I Tried Boxing for Anxiety—Here's What I Learned
I can’t exactly pinpoint the first time I had a panic attack or felt overly anxious. My mum says it’s down to my caring nature, which is basically a nice way of saying I care far too much and far too deeply. But hi, I’m Alyss, and I’m one of the many millennial women living with high-functioning anxiety.
According to the Office for National Statistics, I’m not alone, over a quarter of women in the UK suffer from anxiety or depression. What’s more worrying is the number of women suffering while still leading a fairly normal life. Appearing “normal” to you and me, carrying on with social events and work but going home and suffering in private.
On a daily basis, I probably experience about two to four bouts of insufferable anxiety. From heart palpitations and panic attacks to sleepless nights overthinking (pointless, can I add) things over and over in my head—it’s not ideal, and it’s certainly not good for my self-esteem. But through trial and error, I’ve learned how to manage it. And now, I’m testing out the waters for a new anxiety relief approach: boxing.
It’s no secret that exercise can help alleviate stress and anxiety. It’s something I discovered after moving to London alone for a job—my boyfriend and I knew we could make long distance work, but little did I know going from the comfort of living with him to living with complete strangers in a less-than-ideal flat would result in severe anxiety. Taking up running helped no end, it enabled me to disconnect from my thoughts and focus fully on the repetitive nature of running. But what about boxing?
Boxing is currently a bit of a buzzword, Gigi Hadid loves it, and boutique gyms are popping up all over London—for good reason.
Therapist Chloe Brotheridge is an anxiety expert at Calmer You, and author The Anxiety Solution told me that when we're feeling anxious, we often feel low in confidence and as though we can't cope. Learning something challenging, like boxing, and seeing ourselves improve helps to build our confidence. Boxing builds self-efficacy; our ability to trust that we can handle any challenges. She believes that in being present in the moment and literally on your toes it gets you out of your head, and into your body.
Chloe's statement really rang true to me, so I decided to give boxing a go at Kobox. As one of London’s very first boutique boxing gyms, Kobox offers high-intensity classes combined with heavy-bag boxing routines and functional strength training. It’s also conveniently located close to my flat and near work, so I decided to test it out over the space of two weeks.
Read on to find out how I got on with boxing.
The Day Before Class One:
I took an anxiety test on the NHS that stated I had “high anxiety” levels, which at that time rang very true. It was the night before I had two days off work. This should have felt like a great thing, but instead, I spent my Sunday evening panicking that I hadn’t completed everything, stressing that everything would fall apart with two days off, and agonizing over spending two days (probably) alone.
I decided to allow myself a lazy morning at home and go to a 9.30 a.m. class. Most days I wake up at around 6 a.m., without fail. It’s both a blessing and a curse—a blessing when I actually want to be awake that early, and a curse when it’s because I’m feeling anxious. Going to the 9.30 a.m. class meant this: There were only two of us in the class, no room to hide. The teacher, Melissa, at Kobox, was great—she made me feel totally comfortable and shouted words of encouragement throughout. I left feeling great, on a boxing high, and surprisingly I didn’t think about anything but punching the bag and getting through the horrendous bear crawls throughout.
Day two rocked up, and even though I had the day off work, I decided to stick to my normal morning routine and go to an early class with a friend. I instantly regretted it as I slept terribly after worrying obsessively about money. Standard. That being said, the class was incredible. This time it was full, and everyone’s energy was sky high, even at 7.15 a.m. Having a friend there made it even more enjoyable, and by the end, we both couldn’t stop smiling, even through the pain. There’s something so satisfying about getting the 1, 2, 3 punching moves right. It makes you really connect with the physical act of punching, which leaves you no time to think about anything else.
I was still feeling the effects of the first two classes and felt confident going in. In my mind, everything was calm, and my week was going well. To be honest, I’m not sure if I felt good because I’d just had two days off or because of the high-intensity exercise, I’d been doing. But either way, I left feeling stress-free.
Okay, I’ll be honest… I had a few days off. And by a few, I mean almost a week. I’d finished day four feeling really great, but over the next week, I struggled to find the time or the energy to go to a class. I’m really hard on myself when I have to cancel or miss classes—as I’m sure everyone is—so forcing myself along to an evening class and punching away at the bag really helped to relax me. With boxing, the thing that really feels satisfying is knowing the punches and getting them right. It fills you with a sense of achievement, and honing those skills not only teaches you a new discipline but also gives you a huge confidence boost.
By now I was really feeling the effects of boxing. I exercise regularly, often around five times a week, but there’s something about boxing that feels different. Not only are you getting a full-body workout, but your mind is getting a workout too. You have to really focus on where you’re hitting the bag, on the speed, the numbers and all while trying to move quickly and keep your heart rate up. I was finding it strangely calming and benefitted from leaving anything else I had on my mind at the door.
Gary Logan, head of boxing at BXR London, told me that boxing helps to provide an intensified rush of endorphins, which is definitely true. It’s a high that’s almost indescribable. According to Logan, this natural mood booster “in turn makes you feel happier and less stressed. And in order to establish balance, coordination and a punch sequence in boxing, one must use high concentration levels.” Logan went on to tell me that those “levels, combined with the endorphin hormonal release, allow people with mental health issues to concentrate ‘outwardly’ rather than ‘inwardly.’” This is definitely something I experienced come my final day, and whenever I did feel anxious or stressed, I chose to ignore my worries until I got to the bag and then release anything I felt outwardly. I felt focused and like I could use my energy to do something satisfying, rather than stress.
I’ll start by saying this: I have still suffered bouts of anxiety throughout my boxing journey. However, boxing has, undoubtedly, helped to calm my mind and distract me from over worrying and stress. Following a specific punching routine and learning a new skill has given me a new confidence boost and enabled me to really focus when entering a gym class. It’s something I’ve always attempted—and failed—to find when doing yoga. I find yoga too quiet and find myself thinking about everything but the poses—whereas with boxing there’s literally no time to think about anything but punching, ducking and punching some more.
While I probably haven’t been doing it long enough to really feel the full effects, I do believe that it’s made me feel more mentally powerful and helped to banish some feelings of stress and anxiety. It really fills you with a sense of achievement when you leave a class, and it’s definitely something I’ll be practising more.
Logan recommends giving beginners class a go at BXR or having a session with one of its reputable boxing coaches, who are all either ex-champion boxers or MMA fighters. Or why not try one of Kobox’s first-timer packs to ease you in?
Would you give boxing a go? Let us know in the comments. Up next: how to actually enjoy running.
Opening Image: Fabletics