Anxiety is described as a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.
The anxious mind can be described beautifully by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
I have talked about depression and running in a previous post but today wanted to talk about anxiety specifically.
I am unable to run at the moment as I am injured and I have had to be really mindful to keep anxiety in check, what better way to relieve this….by writing about anxiety!
I have had quite a relationship with depression and anxiety over the years and it is only now at the merry age of 41 that I feel comfortable talking about it.
I was inspired to write this after being invited out to one of my dearest friends Birthday lunch yesterday. She is not only a great friend but one incredible coach and if I ever need to invest money in my emotional and business well-being I book in with her.
I have a history of quite an irrational fear of heights and it was no coincidence that our booking was on the 39th floor of a restaurant in Central London…..accessible only via a GLASS LIFT.
Only a couple of years ago I would have refused to get in this lift, or insisted on walking up the stairs.
I didn’t give it a second thought yesterday, I stepped into the lift and up we shot (fast) with a spectacular view on our ascent.
We had a wonderful lunch and Michelle shared with us a story about her past during the celebration that had some of us in tears (and the rest with open mouths). It took an awful lot of courage to share with us and has inspired me all over again to just face fears and help others.
I had always recognised my depression patterns but hadn’t given a lot of thought to the word anxiety but now that I sit here sharing with you, I really am an anxious person.
Anxiety can wear many different outfits. It can be isolated anxiety or a general and constant blanket of it, nestling there in the pit of your stomach.
The triggers are different for everyone…. for some of you it may be a fear of public speaking, a fear of flying, a fear of failure, a fear of success, a fear of love (yes love!).
How running can help with anxiety
When you ask runners why then run, a lot of them mention the “runners high”. For some people it is the single reason they run – to experience this feeling after every run.
When you suffer with anxiety, just the thought of starting running as an exercise can make you anxious! I promise you it’s worth it.
Cortisol is a hormone known as the stress hormone, and high cortisol is often associated with anxiety and the symptoms that come with it. Regular easy paced running burns away excess cortisol, causing fewer anxiety symptoms and less long-term damage from consistent high cortisol production.
One of my good friends who used running to help with high cortisol found that her levels were highest when she woke up. She then found that running early in the morning not only helped with lowering that morning cortisol but her mood for the rest of the day was much better.
Endorphins are chemicals that act in a very similar way to their lab-produced counterpart morphine. In 2008 German researchers studied the brain scans of runners to find that during two-hour runs the area of the brain that light up in response to emotion started releasing endorphins. The bigger this endorphin release, the greater feeling of euphoria the runners felt.
Running at a pace that is comfortably challenging can contribute to this endorphin release. It is why when I chat to complete beginners about running, we make a pact that they will stick with it for at least 8 weeks.
I usually find once people are over the 8 week point they start to experience this runner’s high and really feel the anti-anxiety benefit that running can bring.
Too much high intensity running may negate this effect and increase cortisol so be mindful and find your ‘sweet spot’.
Just getting fitter will improve your general health. Running is great for heart health and improving lung capacity and for many people it promotes improved sleep.
It strengthens joints and connective tissue, improving general mobility.
All these benefits add up to less stress on the body which may reduce anxiety as a bonus.
So if you aren’t running yet, maybe give it a try for 8 weeks by downloading my free plan and running your first 5k!
Whilst running can help with anxiety in many ways, it can also create its own anxiety – fear of being laughed at as a beginner, fear of needing the toilet in a race, pressure to run in a set time. I would like to touch on some ways of reducing anxiety when running so that you can gain the benefits from it.
Dealing with anxiety as a beginner
If you suffer from anxiety and haven’t tried running I would love for you to give it a go, these pointers may help you:
- If feel up to it, join a friendly running group or club: Running with other beginners can lessen anxiety. You will feel part of a special crew all starting at the same level and the camaraderie will lift your spirits. If you live in Richmond, UK then come and run with us at the Bearcat Running Club
- If you aren’t ready to run with others but want to start then just run round the block: Running in familiar surroundings really helps when you are anxious as a beginner. Once you feel comfortable doing blocks you can progress to a local friendly park. You may find the Facebook group Run Mummy Run a wonderful virtual support network – they are such a friendly bunch of women and so supportive. Highly recommend!
