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05 Jul 2023 , by HazelCornhill

Running and my mental health

Many years ago I took up running, my motivation for this was not a healthy one but was as part of my compensation behaviours within my bulimia. I had been using exercise in an unhealthy manor for a while by this point, with going to the gym and other activities being a form of punishment for eating rather than anything enjoyable.

However, this backfired in the most unexpected of ways when it turned out that I really seriously love to run and over time running has actually became part of my wellness plan!

I find that when I go for a run my brain gets a chance to work through things logically and rationally, it allows me to consider things fully rather than just reacting. When running I know what’s expected, I know what I am doing, and this means that I am not stressing about every interaction, every thought, every action I am just being.

It’s like when I am running whatever thing that my mind is currently ruminating on or whatever problems I currently have still get worked on subconsciously. I can go out from a run when feeling upset, anxious, or frustrated and by the end of the run I will be more able to look at the issue objectively without being clouded by the emotions. In essence I think it simple gives me time to think and a way to disconnect the my thoughts from my feelings and behaviours preventing the impulsive knne-jerk reactions of the past.

On some days just simply going for a run in the woods can transform a potentially bad day into a good day, it can just make me feel so much better in myself and so much more able to cope with things. I can’t really explain how or why this works for me, but it does, and there are countless studies which reflect this showing that exercise can help boost mood and lower anxiety.
On some days of course going for a run just isn’t possible, mental illness can be unpredictable and often prevents us from doing the things that we enjoy or find beneficial. On some days I can still use my treadmill, but on others any form of activity will just seem impossible. I am be no means saying that going for a run regularly is easy nor that it’s a quick fix for mental illness, just that personally going out running seems to help to minimise those day days and help me to avoid crisis.

The other thing running has done is helped me to feel more confident. I have learnt that the human body is incredible and can do amazing things, my body is no exception. With each new distance, new PB, and each new goal comes a huge feeling of accomplishment. The feeling of being able to run to places that would be impossible to get to with a car, the feeling of freedom when running alone, and the connection I can find among other runners, work to boost my confidence and self-esteem. I am lucky that I ‘have found an online running club who not only “get” mental illness but who are entirely non-competitive and totally supportive of one another. This group and the friendships I’ve found within it is a connection that I would never have gained without running and is just one more way in which the hobby has helped me.

Running is by no means a cure, I am still ill, I have schizoaffective disorder and when in an episode no amount of running or self care will help. But what I have found is that running regularly can help me to maintain my mental health when I am more stable, it can help me to keep that stability for longer, it’s motivation to look after myself, it was a huge factor in my pushing for help with my eating disorder, and it seems to help me to avoid crisis – or at least slow it down/delay it long enough to get some help.

Simply put I love running, it is something I enjoy immensely and something that hugely helps me to maintain my mental health. The whys and hows I guess don’t matter so much as the fact that for me personally it really does help to keep me well.

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