Feeling sooo ‘blah’, you’d rather sit on the sofa than go find a trail to run, get to the gym, or do anything else, I can empathize. For me, I have learnt how to counteract that!
I can easily stare out of a window and wander in my thoughts for hours on end. I can ruminate, speculate, reflect, and overthink about almost any given topic at any time. I can make myself sad, melancholy, worried, generally confused and carry others’ woes for them. Oh, I also tend to put myself under excess pressure to try to figure everything out! My mind isn’t an awful place to occupy, however, a little more of a light-hearted dwelling doesn’t go amiss either, I do like to smile, laugh a lot, and dance around the house!
30 years ago I started running to lose weight, (those often used words) to fit into the clothes I wanted to wear. Now, I run for different reasons, including mental wellness (gratefully, those NOW often used words). I realised that when I run, particularly trail running, my mind clears and becomes focused. All the ruminating, speculating, reflecting and overthinking dissipates, I can even make sense out of confusion. I find solutions and creativity while I am busy watching where my feet go. I put the world to rights. Feelings of anxiousness are relieved while I get myself over hills. I like listening to how my breathing settles as I find my pace. I love being outside and reminding myself of how big Mother Nature is. All this happens for me in a short or long run or even a good brisk walk!
When that ‘anxious’ feeling rears its ugly head for whatever reason, and I think I’ll just give in…I change my mind. I get up from the window, sneakers go on, grab my headphones for my favourite disco music, get outside and get fresh air even for 15min. Whether I walk or run, the result for me is the same: I know I’ll return focused, productive, motivated, and that anxious feeling is replaced with ‘feeling good’.
Research is starting to show that my experience isn’t unique. Indeed recent science has established that it’s not just feelgood endorphins that are released while running. A 2017 study on mice at the University of Heidelberg medical school in Germany found not only higher levels of endorphins in the rodents who’d run for fun, but increased endocannabinoids – yes, like the active ingredients in marijuana! This hormone leads to lower anxiety, a higher pain threshold and a greater sense of wellbeing. Literally a runner’s high!
Running doesn’t only have an immediate mood payoff either. A Clinical Psychology Review study which looked at previous research into the exercise/mood connection found that cardiovascular exercise like running increases the level of serotonin and norepinephrine – the same happy hormones boosted by anti-depressants. Many doctors, therefore, are now prescribing exercise along with medication to treat depression and anxiety, because statistics say 1-6 people are found to suffer.
But what if you don’t run? Don’t despair. A University of Toronto study found moderate exercise for 20-30 minutes a day boosted happiness and prevented depression. So if you’re thinking of starting to run, it all begins with small step goals. Jogging or walking to the lamp-post on the corner and back, can help you begin re-programming your brain, hard-wiring it for calm contentment rather than anxiety and despondency!
Find your sneakers, your headphones, your music, get up, get out and start to feel good.