Anxiety and Training

75512_3495970215675_511780624_n

By Fiona B

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. People with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and often affect their daily life.

GAD is a long-term condition which causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.

People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include feeling irritable or worried and having trouble concentrating or sleeping.

In previous blog posts, Kel discussed her depression and how it has affected her training. To carry on talking openly about mental health and parkour, I’d like to address training with anxiety.

My anxiety manifests itself in several ways but the key ones are crippling self doubt, inability to trust myself, fear of social situations and, at my worst, panic attacks and a fear of leaving my flat. Most of the time, my anxiety is like some kind of background noise in my life. Imagine mild tinitus: it’s there and it’s irritating, but it’s not making too much of an impact. Most of the time I can tune it out. When it gets bad however, anxiety can take over my life: it’s all I think about. It’s very difficult for me to overcome, and it makes me feel like a failure of a person.

Obviously, my anxiety can impact my training from time to time. So, while everyone’s anxiety is different, here are some gems that I can pass to you in the hopes you’ll learn something. Even if you don’t have anxiety, its changed the way I approach my whole training, and maybe it can offer you a new way of thinking too.

  • All fear is real fear – I do not accept the distinction made between real fear and silly fear. If something makes you feel afraid then it’s a real fear. All my fears are real, and they all have real affects. They may not follow a logic that everyone else recognises, but all fears have a basis somewhere, even if they are distorted or projected elsewhere. You can’t talk yourself out of being afraid, but hopefully you’ll be able to do something despite being afraid. You have to face that fear to overcome it; you can’t just make it go away by telling yourself it’s silly or illogical. Just admit you’re afraid and deal with it. This leads on to the next point…
  • Respect your fear – You can’t talk your fear away, not all the time. You can do things despite your fear, but it’s often still there, and you should respect it. Spending time berating yourself and your brain is not productive. Please don’t do it. I am guilty of doing this, I call myself all kinds of names when I’m afraid of doing something I think I should be able to do. But, this doesn’t help. If anything, it makes me feel more pathetic. You’re not weak or silly if you’re afraid of something. Respecting your fear doesn’t mean never try and overcome it, but there’s no need to abuse yourself over it.
  • It’s Okay To Ask For Help – It doesn’t make you weak or incapable. Everyone needs some help now and then, and some more than others. You’re not a burden. You’re a person who maybe just isn’t very well at the moment.
  • Cut Out The Bad – People, situations, training patterns: whatever isn’t working for you, and is actively making you sad/stressed/in pain, get rid of it. Never feel bad about it. Shit happens, life is hard and training sometimes means doing things that suck for a long term win. But, as far as possible, you should fill your life/training with good things that make you happy and help you to progress. Don’t keep the things in your life that that pull you down, especially if you’re feeling fragile. Remember, this includes people or friendships- there are people whose influence is not helpful or may even be harmful to you, whether this is their intention or not. You don’t owe them anything, and if they’re causing you stress, avoid them.
  • Don’t Define Yourself By Your Training – When I’m feeling anxious I’m totally off my game. I find it difficult to get in the head space to progress in my training the way I’d want to. When I’m feeling pretty stressed I tend to think quite lowly of myself, and a bad day of training can add to this. While it’s great to progress your training by breaking loads of jumps, this isn’t always a useful way to think about parkour, or even practise it. While parkour can come to shape and define us, don’t attach too much self worth to the idea of being “the best”. Having the biggest jump doesn’t make you a better person.
  • Change Your Training – If you have to! So my confidence is low, I don’t trust myself – this means I’m not breaking a lot of jumps, but I’m trying to not let it get to me… To avoid entering a vicious cycle of bad emotions creating bad training, sometimes you might need to change how you train. For me this means lots of conditioning and weights – negative emotions and self image don’t impact this kind of training for me as much, so when I’m not feeling up to other stuff, I can spend my time getting stronger. This works for me because I enjoy it, it’s useful and I still feel like I’m training, rather than wasting my time feeling bad because I can’t do anything. At some point fears have to be faced, but if you’re not mentally up for something it’s best to come back to it when you are. Training is an amazing way to help you get better, don’t turn it into something painful.
  • Stay Safe – I get stressed out by new and unfamiliar places/people/situations. So when I’m feeling anxious I limit the places I frequent to those I feel safe and comfortable in. When leaving your house is scary. you need to minimise other stresses. I like to train at Glasgow Uni because I’m in my fifth year of study there, I know the campus really well, and it’s pretty near my flat. When I’m scared it’s nice to have a training spot that’s familiar – don’t be ashamed to admit to needing specific things to help you train, especially when you’re not feeling good.
  • Don’t Stop Training – Hobbies are a great way to distract yourself and get out of the house. Sport and exercise is a fantastic way to sweat out a lot of bad feelings. Sometimes parkour will be hard, and it has nothing to do with the physical obstacles you’re facing. Parkour has been an amazing help to me but the times I’ve needed it most have been the times I’ve wanted to give up. For me, parkour overall has a very positive impact, and its got me through stressful times. That’s not to say it’s never caused some stress, or made me cry, or feel like shit. If the decision is right for you to take a break or walk away, don’t feel bad about it. You should always look after your health. But sticking with it helped me, and I think it could be of genuine benefit to others who feel anxious.

