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Miles For Mind - Running, Anxiety and Me - by Sarah Atkinson

Miles For Mind - Running, Anxiety and Me - by Sarah Atkinson

Running, anxiety and me

It’s hard to explain a life of living with anxiety. For so many years I just thought I was a bit of a worrier, an over thinker. It wasn’t until I hit my early thirties that I thought, this isn’t right. It was then I started to accept anxiety was part of me and although I had to live with it, there were things I could do to help myself. I’ve had counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and most recently tried taking some anti-depressants, and they all help in their own ways, but there is one thing that really helps and that’s exercise, specifically for me, running.

I had a pretty difficult and emotional 2017. I have quite a stressful and at times pressurised job, and although my anxiety makes me a perfectionist, and enables me to be good at what I do, it also makes me constantly worry. My anxiety particularly flares up in relationships, so many questions, so much overthinking. In December 2017 I split up with my boyfriend of nearly three years, the weeks and months after this could’ve been a really hard time for me (and there were certainly bad days!).  

I decided I needed to go into 2018 with a challenge, so I signed up for Mind UK’s challenge Run Every Day January (RED January). I’m a runner anyway but this challenge gave me a focus for the New Year. I have always been relatively fit and reaped the benefit of exercise on my mental health but I had started to feel changes in my body I didn’t like and I was turning to food for comfort. I didn’t want those bad habits to consume me in 2018.

RED January combined two things I am passionate about – running and mental health. I know how easy it is to make excuses about exercise and finding time to do it. I was up with my best friend in Liverpool for New Year’s Day, I am lucky she’s also a runner and so out we went to start the RED challenge. Having a focus and a purpose every day really helped me feel positive and as the challenge went on I was definitely feeling the effects of all the endorphins I was producing by running every day!

A joke with my brother about attempting to reach 100 miles over the month became a personal challenge (he said he would double my sponsorship!), having never really run more than 40 miles in one month it was certainly a challenge for me. Some days I loved it, some days I was tired, my legs were tired. Anyone training for a big run will probably sympathise with the ups and downs you get in your own running journey.

However, I loved putting on my RED t-shirt, venturing out and feeling part of something that I knew was making a difference, not to me but others too. I especially loved passing other RED runners and the little nod of understanding that passes between you.

As the end of January crept up, I decided to organise a group run with about ten of my friends on the last day of the challenge, the 31st January, it was during the run I met my 100 mile target (I finished on 103 miles), it was so nice to have my friends and colleague who had supported me joining me – some non-runners in there too (I will convert everyone!). I’m delighted that I ended up with around £900 in sponsorship for Mind from the challenge.

Something special happened during January too, I got lots of messages from people saying I was ‘inspiring’ them. Me – inspiring people? I could never have imagined that. The effect on my own personal confidence, my own well-being was beyond what I could have imagined. If I could bottle the feeling I had at the end of January I would probably be a millionaire selling it!

I feel incredibly passionate about talking about my anxiety, I hate the stigma surrounded by it – the more people that are happy to discuss it, the less stigma that will be attached to it. This challenge really helped me to do that. Following on from my challenge I have been asked to speak at RunFest, a series of running events in Bristol, the next one has a mental health focus and I feel excited to have been asked to tell my story.

I’ll also be attempting another 100 mile month (am I mad) for Runr’s Miles for Mind in May challenge. I’m hoping that it will be a little warmer than January though. I will be doing the Bristol 10K and my first ever half marathon in June (snow cancelled the last one!). I would love to hear your story and for you to follow mine – find me on Instagram @sarahgetsfitandhealthy.




Thanks to Sarah for sharing this story. As part of #MilesForMind we want to raise money for Mind and also awareness of mental health issues.


It's OK to have a mental health issue, it's OK to talk about mental health, and it's OK to ask for help.


We firmly believe that running can contribute to a healthy body, and healthy mind and we hope sharing people's stories of mental health and running will inspire others to lace up for better mental health.

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