Work-related stress has unfortunately become a norm for many people no matter where they are in the world. Limited resources, long hours, demanding deadlines, job insecurity, and interpersonal conflict can greatly affect one’s emotional and physical health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic stress can cause headaches, insomnia, and irritability. People under stress are sometimes more susceptible to colds and other viral illnesses. Untreated, long-term stress has also been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.
Exercise is one of the most powerful and proven forms of stress relief. This means that your favorite martial arts disciplines can be the key to reducing the emotional and physical problems caused by stress in the workplace. If your job has you stressed out, go to your practice mat and punch, grapple, and kick your troubles away. Martial arts can greatly improve your physical and mental well-being, plus improve your relationships with others. The benefits of martial arts can make you as strong, uplifted, and fierce in the boardroom as you are in a sparring match.
Most health care providers would recommend exercise as a way to improve your physical health and well-being. This also extends to combating workplace stress. The Centers for Disease Control cites weight control, improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of cancer, improved sleep, and increased lifespan as some of the many benefits of physical activity.
Exercising, whether you are kicking a pad or rolling on the mat, can help you ease the typical physical strains caused by the modern work environment. Many working adults spend their days sitting in front of computers and making long commutes to and from the office. This can lead to pain in the wrists, neck, back, and shoulders, and can even lead to weight gain from being inactive for many hours at a time. Even those in more “active” professions such as nursing or manufacturing can experience pain from long periods of standing or doing repetitive movements.
When you come home from a long day of work, try to resist the urge to plop down in front of the TV and instead grab your gym bag (or better yet, take it with you to work) and head out the door. Once you begin to stretch and move, you’ll notice how light and relaxed you feel. If you’re working out hard enough you may even get that nice rush of endorphins that can improve mood, ease the pain, and ensure you have a good night’s sleep that will leave you refreshed and ready for another day on the job.
Martial arts can also inspire you to treat your body better, which can help reverse the effects of workplace stress. Do the worries, conflicts, and inconsistencies from your job drive you to grab those leftover sweets in the break room? Stress can often drive people to eat “comfort” foods that are full of fat, salt, and sugar, which can have an adverse effect on health over a long period of time.
Remember, as a martial artist, your body is your form of expression, your well-honed tool, and your temple. If you are a dedicated practitioner and want to have the healthiest, strongest body you can, consider treating your stress with fruits and vegetables rather than high fructose corn syrup. Make sure you are well-hydrated and eating healthy sources of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Take your healthy eating habits from the dojang to the office: pack healthy lunches and snacks to keep you energized throughout the day and less tempted to reach for sugary, fatty foods.
Much like Tai Chi and yoga, many martial arts include mental discipline alongside training and strengthening the body. Taekwondo has been the greatest stress reliever for me, and I encourage those looking for something to calm their minds to consider martial arts. Practicing technique-heavy activities such as forms forces your mind to focus and stay in the present moment. The same ability to focus you use in your martial art can also be used to keep you remain calm during a hectic workday. Your ability to set and reach goals in martial arts such as achieving a black belt or competing in a tournament can translate into how you focus on what is important and worth your time and energy in your job.
Martial arts can also be a healthy form of distraction. It can help keep you from taking yourself too seriously, both when you practice and in other areas of life. Simply remembering you have practice at the end of the day can give you something to look forward to and can keep you motivated during dull or difficult moments.
It’s hard to worry about spreadsheets and reports when your instructor is yelling at you to kick faster. A debate during a meeting doesn’t seem like such a big deal when you know in a few hours you will be grappling with someone half your age. A sparring match may be just what you need to get out your frustrations in a healthy and relatively safe manner.
In martial arts, we fall down, get hit accidentally, and miss our targets, but rather than getting upset we stand up and try again without dwelling on our past mistakes. Use that mindset to help you move on from mistakes at work or get pulled into a cycle of unnecessary worry.
The relationships you build with other martial artists can improve your relationships with your boss, coworkers, and customers. Respect, integrity, and compassion are tenets of many martial arts. How you treat someone on the mat translates to how you treat people in other areas of your life. The patience and mental fortitude you learn along your martial arts journey can help you navigate the difficult interpersonal situations we sometimes encounter in the workplace.
Your martial arts community can also be a great resource for friendship and support. If you teach or coach, you have the ability to set your problems aside and focus on the needs of others. If you are having a particularly rough day at work, just remember that your friends on training floor can’t wait for you to join them.
Feeling stressed? So why not giving a try to practicing Martial Arts? Escape the daily grind, make new friends and hone your skills all at the same time!
By Melanie Gibson in collaboration with BookMartialArt. She is the author of Little Black Belt, a blog about life lessons gained through studying taekwondo. By day she is an organizational and leadership development consultant, and by night she is a dedicated black belt student and assistant instructor.