- Run in daylight hours: I still struggle running in the dark by myself. I look over my shoulder all the time and this builds anxiety. So now I never run by myself in the dark as I know it is a trigger.
- Wear something you feel comfortable in: When you begin running you MUST be comfortable – clothes that are too tight or too revealing often contribute to feeling self-conscious and/or anxious.
Dealing with anxiety as a regular runner
If you are a runner and still get anxiety then these steps may help you:
- Build your runs into your monthly calendar – I feel so much less anxious when I run regularly. My runs are non-negotiable now. They are in the diary and set in stone. By planning them in advance you have built some certainty into your life and that in itself helps to reduce anxiety.
- Ignore the aches but be mindful of pain – if, like me, your imagination likes to run wild, the moment you get an ache or a niggle the word injury flashes into your brain. We all experience muscle fatigue and aches when running regularly, be sure to remind yourself of that. I used to get so anxious when niggles arose that I would worry I was injured and had to stop running. IF you experience sharp pain or you are becoming more and more fatigued without recovering well, take advice from a specialist – an injury or ill-health doesn’t mean you will have to give up running completely, you may just need a break, some rehab and you will be bouncing back in no time at all.
- Always carry essentials – to avoid getting stranded or worried that I won’t be able to run all the way back home I ALWAYS carry my mobile phone, a £10 note and my oyster travel card. That lessens the anxiety and I feel secure that if anything happened I would be ok. It is always a good idea to let someone know you are going for a run and the approximate time you will be back home. Pick a friend or partner that you can use not just for accountability but that you can check in with and let know you are safe.
Dealing with anxiety when racing
Most people get nervous before a race. Nerves sharpen us up and can bring great focus and energy. Anxiety is a little different though and even prevents some people entering races.
Here are my racing tips:
- Preparation is KEY: Whatever distance you are entering, train for that distance and leave enough time for a taper before the race. Years ago I entered a race that I was totally unprepared for, I went into overwhelm for the two days prior and really didn’t enjoy the day.
- Lay out everything you will need the day before the race: decide what you are going to wear, pin your race number to your top, gather all the extras next to your race bag (include toilet roll!) so that you won’t need to stress about them on the morning of the race.
- Plan your journey the night before: In the UK I use journey planner for public transport as it will take you door to door. If you are driving then look up the parking facilities and pop onto google maps to use the route finder.
- Create a calm environment: whilst it isn’t advisable to wear headphones whilst racing I find it really useful to listen to music or a talking book whilst waiting at the start line. I like to do a warm up and zone out with my headphones plugged in. It stops me over thinking and becoming anxious about the race, especially long distance races.
- Try 4-7-8 breathing: I find it so helpful to practice 4-7-8 breathing. It has been one of the most useful tools that I have learnt to calm down when anxious. If you want to learn more, I talk about it in this post.
The final section I just want to chat about the word certainty.
I have found that putting some certainty into running has really helped in my running. That doesn’t mean you can’t get faster, run further or sit back and get bored. It simply means some simple prep that will enable you to leave anxiety at home when you step out for a run.
In fact when you look at anxiety in all areas of your life the words certainty and control often go hand in hand.
You see when we feel we are not in control and we have no certainty in outcome, we feel more anxious.
If you find yourself feeling anxious in other areas of your life, build some certainty in the areas that you can control and surround the uncertainty with excitement….you never know where your running adventure may lead you to……..a new friend, a PB, a shiny new medal and a great experience.
In case you want some extra inspiration – I came across a video quite by accident.
I contribute to a Reddit forum and happened to see this on another thread. It is a wonderful video of Rob Krar talking about depression.