Jul 252012
Pressure Gauge

Pressure GaugeI was over on Bullshido and read a thread with the title above, “So I tapped to an anxiety attack.”  Read the ongoing thread here: http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=117341

The upshot is that a brand new white belt feels pretty down about being pushed beyond the level of exhaustion and tapped out of fear rather than from a technical submission.  Who hasn’t?  I have.  It’s something everyone who trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu understands.  Jiu Jitsu is fun.  It’s really fun… but there are times when it’s not fun.  There are times when you have someone putting so much pressure on your diaphragm from Knee on Belly, or smothering your face from North/South that your fight or flight kicks in.  And for someone who has a legitimate, diagnosed condition, such as an anxiety disorder or panic attacks, BJJ can be downright terrifying at times.

I have posted over the years about my own struggles with claustrophobia.  I still tell the story of when I was sparring with Rick (aka Brick), who, while crushing the life out of me said, “This isn’t a submission.  This is just pressure.  Relax and breathe.”  I tapped instead.

But I didn’t quit.  In the article above, posted back in the very beginning of 2010, I outlined a few things that have helped me.  I think they bear repeating, because they’re no less true for me now as a purple belt then they were when I was a blue belt writing that article, or as a white belt struggling to figure out how to overcome the anxiety that I experience when my face is covered.

1:  Look for daylight. If I’m in a position where things are tight, sometimes just turning my head a little so I can see the wide open spaces is enough to quell the panic. Even if I’m really getting smashed.

2:  Relax. My tendency is to begin breathing faster when I’m in a tight spot. I want as much air as I can get, and it never seems like I’m getting enough. If I relax, focus on my breathing and slow things down, I can think about what to do next.  Simply put, keep the rational part of my brain in control and try not to allow the Fight or Flight impulse to take over.

3:  Go into survival mode, keep my elbows in and remember my basics. The single most important thing I learned early on was to keep my elbows in. While that helped my defense, that was only a side benefit. The real value of keeping your elbows in on the bottom is that it helps you control the space, at best giving you an opportunity to hip out or upa and escape. At worst, it still provides a few inches of room. Your forearms might be all that stands between your face and a some hairy dude’s sweaty chest. Now, if that’s not motivation to focus on basics, I don’t know what is, cause I’m on the verge of panicking just writing that.

4:  Confront the fear; start from a bad position. I decided very early that if I was going to make it in BJJ, I’d need to learn to cope with tight spaces. I will almost always pull guard in sparring. I started doing this because I felt that getting on top was a copout and was avoiding the issue.

Now, as then, your mileage may vary.  This is my approach.  I’d love to hear how others have overcome anxiety/panic attacks on the mats.