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Overcoming Social Anxiety and Depression Through MMA Training and Self-Realization

“Physical activity calms the mind, creating a clearer state to confront and address your problems. It’s a common tendency to do the opposite when we’re depressed: lying in bed, staying inactive. But it’s crucial to break this cycle.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hello! I’m Heythem. I hold a Psychology degree and am deeply passionate about martial arts. This combination fuels my blog, exploring the intersections of mental and physical health.

My home is in Trier, Germany, where I grew up. However, my love for travel often takes me around the globe, and I share these adventures on my blog.

Besides my dedication to writing and studying, I’m a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Whether at home in Trier or exploring new corners of the world, I’m always engaged in writing, studying, traveling, and doing Jiu-Jitsu.

It took me a long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Now I feel I got it, and that keeps me motivated and confident for the future. 

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

A few years ago, when I started going to University, I felt lost. I had a hard time integrating with the new environment. Looking back I can say that my experience with social anxiety and depressive symptoms started there. Although I believe I wouldn’t have been officially diagnosed with these disorders, I experienced many symptoms. 

It started in 2019 when I began university in Luxembourg after spending some time traveling in Australia and Asia post-high school. As an Iraqi immigrant in Germany, I often struggled to fit in, and this feeling intensified when I returned to start my studies.

Initially, I was motivated to be part of the new environment, but inside, I felt out of place. I remember how exhausting it was to maintain a persona just to be liked. Over time, this constant effort began to wear me down. 

I started avoiding social situations and isolating myself. My self-esteem plummeted, and I often felt inferior to others in every pursuit. In social settings, I’d stutter and speak too fast, a big contrast to my usual self. My energy levels dropped; I slept a lot and lost interest in activities I once enjoyed.

This internal struggle was a new experience for me. Before university, people perceived me as social and happy, but the reality was quite different internally.

The past traumas of not fitting in came back, and the feeling of being an outsider crept up, leaving me feeling like I did in high school. It was gradual, from trying hard to fit into avoiding most social interactions altogether. 

It’s funny looking back. I left Germany after High school because I wanted to escape my troubles. And I did so eventually during my travels. 

But this is not how it works with problems. They don’t just leave you alone if you don’t confront from. I came back to my usual environment and the same issues came back again. 

So the first lesson I learned is to confront my issues. To look at the things I don’t want to look at. Because eventually, they will catch up on me. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

This struggle affected my happiness and well-being. Inside, I felt empty and numb. This wasn’t just a fleeting feeling but a constant state that made every day dull. 

I used to smile often, but that started to fade away.

What made this struggle worse was my lack of awareness about what I was going through. For a long time, I didn’t realize that the feelings I was experiencing were symptoms of anxiety and depression. I would rationalize avoiding social events or changing interests as normal shifts in mood or preference. 

I just thought I was too lazy or that I had better things to do. It’s fascinating to me to look back and see that I was not willing to see what was right in front of me. I was willing to be blind about my problems. I’d look away and find excuses for my behaviors. 

Because of this, the people around me were unaware of my internal struggles. They didn’t know because I hadn’t fully grasped it until later in my studies.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I hit rock bottom beginning of 2022. My girlfriend and I broke up. The only person who I was actually letting close to me. Looking back I can see that I wasn’t fair toward her. I’d let my frustration and anger out on her.

She wanted to be there for me but I’d push her away and drain myself in self-sorrow. That breakup left me feeling depressed and unwilling to interact with anyone. But hitting this low point was a wake-up call. I knew then that I needed to change something.

I knew that my life wasn’t heading where I wanted it to. 

When I started University I remember arriving at university filled with ambition, motivation, and a lust for life, but three years later, I was completely drained. This needed to change. I needed to take responsibility.

This realization led me to take a new direction. I had always been interested in MMA but never pursued it. There was this MMA gym I passed every day, just a five-minute walk from my place. I finally decided to give it a try. And it changed everything for me. 

I became obsessed with training, going 5-6 times a week. It was more than just physical activity; it was my escape, my therapy. It calmed me and reignited feelings I thought I had lost. I found a new ambition and drive in MMA. 

Within a month or two of starting, I began socializing again, attending events, and even going out for drinks. I was engaging with the world again.

The funny thing is, the MMA Gym was always right there. I passed it every day, thinking that I’ll go inside one day. It took me 3 years. 

I had to hit rock bottom first. It’s true that sometimes things need to get unbearable before we change something.

Looking back, I see a clear divide in my life: the time before MMA and the time after. The difference is huge. Starting MMA marked the beginning of a significant change, a shift in my life’s direction.

Ironically my girlfriend leaving me was the best thing that happened to me. It was the lowest point in my life. I felt like I lost everything at that moment. It made me get up and change my life.

So whenever I face a challenge now I think of this low point in my life. Now I know that challenges come into our lives to teach us something. That’s life’s way of talking to us. It’s leading us to something better. Dark times are our teacher. We just need to listen. And I wasn’t willing to for a long time. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Overcoming symptoms of depression and anxiety isn’t easy, obviously. For me, the first step was recognizing that I was experiencing these symptoms. This took some time and self-reflection.

