I’ve talked about the effect jiujitsu has on reducing stress in the moment. A lot of jiujitsu folk, myself included, will also speak of its calming effect in unrelated areas of life. Physical confrontations with aggressive people, getting cut off in traffic, and well crafted action scenes in movies kick start the adrenaline response in most people. Since training jiujitsu, I’ve noticed I don’t get the intense adrenaline dump that I used to in these situations. To be clear, I still got amped when the douche in the Camry cut me off on I-215 yesterday, and my pulse still quickens during bad ass movie scenes.
But, not like it used to.
Jiujitsu has a way of making things slow down. The fight or flight response is dulled, allowing for a more clear thought process. I came across a fascinating study that explains exactly why jiujitsu acts like Xanax. Here’s a quick summary:
Young, newly formed neurons fire quickly and without much provocation. This is good for speed thinking and memory formation, but sucks if you are in a stressful situation. Having a bunch of neurons fire all at once is not good for stress management. The study extrapolated that the brains of physically active people release a calming chemical (GABA) when exposed to stress. GABA quiets these young, volatile neurons, which allows the physically active person to stay cool. Sedentary folk don’t get this flood of GABA, so their neurons fire at will. This, of course, allows the sedentary person’s anxiety to jump through the roof when confronted.
The article goes on to conclude, “From an evolutionary standpoint, a higher likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage for less physically fit creatures. Anxiety often leads to avoidant behavior, and steering clear of potentially dangerous situations would increase survival rates, particularly for those less able to respond with a fight or flight reaction.”
So, this research didn’t specifically examine jiujitsu’s Xanax-like effect, but simply exercise as a whole. Jiujitsu players that train regularly are accustomed to both a high level of physical exertion as well as the combat-oriented nature of what jiujitsu basically is; a fight. If you essentially “fight” another person a dozen times a week, you become pretty accustomed to it after several years. This is pretty adaptive, as it allows a person to simply smirk at the bad ass in the Camry mean-mugging you after having been the one guilty of cutting you off.