    This isn’t a definitive list of ways to deal with anxiety while training, it’s just some that help for me. It’s taken me a while to work out how I want to train, and I wish that could have come sooner to save days of frustration. Remember if you are struggling with anxiety, or any other mental health issue, you’re not alone, and there are people/places you can reach out to if you need help. Train safe pals, and don’t doubt that you’re still strong.

Whose city? Our city!

by Fiona B

Girls' Night Mission

Within the discourses of parkour, the idea that practitioners are able to reclaim urban space, through disrupting social conventions on how we should use that space, is a well established one. If you google the topic, you can find many blog posts, and even academic articles, on the subject. For this post, I would like to focus on how I think this idea of parkour being subversive in regards to public space is particularly relevant to female practitioners.

From a young age, women are taught to fear (or at least be cautious of) public spaces, especially at night. Look at advice that is given in regards to preventing rape: we tell women to always take taxis home, walk along well-lit areas, stay in groups, and so on. These messages, combined with the lived experiences of women, can produce a fear of public spaces that restricts women’s movement. If you don’t believe me, ask the women in your life about walking home at night. Or consider if arming yourself with keys is common practise for men in the streets after dark.

This fear of the nighttime city streets can merge with anxieties women may have about being catcalled or heckled. This can give women a degree of anxiety about simply being visible in public spaces. According to Mind, over 50% of surveryed women don’t leave the home when exercising, so as not to be seen in public – even though exercising outside is more effective for lifting mood than inside. And of those that do head outside, almost two thirds choose to exercise in a location where they’re unlikely to bump into anyone they know, and a similar proportion wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure. (http://www.mind.org.uk/news/6732_new_findings_show_women_run_scared_from_outdoor_exercise). That means there are literally millions of women avoiding outdoor exercise altogether, and millions more battling with their own self-confidence when they overcome that avoidance.

The reclamation of public space as a woman is very central to my understanding of  parkour, and my love for it. Practicing parkour has opened up access to new areas of Glasgow that I would have never gone to before. Several of these areas may even be classed as ‘dodgy’ or ‘unsafe’, but parkour gave me a reason to enter them, and allowed me to form positive bonds to those areas. Practising parkour in the evening and nighttime also serves as a way to fight back against fear that, as a woman, I have been trained to feel.

Parkour lets us create new emotional bonds to space. We begin to see the city in a new light as our parkour vision develops, allowing us to view our surroundings in a new way. For all practitioners, this allows us to reclaim our city space, using it as our playground, rather than being boxed in or herded by the architecture. I have strong emotional attachments and many happy memories in my training spots. Parkour allows a female practitioner, through new positive experiences in city spaces, the chance to create new emotions towards these spaces, which can replace the old ones of fear.

Following on from this is the idea of control. As noted above, many people can feel constrained by their setting, and parkour allows us the chance to feel freedom through movement and the corruption of space. By purposefully misusing buildings and walls as a training ground, we can take back a sense of control and ownership of our city. In an article on practitioners training on school buildings, Elizabeth de Freitas states:

“The traceur unfolds the school structure and refolds his or her body back into the building. The body is put back into the architecture. In touching and being touched, the traceur affirms the materiality of the site, destabilizing the building’s status as a symbolic signifier. The traceur deliberately undoes the ideology built into the built environment, and addresses the building in terms of its physicality. And in doing so, the traceur is present at school in ways that re-introduce his or her body back into the building.”[1]

While this is obviously in relation to the school building as a symbol, it isn’t too difficult to apply this analysis to the symbol of the city streets. Women, who often face the streets as a symbol of fear and danger, can transform this symbolic value. Through parkour I have changed my feelings and viewpoints of my surroundings, rather than it being dictated to me. This is an empowering feeling for most of us, but it is particularly positive for women. As noted above, women are taught to fear the streets and can be left feeling helpless and powerless. Through parkour, we can regain some control and a feeling of ownership of our cities and their streets.

