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How can boxing help veterans with PTSD?

Boxing can provide huge benefits to veterans with PTSD, supporting them and their therapy in a safe, controlled environment.

What exactly is PTSD?

Think about when you experience a stressful event. As your nervous system reacts with a fight, flight or freeze response, your heart will beat much faster, your blood pressure rises quickly and your muscles tighten. All of these automatic changes prime your body for a rapid reaction, helping you defend against danger (or avoid it). Importantly, once the stressful event has ended, your nervous system instantly calms your body down, reducing blood pressure and heart rate levels back to normal.

But for people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), this final step doesn’t happen. There’s no instant calm down after the event. Instead, the fight, flight or freeze response continues - even after the danger in a stressful situation has ended. Due to this stress overload, the nervous system stays ‘stuck’, stopping your system from recovering, and leading to the situation often being relived with nightmares and flashbacks. This is because of the part of the brain called the Amygdala - responsible for processing short term memories to long term memories.

PTSD means that a traumatic memory becomes stuck in the short term memory. For someone with PTSD, whenever they experience a ‘trigger’, their brain will take them back to the traumatic situation, tiggering the fight, flight or freeze response in the body and producing a massive corresponding amount of adrenaline. Triggers can include certain smells, sounds or events.  

PTSD is often experienced by veterans

PTSD is often experienced by veterans, due to traumatic experiences while serving in the armed forces. Triggers in everyday life can start the fight, flight or freeze response, leading veterans to experience constantly frightening and exhausting events. Symptoms of PTSD in veterans can include constantly putting themselves in danger, hypervigilance, defensiveness, agitation and being extremely quick to anger.

To deal with these symptoms and in an effort to block out the triggers and painful episodes, veterans in particular often react to PTSD with disorders such as depression and anxiety; leading them to be disinterested in work and family or social life. In the most tragic cases, taking their own lives may seem like the only option. Many veterans are not aware that they have PTSD, making it even harder to access support. 

Funding crisis for mental health support for veterans

People with PTSD need support from their friends and family, even if they feel they don’t. But especially for veterans with PTSD, specialised and targeted support and treatment is needed, and this is often incredibly difficult to access. Budget cuts to mental health support for veterans mean that there’s often a significant wait to access traditional treatment for veteran PTSD at facilities such as Audley Court.

In response to this funding crisis, many groups are seeking to create their own mental health support groups and programmes for veterans, especially using sport as a powerful tool. Boxing in particular offers real benefits; specifically due to the specialised approach needed.

Boxing for veterans: treating PTSD differently

So why does boxing offer huge potential in supporting veterans with PTSD? It’s a common misconception that a sport involving hitting people isn’t a good fit for people experiencing symptoms such as aggression or anger. But it’s actually the opposite – and it’s all due to changing brain chemistry and supporting recovery. Veterans in particular experiencing PTSD are used to producing massive amounts of adrenaline, and the body quickly gets used to this. As a result, PTSD in veterans needs to be treated differently, and boxing facilitates this different approach, often in combination with other treatment.

When triggers occur in people suffering from PTSD, the brain instantly takes them back to that negative fight or flight response. Boxing helps give this same adrenaline rush (often really important for veterans used to this), but in a controlled, safe environment – helping them to function outside of the triggering and traumatic thoughts.

Boxing can help support veterans with PTSD by:

‘I can’t cope in day to day life without boxing’

Stu Cook, Bright Star Counterpunch Coach and PTSD Veteran

How to coach a veteran in boxing with PTSD

It’s important that each veteran has an individual care plan when working with, or coaching a veteran with PTSD through boxing. This identifies any specific triggers, helping the coach and club to understand and build up active support.

Bright Star’s Counterpunch mental health support sessions, for example, use a model of Accept, Assess and Overcome  (similar to CBT therapy) to structure sessions using a combination of boxing and talking support. A group environment can be especially supportive, particularly when the going through therapy.

