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The young martial artist chopping anxiety out of her life

HIGH HOPES: Shaina West wants to guide others to overcome anxiety

MORE THAN 8.2 million people in Britain are living with anxiety, a common mental health condition that can cause physical symptoms including increased heart rate and choking sensations and psychological symptoms such as feeling like you might die.

Twenty-four-year old Shaina West is one of the millions battling anxiety every day. Her experience with the condition started in school after a relationship breakdown that left her feeling alone and abandoned. She said: “Emotionally I was very dependent on someone in my life and that’s the first time I remember experiencing anxiety.”

Although her first period of anxiety passed after a few days, West said that “when she went through emotional turmoil, stress or anything that would cause worry” it would come back.

It prompted her to seek medical help and eventually led to her being diagnosed with the disorder and put on a series of medication.

The self-taught martial artist said: “Anxiety is often spoken about as a mental health issue but I was experiencing very intense physical symptoms of it.” After being prescribed medication, which West said she “stayed on for a while but with no prevail”, she ditched the meds and found an energetic outlet helped keep her anxiety at bay.

“Slowly but surely I’ve come across a few methods and small understandings in my own way of what my anxiety is,” she said.

The Londoner who tattooed the top part of abdomen, the area where her physical feeling of anxiety originates, described what motivated her to make the permanent reference. “It was kind of a mental seal to help me deal with it and the meaning behind it is from an anime that inspires my martial arts journey. It roughly translates to ‘the will of fire’. It means to be strong, to fight for what I believe in and do what I love.”

She said the ink “serves as a reminder to stay true to herself”.


SYMBOLIC INK: West's tattoo serves as reminder to her to stay true to herself

A few months after taking up the sport, she realised that the only time she didn’t suffer from her condition was when she was practising. "I came to the theory that perhaps my anxiety was just a lot of nervous energy that needs to be used. Whenever I would perform, the feeling would disappear,” she said.

West currently trains at Brixton Street Gym, where she says she was able to find herself. "It’s such a welcoming community, which gave me so much drive. It’s an amazing place hidden in the streets of Brixton and that experience changed my life and I want to recreate that experience for other people as well,” she said.

Her desire to help others has made her YouTube channel her top priority. She said: "I want to create tutorials of my own to show people how I've taught myself certain things."

West added: "When I do speak about anxiety I discover a lot of people have it as well. I feel like more could be done to encourage people to speak about it. When I spoke about it in great detail, a weight was taken off my shoulders.

"If people knew that is was something that happened to a lot of us, then maybe they would feel more encouraged to help people to deal with it. The thought of going to therapy for anxiety can sometimes be intimidating, but luckily for me, I had other ways of dealing with it.”

Having found a way to manage her own mental health, West is keen to share advice with others. “Everyone has a passion for something and my message to people is to follow it. Whether it’s skateboarding, cooking or poetry, whatever it is, just embrace it.

“Everyone has their own place in the world and people need to embrace that more because in turn, it can help their mental health. Do what you love and if you don’t know, try new things and do what makes you feel good.”

Find more about the West’s work here.

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