How Running Saved My Mental Health

I’m not a naturally gifted runner. I have short legs, a predisposition for cramps, and a stride that is similar to that of a three-legged donkey tumbling violently down a ravine. And yet despite my obvious disinclination for running, I try to do it every day—not because I want to be a paradigm of fitness, or have an excuse to eat whatever junk food I want, but because I need to.

I used to hate running. I thought it was an exhausting, uncomfortable, and relatively pointless activity. I was on my middle school cross-country team and hated it, and pretty much the only cardio I got in high school was the walk to and from the cafeteria. I didn’t give running a real chance until I began to experience depression and anxiety as a result of my first breakup. Unlike running, depression and general anxiety were things that came naturally to me, but I had never experienced them as greatly as I did during that period. I found it nearly impossible to sit in one place, rarely slept, and found myself suffocating under the weight of my self-loathing and rapid-fire, irrational thoughts. I knew something needed to change, so I changed my diet and exercise with the hope that it would make feel better-and it did. After every run I would find myself feeling  happier, calmer, and more centered. Slowly but surely, I started feeling  like myself again, and as someone who doesn’t see a therapist or take medication, running helped me heal in a way I desperately needed.

Now whenever I’m feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed, I lace up my shoes, hit the pavement, and run until the point of exhaustion—to the point where the only things I can think about are my breath and the forward momentum needed to keep me going. I run, not to get away from my problems or issues, but to get far enough away that I can look at them from a different perspective. I run to leave my “world” while still being a part of the real world around me. It’s nice to plug in your headphones, put on a playlist, and disconnect from everything without really being alone. And when I run I can take in the beauty of my surroundings and remind myself that my problems are pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things. Running makes me feel like a small cog in something bigger, and when life gets shitty sometimes you need to be reminded that you aren’t the center of the universe. It also reminds me though that we have the power (to an extent) to heal ourselves. Oh, and the endorphins are great too!

This September I plan on running my first ever half-marathon, and to be honest I feel a little nervous about it. I’ve never run that far before; odds are I’ll break both of my legs by mile 11. Each week I have been increasing my speed and distance in order to prepare myself for this new experience, and it’s been rewarding to have a tangible goal to work towards. Just a few years ago I couldn’t run more than one consecutive mile- and now I can run 8 or 9 without feeling like I’m going to die, and I’m proud of myself for that. What I’m more proud of though is the commitment I’ve made to bettering myself and taking care of myself.

 

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