This past week has been Mental Health Awareness Week so I wanted to share my story about why I run. I have found it hard to sum up how I feel on social media so I thought I’d write a blog about it.
When I talk about running I often get asked about why I do it. Typically I laugh it off and say something like, ‘Oh I know, I’m glutton for punishment’ or ‘Tell me about it. I don’t know why I put myself through it’. In reality I know exactly why I put myself through it. My mental health.
I am an over thinker. I agonise over the smallest decisions and I obsess about things that I really don’t need to obsess about. Someone could say something completely innocent to me and I will spend hours rethinking it, trying to find hidden meaning. I obsess over my food choices, going over everything I’ve eaten during the day. When I hear the words, “Can I have a word?” or “Have you got a minute?”, I panic and imagine all sorts of things I could have done wrong. Things often go round and round in my head until I’m sick of thinking about it. Sometimes I would rather tear my own hair out than spend one more second thinking about something that’s already been on my mind for hours.
It’s this over thinking that causes my anxiety. Anxiety that sometimes makes it difficult for me to be in social situations and meet new people (I’ve signed up to a weekend running event and I’m already worried about meeting everyone). Anxiety that sometimes causes me to pick the skin around my fingernails until they bleed (I’m trying hard to stop this particular element but if I’m in a particularly stressful situation, I do it without even realising). I even get anxious about not getting the seat I like in the cinema. Yes, even a simple trip to the cinema is filled with worry. I need to be at the back in the corner and, until I’m in that seat I can’t relax.
This anxiety and constant thinking is, quite frankly, exhausting and I run to combat this.
Running might not be for everyone, but for me it has super powers.
- Running helps me shut off from the world around me and gives my mind a break. I might think about something that’s troubling me for the first couple of miles but after this my thoughts just seem to disappear. When the run gets tougher and your legs get tired all you can concentrate on is the run. One foot in front of the other until you finish. When I do finish I want to talk about my run (much to my non-runner boyfriend’s delight!). I’m not thinking about what’s currently worrying me.
- Running makes me feel like I can do anything, even if I’m finding everyday life hard. You have to be mentally tough to run sometimes, and if I can run the hottest London marathon on record (I still haven’t got tired of repeating this fact!) then I can do anything I set my mind.
- Running helps me look beyond any daily stresses and see the bigger picture, especially if I’m training for something. Having a race on the horizon gives me a goal to concentrate on.
- Running makes me go outside even when I don’t want to. If I could, I would stay indoors all day sometimes even when the weather is nice. Running gets me out the door!
- Running gives my food meaning. As someone who can obsess over things it’s hard when you decide to lose weight as food suddenly becomes all you can think about. My food fuels my running now so I have a much healthier outlook on it.
- Running connects me with people I wouldn’t normally connect with. The running community is cool. They all support each other and celebrate other runner’s achievements. It reminds me that I’m good at something even if not obsessing over things isn’t one of them!
So, if running does all those for me, why do I deflect the running question? Why do I act like I don’t know why I run? Would I rather lie than talk about how running helps my mental health? Well, no. But not being 100% honest is just easier isn’t it? Mental health is a hot topic right now with initiatives like Heads Together becoming last year’s charity of the year for the London Marathon, but that doesn’t make it any easier to actually talk about.
Heads Together is a mental health initiative spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. It tries to tackle the stigma around mental health issues and change the conversation to be a more open one. The 2017 London Marathon became the first Marathon for Mental Health which for me strengthened the connection between running and good mental health. It raised the profile of this important issue and aimed to inspire people to talk about their own mental health for the first time, which is what I’m doing here.
During the writing of this blog I lost half the work I’d spent time writing up. I had a mini meltdown, left it for the evening and worried that I wouldn’t be able to rewrite it. I went for a run the next morning and came back with a clear head. Of course I was able to get everything down pretty much the way I’d previously written it. However, not everyone will feel the benefits of running like I do. Running might be the last thing you want to do but exercise in general is a great tool to use. The NHS even has it listed as an alternative therapy to medication. Try an outdoor gym class, dance class or give yoga a go. It’s not a cure but it can certainly help.
I’m glad I’m part of the running community, and I’m much happier when I’ve been for a few miles or am planning to go out. So next time you ask me why I run, I’ll try to be honest. You never know, I might help to start someone on their own running journey.
Remember it’s OK to not be OK and if you need to talk to someone there are lots of resources out there:
- Mind, Heads Together and The Samaritans all have lots of information available
- You can find a list of other mental health charities at Time To Talk
- The NHS can tell you how to access mental health services