Mental health charity Mind report that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental health problems each year. With alternative methods of treating these problems on the rise we decided to catch up with Gemma Colby, who’s experienced a dramatic improvement in her own mental health since she started boxing for The White Collar Fight Club.
So Gemma, when did you first realise that were suffering from anxiety?
I think the recognition was about two years ago – I wasn’t really able to control my thoughts, and the intensity of it was becoming a bit overwhelming.
Work was part of it – the environment was very toxic, and it was a struggle waking up every day. Going out and drinking far too much, not getting regular exercise…these things also played their part, but you roll with it in the London lifestyle.
Did you do anything to try and help it?
I’m not one of these people who’re very comfortable talking about the negative parts of their emotions – I like to be a people pleaser and make sure everyone’s having a good time. So I attempted to talk to my friends about it, but in the end you can’t really expect people to understand if they’re not really experiencing it.
The gym came into it too, but after a while it just became the same repetitive routine which doesn’t really push those thoughts and feelings aside. The gym can be contradictory – you can end up getting lazy with it! Sometimes you just end up thinking “I’ll go tomorrow”.
What made you decide to join The White Collar Fight Club?
My other half did the November one, and I was around helping with filming and photography, using my weird sense of humour to try and sell tickets! I noticed the transformation [in people] and the structure that came into it, as well as the ability to not only make new friends but to have an experience which could lead to something a bit more professional. It was a very exhilarating and positive experience, so I thought I’d give it a go!
How did you find the training leading up to the fight?
It wasn’t as exhausting as I thought it was going to be, but I think it’s because my fitness levels were decent. I did a few standard boxing classes leading up to it to see what I was getting myself into, and they helped.
The trainers are really nice, really friendly, and it’s completely mixed levels - everyone really pushes each other. I absolutely loved going to Hannah’s classes! She wasn’t harsh, but she would push you and motivate you.
I wanted to give up half way through, but I think that’s pretty common. The fear kicks in, but you just push past it!
How did the training and the focus of the show help with your anxiety?
Out of all the things I’ve attempted, boxing was the one that really helped. When you’re doing it, it’s not like being on a treadmill where you’re stuck with your own thoughts - you have to focus on what you’re doing because you’ve got someone coming at you with gloves! You definitely see the transformation in your body as well. Through the two months you get nicely toned up - that’s just a matter of fact! It’s the best workout.
To be honest, during the times I found it hard it actually pushed me to have a cry…and I’m not a crier, so I felt great afterwards! I didn’t feel anxious - it was such a nice chemical release.
How did it feel on the fight night?
I was absolutely terrified! You can’t really prevent the amount of anxiety that’s going to happen, no matter how much experience you’ve got. But I had a really good support network, which was a massive bonus. At the end of the day, you’re just so keen to go in and get it over and done with. You’ve got this fear, but also this super high feeling, and you want to make everyone proud and show off your skills. It’s a combination of exhilaration and fear all intertwined.
How did you do in the ring?
To be honest I can’t remember most of it, and other people I’ve spoken to can’t really remember their fights either…But I know that I lost, I’ve seen it online! My defence needs to be better, and I messed up by not eating enough – my fear got the best of me, which was my fault entirely.
The guys that we had in the corners for us, I’m honestly so grateful for them! They were so supportive. Even the guy who was supporting my opponent saw me the other day and told me ‘good job’! They were great. And the organisation was fantastic.
I cried afterwards - you’re just so overwhelmed with what you’ve done, and you get all these random people coming up to you saying “congratulations, you did a great job”, it’s truly amazing. And so many of them are like “I don’t care what happened, I wouldn’t have been able to do that”, and that restores your self-confidence, which is great.
Do you think joining The White Collar Fight Club improved your anxiety?
Yes, definitely! It decreased significantly during it - I noticed that my train of thoughts had calmed down, my emotions weren’t a rollercoaster, and that my OCD deteriorated slightly. Having a goal to work towards forces you to wake up and snap out of whatever mood you’re in because you’re like “I have to get up and go and do this because I’ve come this far”. That focus prevents you from going back into that downward spiral of thoughts. And the super early sessions were awesome because you’d start your day with a high!
Telling your friends and family that you’ve got this goal in mind, everyone’s so uplifted by it - it makes you feel really proud of yourself. So that also contributes to the reduction in anxiety as you feel like you’re making something of yourself.
Have you kept up boxing?
Yes! I go to classes when I can, and I’ve been asked by one of the The White Collar Fight Club trainers to help do sparring with a girl doing TheWCFightClub. I was really honoured to be asked! I’ll definitely sign up to do another fight as well.
What would you say to anyone who’s considering doing The White Collar Fight Club but isn’t sure?
I would recommend people meet up with someone who can completely relate to their emotions if they’re having doubts - someone who’s done WCFC if they can!
I was someone with absolutely no boxing experience whatsoever, just going to the gym and doing standard routines, and I would certainly recommend doing TheWCFightClub. There were times before when I had anxiety meltdowns; I’ve had panic attacks in public places which came out of nowhere. But TheWCFightClub has literally prevented any of that from happening because I don’t physically feel the same as I did before. I would definitely recommend people give it a go!