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Boxing for Stress Relief

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Lance Cpl. Michael Anderson, left, and Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Corey Rainey practice boxing as part of their physical training routine aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac/Released

By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

I have always loved boxing. However, I have never really wanted to get into it competitively. I just like to train and practice. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how boxing can relieve stress. I have even read some articles about boxing helping with depression and anxiety. While we all know that there have been countless of studies linking physical activity to lower levels of stress, as well as decreased depression and anxiety, boxing seems to be more effective than many other sports. It is an ideal form of exercise to provide a rush of endorphins. Boxing can also help us to focus on the present moment so that we don’t ruminate in the past and future. It can provide a source of distraction, and instill a sense of achievement, building confidence and self-esteem.

I was personally trained in psychoanalysis and see the benefits of boxing from that perspective. Anger is our most primitive and common feeling. I see anxiety and depression as two sides of the same coin. They are both results of repressed anger. Our society does not allow us healthy and functional ways to release anger. Therefore, we need an outlet. Boxing can serve as a catharsis; an experience of emotional release. It can help us to redirect our negative feelings in a positive manner. Psychological energy never disappears, and if not redirected, it will manifest through negative use of defense mechanisms or psychological disorders. There are also physical reasons for boxing helping with stress. For example, boxing tends to release neck tension. Those of us who sit and work in the front of computer screens all day long can benefit from the movement of extending our arms and working out the upper body. Most other forms of cardio focus on the lower body.

To me personally, training in a boxing gym is almost like a spiritual experience. The rhythmic sound of the speed bags and heavy bags when a room filled with boxers are hitting them is like the beat of jungle drums. It is like the sound of trance music in a dance club. It is very meditative and calming, and only interrupted by the bell ring every three minutes. The smell of leather and sweat in the air completes the experience. There is something almost magical about it all. Boxing is said to be the toughest and loneliest sport. It is primitive and raw, but also somehow fascinating and inspiring. It is simple but yet very complex. As a sport, it is demanding physically and technically. As a workout, it is one of the best ways to stay in shape.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is Vice President of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy.

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