And so, while the practise of parkour can be viewed as subversive no matter who does it, I find it to be a more powerful image when it is a woman training. This is a woman, being visible in a public space and reclaiming her city and her home. For me, I have found this to be one of the greatest benefits of doing parkour. I have gained a new love for Glasgow, and a new understanding of the city. I feel less afraid to move about, especially at night, and I have reclaimed a degree of ownership of the streets. Parkour brings so many incredible things to individuals and communities, and surely one of these amazing possiblities is that women can be comfortable, unafraid and powerful in their environment.


[1] De Freitas

Some thoughts on fear

By Kelley Glaister

480457_535042746517178_1921076408_nWe all encounter fear regularly in our training, and, arguably, if you don’t, you won’t progress very much. We know that type of fear and we know how to use it. A physiological reaction to perceived threat. The urge to turn or run away. Or limbs locking up near the edge of a high wall. This is fear of physical harm, and it is justified. Moreover, it’s useful. It’s a physical signal that there is risk involved in what you’re about it do, so be careful. This we can call Proper Fear.

Proper Fear. This is the fear the practictioners talk about a lot. And we all have our ways of overcoming it, or using it to our advantage. One aspect of this kind of fear is that you can talk to it, face it with logic. Facing a new jump that fills you with fear, you can mentally catalog every jump you’ve done of a similar distance, every balance at similar height, as proof of your ability to do this one. You can take note of the fatigue in your legs, and judge if it’s time now, or if you should come back. Then, breathe in, breathe out, empty your mind, and if you’re ready, the jump jumps itself.

But there is another kind of fear. The other fear is different. It’s not tied to a particular circumstance, nor to bodily effect. It’s a general, pervading fear. Fear that you’re not good enough, fear that you look stupid. Fear you’re too fat or clumsy or old to be doing this and that everybody knows. We’ll call that one ‘Stupid Fear’.

It’s not restricted to the moments before and around a jump or new challenge, like Proper Fear. It can be constant. It’s what stops you from going out training when your better angels are screaming in your ear to get outta the damn house and move.

The nagging worry of Stupid fear usually appears in a form similar to “What if people see me training and judge me to be inadequate?” You might as well ask “What if I get attacked by a pack of zombie dwarf rabbits?” In both hypotheticals, it’s highly unlikey to happen, and will cause no damage if it does. People are usually only thinking of themselves, and any judgment they come to will be more of a reflections of themselves than on you. And if they do? So what? What’s the damage? None.

Proper Fear and Stupid Fear don’t have much in common. I think a problem can be when we treat them the same way.

In the case of Proper Fear, the question is “Can I do this?” And often, the answer will be no. Or more accurately, not yet. Because we need to grant the premise of the fear; there is a risk to our safety, so we need to assess it accurately.

But with Stupid Fear, if the question is “Can I do this?” it refers to training or progressing at all. And the answer is always yes. I know I can get out into the world and move with confidence and more importantly with joy. But that’s the wrong question. That question grants the premise of Stupid Fear. A premise which has no real worth. When facing Stupid fear, the real question is… “Yeah, so what?”

Truth is, failure isn’t actually scary. I fall on my arse and laugh like a banshee about it. I scrape my shins. I fall in puddles, and get filth in my clothes and hair and walk home looking, and grinning, like a maniac. I’m not saying I know how to avoid Stupid Fear entirely, but I do know what works for me. Move. Run and jump and skip, and yes, fall sometimes. I’ll tell you this, if you’re moving, Stupid Fear can’t keep up with you.

My First Class

We asked Ama, who has just taken up Parkour to tell us about her experience of comming to a class:

“I am surrounded by a very supportive, enthusiastic parkour community, here in Glasgow and I have done everything in my power NOT to become a part of this community. The fear that roiled in my stomach, yes because of my fears that I would fall or hurt myself or look like an idiot, but mostly because I just felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it. I wasn’t fit enough, fast enough, physical enough or anything, and would just be slowing everyone else down.

When I finally decided to face my fears and go to a class, I was so surprised, relieved, and excited. Everyone was so nice! People stayed back with me in the jogging and encouraged me step by step by step. Every exercise was about pushing your own physical limits, just giving it a go and not being the best or even necessarily succeeding but improving, getting stronger and working your body and your mind beyond where it was tells you your able to go.

I’ve now been to two classes, and though I still get terrified the whole night leading up to the beginning, the feeling of pride and growing confidence is a high its hard to beat and after two hours with these girls, I feel we’ve been friends for years. Thank you Glasgow Parkour Girls!”

(Photo of the girls warming up)