Running And Mental Health
It’s never easy to talk about mental illness in general terms, because every sufferer’s experience is unique. It can be difficult to explain the experience. To me, it feels like walking through a forest in pitch darkness, wondering when I’ll fall head over heels on protruding tree roots.
More and more people are now talking about mental health and that’s a good thing. It’s more prominent in the media and there are some amazing charities doing great work to raise awareness and help sufferers.
As a club runner, running coach and as someone who lives with depression and anxiety, my experiences are purely my own. However, although unique, they have taught me how running can help me manage my mental health, and how others can too.
I love running and I’m passionate about helping other sufferers use running to manage their mental health. So I want to share some of my experiences, my mental struggles, and how running has helped me learn to live with them.
Running As Therapy For Mental Illness
Anxiety feels like my head has been crammed full of buzzing bees, bouncing off the inner wall of my skull. They’re made up of unhelpful, ultimately, damaging thoughts, feelings and worries. They include past events and made-up scenarios of things that haven’t happened yet.
Running has massively helped me to manage this, providing me with an environment where I can feel free. Running helps me escape from everyday life and snap out of a negative rut. I use it as a tool to step outside of my mind and live in the now, leaving behind the bees in my head.
Going for a run is like therapy. It forces me to think only about what is happening right now in that moment. The only thing on my mind is my surroundings, the ground in front of me, my running form, breathing rhythm, how my body feels and where my heart rate is.
It takes all attention away from the effects of anxiety and diverts them to the scene I’m in. I see the beauty of the countryside and the peacefulness of the water flowing down the river.
Being In Nature Releases Negativity
Afterwards, when I fully concentrate and withdraw myself from thought, my mind feels reset. Having gotten rid of the worries and thoughts that are unhelpful to me, I feel less scatty. It’s like there are fewer bees buzzing around on my return.
I discovered this purely by chance. I actually found running before I knew I had a mental illness. As running provided a positive contrast, I realised its positive effect of my mental well-being as well as my fitness.
This only increased my love for running and trail running in-particular. I love being in the countryside, running in the beautiful outdoors. It’s my therapy, and every now and again when I am running in nature, I notice that it actually brings a smile to my face.
I get a wave of happiness and joy pulse through my veins that I haven’t experienced anywhere else (yet). I finish the run with a greater sense of direction and perspective, helping me better manage the illnesses I live with.
How I Deal With The Challenges Of Depression.
I often refer to depression as the mental equivalent of watching paint dry. If I let it in without any resistance, I am left motionless and unable to find the will to do even basic things like stand up, put running clothes on and get out of the front door.
When depression gets in all I want to do is sit in a room all day and do nothing. This is horrible for me to even type, but it is the truth.
However, I’ve learnt ways to help me “get up and do things”. So when the hard days come, I know that if I force myself out to run, the benefits will be great. The struggle is always worth it afterwards.
Endorphins released in my brain during and after exercise have a huge positive effect on me. So now I use them consciously to help manage the illness and to not let it take control of my life.
Talking About Depression Helps More Than We Know
Since I have been more open about my mental health, I’ve found that others want to talk to me about their problems that may otherwise not have been discussed with anyone. This is why I find it important to talk, and this is why I talk.
Talking about depression helps others more than we likely know. And runners love to talk, I know that very well! Especially Irish runners! once you can understand them of course.
Running and mental health go hand in hand for me, and this is a snapshot of how I use sport to help me with my own mental issues. I am passionate about doing more to overcome them and if I can also help others at the same time, then I can happily live with that.
If you suffer with anxiety, depression or other mental health challenge, or feel that you have an undiagnosed mental illness, get in touch with a qualified Mental Health Professional at yourmentalhealth.ie
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