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Running to reduce anxiety

Running to reduce anxiety

“I can’t cope,” I said to my wife through tear-filled eyes in Autumn 2017. This was a long time coming, I had been feeling an overwhelming sense of self-doubt for a while. I had no reason to feel this way, I had a great job, awesome family, and a wife that I loved more every day. I had no reason to feel this way, yet I did.

Opening up made me feel vulnerable

Even though we have a trusting and honest relationship, I still found it difficult to talk to her about my mental health, I mean, I’m a man, I’m meant to ‘man up’ and ‘get on with it’, aren’t I?

Opening up made me vulnerable, but it also allowed me to get advice. We talked for hours, and I realised that bottling everything up inside wasn’t helping anyone. I was grumpy, tired, and irritable. So the next day I went online and booked an appointment with my local GP.

My initial appointment ended up in a referral, which the GP suggested would likely result in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), basically this is a way of helping people understand what triggers an increase in anxiety, identify these as trigger points, and provide tools which equip you with a way to handle them better, resulting in fewer moments of anxiety and an overall improvement in mental health (at least that was how understood CBT anyway).

I started running, and immediately noticed an improvement

Whilst this was happening I had started running again after a six-month hip injury. I joined a local social running group called Run Sandymoor on my wife’s recommendation (she had recently joined their C25K group) and started to head out 3-4 times a week for a run with other people. What I didn’t realise at the time was that running had significant benefits linked to improved mental well-being due to the increase in serotonin being released into the body.

With some of Run Sandymoor at Hell Runner, October 2018

By the time my appointment came through I already felt a lot better than I had done when I had my outburst a few weeks earlier, and the diagnosis was mild-anxiety with a recommendation for an online CBT course, plus to keep running and doing the Yin Yoga practice I had also recently started.

3 things I’ve learnt since discussing my mental health more

Since the conversation with my wife which led to so much change regarding my mental health, I’ve realised three things:

  1. Strengthening my Mental Health is not a one-time activity. It requires regular attention and exercise, just the way I do with my physical health.
  2. Running helps. 30 minutes of running can reset my mood for the day. Running with others is even better, especially on the longer runs when you’re battling the mental struggle to ‘just stop’.
  3. Talking to someone I trust was the single most important thing I could have done, without doing that I wouldn’t have done any of the other things that have helped me

My family have noticed a difference

Since that initial conversation, and the first time I pulled on my running shoes I’ve seen a significant improvement in my well-being. I understand my triggers for feeling anxious and challenge myself to face in to them head on or at the very least talk about how I’m feeling.

The other week my wife walked in said: “you haven’t been for a run today, you’re grumpy, go out and get some miles in your legs” she could tell and knew exactly what medicine to prescribe. So I did, I put on my running gear and headed out the door for 40 minutes of my own personal therapy.

From anxious to accomplished

A year after I opened up to my wife I ran my first marathon. The event was tough, but not because of the physical aspect (although it was hard), the hardest thing for me was the mental strength required over the 26.2 mile course. I had dark moments throughout it, but I crossed the line (Full review here). More importantly, I crossed the line with my family in support and my kids holding my hands.

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Crossing the finsh line with my kids (and wife in the background) at The Northern Jumble marathon, Nov 4th 2018

Running has saved me from myself, running with other people as part of Run Sandymoor makes it easier. Running has given me a way of coping when the going gets tough, a way to process my thoughts, and a way to change ‘grumpy daddy’ to just ‘daddy’. That’s better than any finishing medal I’ll ever receive.

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