I started running when I was 16 and a Junior in High School. I didn’t run cross country or track, honestly, I didn’t think I was good enough and didn’t consider myself a runner back then. There was a lot of stuff in my life that was out of my control and I was just trying to cope. Looking back, most of my “stuff” was relatively normal teenage stress; my dad had taken a new job and was commuting 3 hours a day, we were going to be moving, I had my first boyfriend, I was applying to colleges, I was in Advanced Placement Classes, I had an after school job, my mom was working full time and finishing graduate school, and my sister was struggling with things at school and fighting with our parents. It was just stuff, and a lot of it wasn’t even my stuff. Nonetheless, it was enough to throw me off balance.
I heard that running was a good way to relieve stress so I put on my gym shoes and started running toward one of my friend’s houses. Little did I know, I had just discovered something that would become part of who I am. I often joke that I am an “On again, off-again runner.” In reality, unless I am injured, “On again” usually equates to 4 or 5 times a week, but “Off again” may only be 4 times a month, and they may all be in the same week.
My consistency and pace with running vary a lot, but my rhythm is instinctual. When I look back, I realize that it does and has provided me with whatever I needed at any given time in my life, even when I didn’t know what that was. There were times I needed my mind to relax and wander so I could recharge. There were other times that I needed to feel the air through my lungs and my physical strength to remind myself that I will be okay. On days that I am not working through something, I get to reflect, revisit old memories, become energized and inspired. Running has also incidentally introduced me to some of my closest friends and my husband.
I share this because there are a lot of myths about runners and running. And honestly, we are a varied breed. There are some who get hung up on pace or distance, and some who don’t. Most of us know our pace, even if that isn’t what drives our race. Most of us are happy to encourage a newbie runner to keep going and not give up. Running helps with stress management, and with moderate levels of anxiety and depression. Do you know why? The physical activity is a form of behavioral activation, it increases your endorphins which are known as your feel-good hormones. It combines this with an opportunity for mindfulness, by noticing your thoughts, body and breathe. If you choose to run with a group, it also provides you socialization and a sense of community. Physical activity, behavioral activation, mindfulness, and socialization are all protective factors against anxiety and depression and positive for your mental health and well-being.
If you have tried running and it wasn’t your thing, that’s okay, try something else. Find some form of exercise or creative outlet that provides you a way to become so engrossed in the experience that your mind relaxes, and you are drawn back to the activity when you need it.
If you struggle with overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression, or feel as though you don’t have the strength to try something new, consider meeting with a mental health clinician. We will help you start breaking down walls of self-doubt to become your best you.
Reach out to Lifeologie if you want to learn more about or try mindful running.
Dana Pendergrass is a licensed master social worker (LMSW) at Lifeologie Grand Rapids. She fully believes in a mind-body connection and the need to maintain health in each. She specializes in working with adults who are adjusting to a diagnosis of chronic illness, sleep disorders/challenges, or who have severe and intense anxiety.