To find out more about Bright Star's Counterpunch sessions and support for veterans with PTSD please contact Stu Cook on brightstarcounterpunch@gmail.com or 07739 561062, or get in touch with Bright Star Boxing.

10 ways to look after your mental health in lockdown

Whilst we know the current situation won’t last forever, lots of us are finding it hard to look after our mental health during this lockdown. Our Bright Star Counterpunch team have put together ten great tips to help.

  1. Limit your screen time

Screens are important for work and connecting with friends and family during lockdown; but too much screen time can actually increase feelings of stress, anxiety and low self-esteem. Reducing the amount of time you spend on a screen each day, even by small amounts, is a great first step to positively impacting your mental health.

  1. Daily exercise

Exercise is a fantastic way to support your mental health during lockdown, helping you feel a lot more positive. That’s because exercise releases powerful feel-good brain chemicals, including endorphins. In fact, exercise is so effective, GPs now prescribe it for mild depression. So whether it’s walking with a friend or completing a home workout, try adding some exercise into your day. The guidelines suggest doing 30 mins of exercise a day.

We’d love to help you with some different exercise ideas during this lockdown, so please get in touch with us to find out more.

  1. Think about your daily routine

One of the most challenging things about lockdown can be lack of structure, and this lack of routine can negatively impact your mental health too. Creating your own routine is a good way to address this, separating waking from work and other daily activities, as well as helping you create time to relax, stay active and focus on your health. You can start small, but developing consistent, daily habits can really help. 

If you need help with this, our Counterpunch team can help you create a routine that suits you.

  1. Get outdoors

Getting outdoors and into nature is a great way to increase positive feelings. Not only will getting outside help improve your physical health, time outdoors in the fresh air can help reduce feelings of stress and anger, as well as boost your self-esteem. It can be as simple as taking a walk in your local park, but it can really improve your mental health during this lockdown.

  1. Keep connecting

One of the hardest parts of lockdown is not being able to see your support network in person. But this doesn’t mean you can’t connect. There are many ways to stay in touch with friends and family, using apps such as Zoom, phone calls, or even writing a letter. As the Mental Health Foundation says, making an effort to connect, asking how people are (twice!), and keeping communication lines open- even with the people in your house, is really good for your mental health.

We're running mental health support groups, completely free of charge if you wanted to connect with others on Zoom over lockdown. Please get in touch with us to find out more.

  1. Listen to music

Think about how great you feel when you hear your favourite song. That’s because of those feel-good brain chemicals, endorphins again. Music is also powerful in other ways, with lots of studies finding that listening to soothing and comforting music can improve mental health by reducing anxiety and feelings of stress. So why not put together a great playlist to enjoy? You can share it with your friends and family for an extra way to connect, too.

  1. Reduce negativity

The news and social media can be full of negative stories and reports that can quickly become overwhelming, particularly due to lockdown. One great way to improve your mental health is to reduce your exposure to negative media and try not to stress about things out of your control.

It’s not easy, but actively taking a break from the news or social media for a while can really help.

  1. Carry on learning

Learning something new is really powerful for better mental health, helping you develop new skills and discover new approaches to situations. Whether it’s reading a new book, challenging yourself to do something different or listening to an interesting talk; choose a subject you find interesting and learn more around it. There are so many great resources to do this, including reading, podcasts and Ted Talks.

  1. Eat and drink well

Not eating well will cause fatigue and a low mood, so think about how you can improve your diet. Where possible, try to eat regular, balanced meals to help your mood and energy levels. Make sure you hydrate and drink water regularly too- it’s essential for feeling more energised. We recommend aiming for 8 big glasses of water a day.

  1. Sleep

Sleep is essential in stabilising your mood, but it can be difficult, especially in periods of worry and stress like a lockdown. If possible, try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day (remember, routines can really help!) and try to have some screen-free time before going to sleep. You can also try some relaxation exercises too to help you get to sleep.

The current lockdown is difficult for everyone, and can really affect your mental health. If you’re finding it tough, you’re not alone. We hope that some of the tips above help you feel more positive during this time, and if you would like more support contact Bright Star.