How Running Can Decrease Anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety and feel like you’re alone, you’re not. In fact, one quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime*. If it’s not you, it’ll be someone you know. So, what can you do to combat anxiety? It might be time to try running.
Before you start, read Bella Mackie's best-selling book Jog On.
In it, she looks at how running can help to support a whole host of mental health problems, especially anxiety.
“With running, you incrementally improve every time you do it. You’re hitting these goals and feeling proud of yourself. And it gives you this sense of independence, which for someone like me, with agoraphobia, I found to be the most mesmerising, intoxicating thing in the whole world,” says Bella. She also points out that you can start small in the beginning. Whether it’s 5 minutes or 10 minutes or 30 minutes, it doesn’t matter. You just need to get moving.
“So many people ask me when I’m going to run a marathon. The answer is… I am never going to run a marathon. I’ll probably never even run a half marathon. I like slow, medium length runs, preferably completed alone, and that’s what works for me,” she says.
“There seems to be an expectation that the moment you can do a 5k, you’ll be signing up to races and striving to run further and further. But you are not Forrest Gump, and you probably have a job, a social life and many other things going on which make running long distances a challenge. More importantly, you might not want to run too far. A quick 20 minutes twice a week might be enough to boost your mood and give you more energy. That’s perfect! Find the time that works for you, and block out any calls to run marathons - unless you want to. But if like me you never do, then fear not: you’re still a runner.”
For author and speaker Turia Pitt, running has always been a way for her to process her thoughts and feelings.
“I started running when I was a teenager and going through a pretty hard time. My parents had separated and running helped me manage all the feelings that were rocketing around my body,” she says.
“After the fire I was told that I’d probably never run again - that’s what inspired me to do an ironman. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. And now, I run because I love (and need) the space it gives me. It gives me a way to clear my head and confront my fears. It teaches me that I can do hard things. It makes me feel confident. I feel more like myself. And it's why I love teaching other women to run too.”
Turia’s love of running inspired her to create RUN with Turia, a running program for mums. “Running has become a major part of how we care for ourselves. We don’t have to drive anywhere to do it, or wait for a gym class to start. All we need is a good pair of shoes, and a small window of time, and we can get on our way,” she says.
For author Sarah Wilson, hiking in nature is her greatest tonic for anxiety.
“When you go out into nature, you take risks. You have to jump over logs and navigate around rocks, so all of your senses are heightened – and that brings me to life,” she says.
Running and walking both have myriad benefits: improved mental health, a decreased risk of depression and anxiety, stress reduction and increased mental clarity – to name just a few. Ultimately, you’re likely to feel happier and more motivated after you go for a run.
So, whether it’s a walk or running at a pace which is right for you, moving your body might feel like a big effort, but it’s the easiest way to get your mental health on track.
Before you head out, here are 5 running myths from Bella Mackie:
1. You have to be thin.
Rubbish, lots of runners don’t look like Paula Radcliffe and they ace it nonetheless.
2. You have to race.
Nonsense. You run as far as you want to. There’s no set path.
3. You have to carb-load, eat protein bars and drink sports drinks.
Nope. I barely look at my diet and I’m fine. If you start doing mega-long runs, then these things can help but don’t worry about it now.
4. A slow run isn’t a run.
LIES. Go at the pace which feels good. Running fast and hating it is torture.
5. You must run every day.
Nope. Run as often as you like. Three times a week is plenty.
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