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Knock Out Depression – What Boxing Can Teach Us About Mental Health

Is there any better metaphor for struggle than boxing?

Competition stripped to its most basic form, yet demanding a level of skill that is easily missed by the untrained eye. A sport in which at any given second everything can change, where victory can be seized from the jaws of defeat, and fortunes are made and destroyed in the blink of an eye and the crashing of a gloved fist against an unprotected chin.

So deeply interwoven is boxing within our culture that many of our most common sayings derive from this most noble and brutal of physical arts: coming up to scratch; down for the count; on the ropes, and below the belt, to quote just a few.

Boxing mirrors life, and just as a tough fight reveals the character of its combatants, so does boxing reveal a number of truths about the nature of this one life that each of us shares.

And as for boxing, so for depression.

Depression, at its worst, is a bruising, brutal battle for survival, and it can cause us to question just how many rounds we can continue to endure for. It also reveals truths about ourselves – and about life – that can help us to become better, stronger, and wiser versions of ourselves.

As a huge boxing fan and someone with lived experience of depression (it’s knocked my flat on back three times) there are lessons that I believe we can take from boxing that can help us to win the biggest fight of our lives – the one with our own mind.

Nobody else can fight for you

Many fighters surround themselves with an entourage of cheerleaders and hangers-on.

Each individual may – or may not – serve a specific and useful purpose to the fighter, and as a collective they can often be seen pumping up their fighter, whooping and hollering, and trying to distract, unsettle, and intimidate the opponent.

But when the ring empties and the referee calls the combatants together, they’re on their own. And in the moment of truth, a fighter needs to know that they’ve done the work, they have the tools to do the job, and have full belief in themselves and their abilities.

Depression is a cruel illness in that it often robs us of the very things that we need to defeat it, i.e. confidence, faith, motivation, energy.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important to create positive self-care habits to proactively look after our mental health, and to help us prevent the onset of mental health problems (the 5 Ways to Wellbeing offers excellent guidance for this).

Because when depression enters the ring, you quickly realise that nobody else can fight it for you.

We all need a good cornerman

While we all must fight our own battles, we don’t have to fight alone.

In boxing, a good cornerman can make all the difference. They can see things that the fighter can’t see in the heat of battle, and can offer a broader – and sometimes wiser – perspective. They can bring skills and attributes to the fight that can make the difference between winning and losing.

Depression is a lonely, isolating, and terrifying place to be, and when we’re against the ropes and sagging under its punches, we need to be able to know that we CAN ask for help, and that there is no shame in accepting help, advice and support from others – friends, family and medical professionals.

In fact, it can be the bravest, strongest, and the best thing that we ever do.

‘I didn’t hear no bell!’

Life, like fighting, is hard.

The price of stepping into the ring is that you are going to get punched. Hard. The price of living is that, sooner or later, life will knock you on your ass.

And falls don’t get much bigger and more painful than depression.

Any fighter can get knocked down, and any of us can find ourselves struggling with our mental health. There is no shame in that. We are, after all, all made from the same stuff.

In fact, the biggest and strongest of us all – 6ft 9in Heavyweight Champion of the World Tyson Fury – has been brought to his knees by depression.

But it’s not our falling that defines us, it’s how we rise. And even in the most seemingly hopeless of situations, we can find a glimmer of hope. Something to believe in.

Faith in that one moment where everything can change. Because as long as we stay in the fight, as long as the final bell has not tolled, we are not beaten.

In the toughest of fights, sometimes the best we can do is fight one more round. And when we get through that, we fight one more.

To steal a phrase from Rocky Balboa, ‘that’s how winning is done.’

Get your free short guide

If you would like to find out more about what boxing can teach us about depression, please hit the link for a free copy of my Going 12 Rounds With Depression guide.

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