In ‘What Works For Me’ – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about their self-care strategies. If you’d like to contribute your story, email us.
Every day, Shaina West battles anxiety. “The best way to describe it is when you get butterflies in your stomach but these butterflies have wings made of razor blades,” the 24-year-old explains.
After a motorbike accident three years ago, Shaina’s body and mind was broken – Shaina had a fractured neck and broken thumb. She was badly injured, her boyfriend had split up with her before she’d even left the hospital, and she had lost her job.
“I was at a very low point in my life and that’s when my anxiety started to take over,” she says. “I got really depressed and the physical symptoms got worse. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, it was a perpetual cycle of misery.”
During her recovery she would watch back-to-back anime and superhero films on Netflix, which she says inspired her to want to become strong again. When she was properly recovered, a year after the accident, she began to teach herself martial arts.
“First, it started off as something that made me feel empowered and confident,” Shaina, from London, explains. “Then one day it suddenly hit me: the only time of the day when I didn’t struggle with anxiety was when I was practising martial arts.”
Shaina began experiencing anxiety in 2010 but wasn’t diagnosed until a year later. Recalling the first time she started experiencing it, was when she was young and she fell out with her best friend from school. “We were inseparable for many years, and then one day we just didn’t speak anymore. It was a bit traumatising for me,” she says, adding: “That was the first time I remember feeling that anxiety. It actually felt like physical pain, not just stress and worry.”
She was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2015 and has lived with symptoms every day since. “I’ve learned to cope with it, some days are better than others,” she explains.
A year after her motorbike accident she joined Brixton Street Gym in south London, practising basic exercises to try and get mobile again. It was there that she decided she wanted to teach herself martial arts.
The 24-year-old says she first got into it by searching YouTube for videos explaining the basics and then copying what she saw. “I had no experience in martial arts, I didn’t know where to begin at all,” she recalls.
Shaina is now a part-time personal trainer at Brixton Street Gym and an aspiring stunt artist. She has worked with Disney as a stunt performer on Star Wars and Tomb Raider, but her hope is to train up and become fully-fledged in the industry.
In the meantime, she’s making sure she does some form of martial arts every day – or at the very least, an exercise to help make her better at it (like stretching or weight-lifting).
Her favourite types of martial arts are karate, extreme martial arts (also called XMA), wushu and taekwondo. She likes the fact they build her strength while also teaching her patience, perseverance, practice and discipline.
Inspired by her own learning process, she is currently working on a new tutorial-based series to help others do the same.
When asked why she thinks martial arts helps her so much, she replies: “I have a little theory that maybe my anxiety is just a lot of nervous energy.”
So whenever she feels that way she’ll make a point to go and do martial arts. “That’s been working for me – whether it’s a placebo effect or I’ve hit the nail on the head, I’m not sure.”