Benefits of Martial Arts for PTSD
Benefits of Martial Arts for PTSD
An estimated 8% of Americans currently suffer from PTSD. Let’s put that number into perspective. 8% of the U.S. population is a little over 24 million people, or roughly the population of the state of Texas.
While the term PTSD typically projects thoughts of soldiers returning from war, PTSD extends far beyond the men and women who have served or are currently serving our country. In actuality, an estimated 1 out of 9 women will develop PTSD, making them twice as likely to be affected by it than men.
It is also estimated that roughly 5.5 million school age children (5-17) suffer from some form of PTSD. This is caused by several different factors including abuse (both mental and physical), neglect and one major issue facing children today, bullying.
Now that we know that PTSD can affect anyone regardless of gender, age and race, let’s look at what PTSD actually is. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that develops after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. This can include war, car accidents, crimes, abuse (both mental and physical), child abuse and bullying, be it at school, home or even online.
It is also important to know that you don’t have to directly experience any of the above situations to be affected by PTSD. In some instances, just witnessing a crime, an accident or a death can leave a person with PTSD. This can play a large part in why first responders, the men and women who serve our community on a daily basis, experience PTSD.
Why is PTSD so dangerous?
PTSD is an invisible killer. You can’t go to the doctor and have lab work ran to find it like many other illnesses. The causes of PTSD vary so widely that it can make it hard for people to realize they are suffering from its impact. Many of its effects can also be easily written off or confused with something else. Sleeplessness, agitation, depression, anxiety and even subtle changes in lifestyle are just a few of the symptoms associated with PTSD. Many people will even lose interest in hobbies or “fall out of love” with their significant other. All of the above effects can easily be attributed with things other than PTSD, which means it is very easy to overlook or to write-off the impact it has without ever seeking help.
Along with not recognizing the problem, another major factor is embarrassment. PTSD cannot be seen and it is still very much misunderstood. For many, there is a feeling that a person suffering from PTSD is weak minded. There isn’t necessarily a problem; the sufferer just isn’t strong enough to deal with their problems or to handle a situation.
That is completely false!
Now that we have looked at what PTSD is, who it can affect and how it can affect those people, let’s talk about how a good martial arts program can help.
I know what you are thinking. “Do you really expect me to believe that martial arts can do a better job than a doctor can do?” No, I don’t expect you to believe that because I absolutely would never say that. If you suffer from PTSD you should
Absolutely 100% seek help from a doctor!
I would never tell someone to not go to a doctor for help or treatment. What I am saying is that along with professional help and treatment, martial arts can prove to be an invaluable tool for those suffering from PTSD.
One major symptom of PTSD is feeling of constant vigilance and the feeling of being unsafe in your surroundings. Martial arts can help with that and not in the way many of you might think. This feeling won’t subside just because you can physically defend yourself. It won’t go away because you know how to fight, PTSD impacts you mentally, and no amount of punching and kicking can win a battle inside your own head.
No, a good martial arts program can help you overcome those feelings by strengthening you mentally. It raises your self confidence and self esteem; you begin to see yourself as strong again. Along with that, it teaches you how to avoid unsafe situations and how to effectively deal with a situation if you find yourself in one. A good martial arts program will also help to teach you that hyper-vigilance and alertness isn’t a bad thing as long as you handle it correctly. Martial arts can help to teach you how to manage those feelings appropriately, how to recognize when they are warranted and most importantly, how to not overreact in those situations.
*Little bit of a side note here. I keep referring to “a good martial arts program” and you are probably wondering why. That is because not all martial arts schools and instructors are equal. Some are good, some are great and some are at the point where they probably shouldn’t be teaching anyone, let alone someone with PTSD. It is important to find a school and instructor with experience working with someone with PTSD.*
When dealing with PTSD, it is always recommended to find the most experienced instructor possible
Another major symptom of PTSD that a good martial arts program can help with is anxiety.
Martial arts are hard, both physically and mentally. When you are in the dojo, in order for you to do well, you have to put every ounce of your focus and energy into what you are learning and doing. This means that the bad day at work or school that you just had has to be left at the door. By having to focus on what your instructor is teaching you and the fact that martial arts are very physically demanding, you are able to get away from all the things that are causing you anxiety. For someone with PTSD, even an hour like this can be extremely beneficial.
While we learn martial arts in the dojo, we must also practice it daily at home. For those suffering with PTSD, this offers an outlet when not in the dojo. Many sufferers of PTSD ultimately end up turning to alcohol or other drugs as a way to ease their anxiety. Practicing martial arts at home is no easier than in the dojo, and it allows the person to clear their mind while at home, work or even school.
Finally, many sufferers of PTSD pull away from people and often times find themselves feeling alone. Martial arts can offer someone a new group of friends and peers. Everyone in the dojo is either doing everything alongside of you or, as with the higher ranks, have been through everything you are doing on the mat already. Being around these people numerous times a week forms a bond that doesn’t happen very many other places. No one in the dojo stays a stranger for long. Studies have shown that being around a group of people that share the same goals and hurdles can help someone suffering with PTSD to feel like they are part of a group again and help to ease the feelings of loneliness.