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Running For Mental Health Reasons

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I felt compelled to share how running has impacted my mental state. 

I picked up Covid early in March 2020. I’m still not sure how I got it or who gave it to me, because I was pretty disciplined in wearing a mask wherever I went. If forced to guess, I think my youngest daughter may have picked it up. I was exhausted for about 6 weeks and coughed up a lot of gross stuff. During that time, I lost my sense of smell and taste, unless the food was really sweet. That sweetness began a 6-week love affair with banana splits. I ate banana splits with peanut butter almost every night.

Because of my inactivity and love of junk food, I gained 25 pounds. And the way my body works, all 25 of those pounds showed up in my gut. It would’ve been nice if it spread around, but it didn’t. Not only was I battling the depression 2020 brought me, I also hated my reflection.

All parents became work-at-home parents or stay-at-home parents during the pandemic and if you were one, you know how hard it was. I’ve been a stay-home-dad for 16 years, and I always loved the freedom to take my kids to museums, parks, or wherever I wanted. During the pandemic, I was stuck inside with my kids. With the weight of the world on my shoulders and unwanted weight on my stomach, my mind ventured into dark territory.

When my energy level returned, I decided one day to go for a quick run. By the time I got to the end of the block, I was out of breath and walked for a mile. A few days later, I ran half a mile. The next week, I ran one mile without stopping. Even though I hated running, I loved getting away from my house and my kids for a bit. Every other day, I put one foot in front of the other for longer distances.

Once I hit 3 miles without stopping, I realized I might be on to something. I didn’t hate running as much as I did in the beginning and was feeling good about myself after each run. What I really loved was the time alone. For 30 minutes, I could push myself to run 3 miles and process whatever I was going through or think about what I wanted to do. I started writing a novel and used that time to think about characters, the story, and what I wanted to accomplish. Then, I added more miles.

 

Since I was running more and enjoying it, I slipped into influencer mode and wondered how my new hobby could be incorporated into my blogging business. Because I have a great working relationship with Apple, I talked to my contact about ways we could work together. And soon, I had a new business model for my running brand. Then, I contacted my favorite clothing brand, Fodada. After that, I was contacted by Balega to become a brand ambassador. If you follow my Instagram running account, you’ll see those brands mentioned often.

Working with brands isn’t the reason that I’m still running. I’m still running because of the way my mental health has benefitted from running. Next to speaking to a therapist, running has helped me fight my mental demons more than anything else. When I have a low opinion of myself, I go on a run and think about the good things in my life and the possibilities ahead of me. On the days that I have image issues, I feel a little more healthy after a run. When I feel unmotivated to do anything, a brief run shows me I did something and came a long way.

I can’t say I always feel great during and after a run. There are days when I run out the door, only to stop at the end of the street. There are days I run far away, but my body or mind gives up and I have to walk home. Those days suck and are a reminder that no matter how great things go, slipping back to feeling that life stinks is always a possibility. But the next day offers another attempt.

That’s what I love most about running. Each day posses the chance that a run will not be what I hoped for, but each day also possesses an opportunity I’ll come out the better. This is why I love running in the morning. If I have a successful run, the rest of the day treats me kindly. The more good days of running I have, the number of bad days are farther apart.

The older I get, the more in tune I am with the mental gymnastics I have to perform each day. I’ve learned I’m not the only one. If you are struggling, find a therapist to talk to. And once you got that squared away, try picking up a hobby where you have to push yourself. I suggest running but realize it’s not for everyone and not everyone can become a runner.

If you are taking up running for mental health reasons, here are some suggestions:

  1. Take it easy at first so you don’t burn out.
  2. Set attainable goals at first. It’s okay to start out with small goals.
  3. As you improve, add to those goals and think long-term.
  4. Get a pair of running shoes and only use them for running. Seeing them is a motivator.
  5. Find a running community. Runners are great encouragers.
  6. Put it on the schedule. If you’re like me, everyone and everything comes before my needs.
  7. Don’t get discouraged on the bad days. Lace up the shoes again the next day.
  8. Listen to music or a podcast. The external noise is a good distraction from the inner noise.
  9. Take care of your body. An injury can set you back and it’s hard to jump back into the runner mindset.
  10. Don’t compare yourself to other runners. You are a completely different mold than everyone else.

To those that are struggling, I hope tomorrow brings you a new goal where joy can be found. Or at least contentment and peace until joy is reached. Be well.

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