5 Tips to Overcoming Claustrophobia In BJJ

There is nothing like being in North South with someone’s chest on your face to give claustrophobia or the fear of being suffocated.  You feel enclosed.  You are breathing hot moist air.  You desperately want to get out.  The next thing you know is your heart starts racing and your breathing with it.  What do you do to overcome this?  Here are the 5 tips I’ve gleamed and have started working on:

  1. Relax.  Easier said then done!  But I’ve found that I can reduce my anxiety by first reminding myself this isn’t life or death.  If it was he wouldn’t be staying on me in this position long before I took a huge bit out of his chest.  Think about something that will help you relax.  I try to think of something warm I like wrapped around me like a blanket.
  2. Control your breathing.  Once again, easier said then done!  If your opponent isn’t going to move then take that time to slow your breathing.  Chances are that is what he is doing too, resting.
  3. Find something to help you practice over coming it.  I have found that the hot moist air bothers me the most.  I can simulate that under a thick quilt.  I try to stay under longer each time.  I’m starting to develop more tolerance for the feeling.
  4. Improve your escapes.  If you have one that you get in all the time that causes you to feel claustrophobic then what better motivation to become a expert at getting out of it.
  5. Create Space.  When you are on the bottom that’s your job anyway.  It doesn’t have to be enough to escape at first.  You may do it just to get situated to wait for your opponents next move.  It may be just to make your opponent uncomfortable.  When you are moving around even a little you start to find pockets of comfort I’ve discovered.  If you stay still your situation is one dimensional.  Open up some other options for yourself by “wiggling” around.

Now not all cases of claustrophobia I understand are physical like mine.  Some require expert help.  I don’t presume to solve all cases in this post.  I’m just trying to as they say, cherry pick,  the easiest.  This is what is working for me.  I hope it helps you too.

    7 Replies to “5 Tips to Overcoming Claustrophobia In BJJ”

    1. This is the one thing that I hate about bjj and grappling. Is some brown belt just holding me down in side control. The feeling of extreme anxiety and panic which just floods over your whole body. I HATE IT!
      They have such good control that your best explosion and escapes just get ridden out like nothing. And you cannot tap to being held in a position! how embarrassing.

      I wish there was a cure for this retarded phobia. It makes zero sense I know I can tap. I know I could bite if I had to. All the reasoning in the world doesn’t help. I just try to remain calm and count down from 10. (And give up a submission if it gets really bad?). This phobia always makes me afraid of grappling with better grapplers just because of it. Which I hate.

      1. Over time I have found ways to survive those situations. I’m not 100% successful but I’ve gotten much better at it and controlling the panic.

    2. I am a white belt, and I started practicing bjj for a few months now, and I have notice that my claustrophobia has been escalating with each roll, I actually broke in a full crying episode, my coach couldn’t have been any nicer and try to remind me that I was in not real danger, that I could breathe and that I needed to relax, it has not been easy I was feeling close to quit couple of times, but I will continue to work on this, I love bjj. Thanks for your post it feels great to know I am not the only one.

      1. Mirtha,

        Thank you for the feedback. I’m 6’2″ and 200lbs. I roll with guys my size and even larger in some cases. I’ve become better at handling my claustrophobia but I still get it now and then. It a natural instinct to survive. Keep working at it, you can conquer it! I know you can!

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