In therapy, this is always the first step: Realization. If we are blind about our struggles, no healing will come. 

I had to sit down and honestly ask myself questions like, “Am I avoiding going out because I’m lazy or because I’m anxious?” and “Do I feel tired more often than usual?”, “Where did my drive and motivation go?”, “Why do I have so much resistance toward social gatherings?”.

I still remember the first time I considered that I may suffer from anxiety. I never thought of myself as an anxious guy. But that’s the tricky part about anxiety. It’s not always obvious. It can hide itself behind laziness, resistance, jealousy, and apathy. This realization was huge for me. 

Once I acknowledged these feelings, the next challenge was to take action, which is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re depressed or anxious. However, I learned that inactivity often fuels these symptoms. My body was practically screaming for physical activity. 

I felt a significant shift when I started giving it what it needed through MMA training. I became more confident and energetic. Alongside physical activity, eating healthier and treating my body well made a huge difference. It responded by being calmer and more resilient.

Of course, this doesn’t always help when you are stuck in depression. But now, whenever somebody tells me that they are depressed, my first question is always: Are you moving your body? I’m amazed how many of us avoid this step. 

Our bodies are designed to move. It doesn’t work properly if it’s inactive. And an unhealthy body means an unhealthy mind.

I also made a conscious effort to step out of my comfort zone. Knowing now that I had anxiety, I wanted to gradually expose myself to situations that triggered it. For example, I went to a pub where a friend was DJing, even though many of my university colleagues were there. 

It was tough, but I did it. I also participated in poetry slams, initiated lunch plans with peers at uni, and more. Each small step was a victory for me.

This process of realization, observation, and action made everything more manageable. I started to watch my emotions instead of being consumed by them.

With time, the symptoms of depression and anxiety didn’t disappear, but I became better at handling them. They are still part of my life, but now, they are under my control.

I see them now. I can spot them once they come up. So now it’s easier for me to let go of them.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

When I came to terms with my struggles, I chose to be open about them with my close friends. Reconnecting with many of them, I shared what was happening in my mind. This openness brought us closer, and their understanding and support were helpful. 

I also sought help from the university counselor, who assisted students with mental health issues. These conversations were also very valuable to me.

Talking about my struggles openly made the process of dealing with them much easier. Interestingly, when I shared my experiences, some of my friends began to reflect on their own mental health, wondering if they were facing similar challenges. This sharing helped me and opened a door for others to consider their own mental well-being.

There’s a saying that says: “The most personal experiences are the most universal ones”. That’s why it’s so important that we share our personal struggles with other people. Not only will it help us, but it will also help others to see their own struggles. 

But I understand that like physical activity, talking about our issues is not at all what we want to do when we struggle. It’s because talking about it will make it real. But in order to heal we need to make it real first. We need to face it. Share it. Confront it.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

Move your body and look at the things you don’t want to look at. 

My piece of advice for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety is to move your body as much as you can. It might sound simple, but it’s incredibly effective.

Physical activity calms the mind, creating a clearer state to confront and address your problems. It’s a common tendency to do the opposite when we’re depressed: lying in bed, staying inactive. But it’s crucial to break this cycle.

I urge you to force yourself to get up and engage in any physical activity you enjoy. It could be a walk, a bike ride, or a visit to the gym. The key is to get out of your home and move.

For me, this approach worked wonders. It’s a proactive step that can make a significant difference in how you feel and handle your mental health struggles.

But that’s often not enough. In our lowest states, we don’t feel like doing anything. We want to be blind and just look away. But this will make it worse. We need to take responsibility and make an effort to look inside.

I will leave you with a quote from Carl Jung that stuck with me and I think holds true: What you most need will be found where you least want to look”

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer: This book was transformative for me. It taught me that the thoughts in my head aren’t who I am. Through his teachings, I learned to be present and to observe my emotions rather than being consumed by them.

It helped me understand myself better and see my anxiety and depression as entities separate from my core self. It was empowering to recognize that these symptoms are not an intrinsic part of me and that I can overcome them. This book is a powerful resource for anyone seeking insight into their inner self.

Works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung

Also, talks and writings of Freud and Jung offered me a deep dive into psychodynamic theories. Their belief that healing comes from understanding one’s psyche resonated with me. They emphasize the importance of diving into our past and facing aspects of ourselves we might be reluctant to confront.

Their insights were crucial in helping me understand the roots of my struggles. As Freud and Jung advocate, this understanding is the first and most crucial step toward healing. Their works are a treasure trove for anyone seeking to explore the depths of their psyche and find pathways to healing.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

If you’re interested in reading more about my work, especially on mental and physical health, MMA, and supplementation, feel free to visit my website at I regularly share insights and experiences there, focusing on these topics.

Also, I’m always open to connecting with new people and engaging in meaningful conversations. If you’d like to reach out, please don’t hesitate. You can contact me through my Instagram or LinkedIn.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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