allow communication and growth.
  9. Little attentions: Use your imagination to create little ways of showing you care (leave a love note in a strategic place, a loving message on the answering machine, etc.)
  10. Make Valentine’s Day everyday: Don’t wait for February the 14th to show you care by buying flowers or a romantic evening. Make these little efforts throughout the year by doing one of these suggestions and watch your relationship flourish.
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Why Trying to Find Happiness is Like Chasing Your Own Shadow

Did you ever notice how many books, self-help and even coaching programs are claiming to help you find and increase happiness. There is no doubt about it; happiness has become a lucrative business for those wanting to exploit it. The problem with most of these claims is that they simply don’t work. In fact, they actually hinder the process of achieving happiness.

This might seem odd coming from someone that so deeply believes happiness is Continue reading

The 80/20 Rule: Doing More by Investing Less Time and Effort

80/20 ruleAnyone who has ever worked in an office has observed the following types of behavior. On the one hand, you have the perfectionists that are scrambling for time to produce the perfect report or finish a task flawlessly. They always seem to be in a hurry, stressed and worried about being able to finish their assigned task. The details in their work are painstakingly obvious and reflect the countless hours, days or months they have put into their work. The cost of such behaviour (often resulting from insecurities and/or perfectionism) often include Continue reading

Optimizing Your Work Experience

job satisfactionThere are not too many people I know that would argue in favour of work over leisure time in the pursuit of happiness and peak experiences. In fact, it is during our leisure time that we expect to immerse ourselves in activities we enjoy and feel like we are in the zone (or flow). Flow, according to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is a state of full immersion in an activity that generates positive feelings, a sense of being energized, and complete focused motivation. Time and space seem to vanish as we fully ingage ourselves in an activity. Think of an artist who paints for hours on end without taking breaks for lunch or supper only to realize he is famished once he has completed his painting. Increased experiences of flow are associated with increases in happiness.

You may be surprised then to find that an article written by  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and Judith LeFevre called Optimal Experience in Work and Leisure produced counterintuitive findings suggesting that Continue reading

Breaking Free From an Addiction (Part Three): Dealing with Slips

Addiction, Slips and RelapseWhen we try to change a certain behavior that has become a bad habit or addiction, we usually go through a series of trial and error periods before we eventually find a way to successfully break free from whatever addiction we are trying to break. Of particular importance is how we define, view and deal with slips. The first thing to do then is to properly define a slip and to understand how it differs from a relapse.

A relapse is defined by a return to a previous undesired behavior. It is reengaging in the habit (frequency and quantity) you have attempted to break free of. If for example Continue reading

Breaking Free From an Addiction (Part Two)

One of the hardest (and most recurring) obstacles to breaking free from an addiction is cravings. Learning how to successfully deal with cravings is an essential part of the Maintenance phase of the Transtheoretical Model of change. In this phase, we have implemented our plan to change our behaviour (action phase) and are enjoying continued success (maintenance).

In order to effectively deal with cravings, we must first learn Continue reading

Breaking Free From an Addiction (Part One)

When you are trying to change a habit such as an addiction, there are many things to consider if you want to increase your chances of succeeding. The preparation stage, described in Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of change, is essential to increasing your odds in favor of changing your undesirable behavior. It is at this stage of the journey that you will analyze and plan for your road to recovery. Identifying the situations that put you at risk for a slip (or a full blown relapse) and developing a course of action for dealing with these situations is how we create an effective relapse prevention plan. Harnessing the resources and skills for carrying out that plan is also a very important part of the preparation stage.

There is however, one simple action that can help you plan for and implement your action plan that is all too often neglected: social support. Continue reading

Resources for Panic and Anxiety Disorders

The last three blog entries I wrote about panic and anxiety have generated a lot of interest so I decided to write about additional resources available to panic and anxiety sufferers. It is not always easy to find relevant and credible information on these conditions so I hope this article will benefit those seeking more information and treatment options.

First of all, if you feel like you are suffering from anxiety, one of the first things you Continue reading