Zoe Puckering is a full-time Client Relationship Manager at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and part-time boxer. For International Stress Awareness Week, Zoe tells us how getting in the ring has become her 'me' time and helped her address her stress.

For International Stress Awareness Week, the team here at MHFA England have been encouraged to share whatever it is that personally helps us to reset, refresh and prioritise our own wellbeing.

For me, this means extra training time in the boxing ring. I started boxing to take part in a charity white-collar event, but I continued boxing for my mental health. A few months ago I injured myself, meaning I couldn't train for a while. This was frustrating at the time, but on reflection this is because boxing has become my 'me' time.

When I go into the gym, yes, it's physically challenging and I do sometimes wonder why on earth I offer myself up to potentially get punched in the face… but actually that’s the draw for me, because there's nothing I've experienced that challenges you as much both physically and mentally at the same time.

I must admit the competitive side of me combined with my previous lack of a better understanding for a long time lead me to deny how much stress was resulting in my own poor mental health. I used to 'brush it off' instead of being honest with myself and seeking help. If I’d have known better, I would have been able to help myself before moving from thriving to merely surviving.

Ignoring stress is a dangerous game I’m sure many of us have played. Like having a pebble in your shoe, it’s just annoying at first, but becomes genuinely painful over time.

Personally, my stress turned into insomnia, which turned into irritability, arguments, lack of humour and frequent headaches. All of which obviously made me unable to perform at the same level I was accustomed to. Which, of course, made me even more stressed.

It's very well known that physical and mental wellbeing are inseparable, and that activity helps relieve stress, but here are a few things that boxing taught me:

  • How to stay calm and collected when facing uncertainty.

Also, how to be excited by the uncertainty instead of anxious. You have to face your fear in the ring, there is no opportunity to hide. 

  • How to block.

Boxing instils self-belief. Stress can start to make you doubt yourself and drop your guard. Protect yourself, don’t let stress hit you in the face.

  • How to use the power of distraction.

You literally cannot think about anything other than boxing when boxing, because the second you lose focus you get punched in the face, and this is a quick and hard lesson to learn. It's a great way of clearing your mind of the things you were worried about.

  • How to be brutally honest with yourself.

If your nose is bust, your nose is bust and you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. You can’t just brush it off. Boxing teaches you to take complete ownership. You win or learn daily, and these lessons teach you that actually a loss isn’t so bad. If you lose you become better, whereas if you win you stay the same.

  • How to be unequivocally resilient.

Going toe to toe with someone whose core goal is to hurt you initially feels debilitating, but then it becomes just another puzzle. Stress can feel exactly the same. Each time you box you discover you are more resilient than you ever expected, which gives you the upper hand when life gets stressful.

If you are struggling with stress, find your 'boxing'! It could be something you have never done before, like it was for me. Find something to distract you. Disengage from your stress - you do not owe it any more time.

Get moving, learn a new skill, share how you feel and come out thriving!

Tips and resources on how to cope with stress are available for free in the #AddressYourStress toolkit.

You can read more on International Stress Awareness Week at isma.org.uk.