Anxiety is a normal response to stress, something everyone deals with it at some point. Someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder, however, manages persistent overwhelming feelings. Often during everyday situations.
I think I have always been a “worrier” but there was a definite shift for me when the worry became a constant feeling of dread and inadequacy that I struggled with almost daily. This was compounded by a sense of guilt I had. I was happy, I had the best husband and an amazing little girl and a rewarding job as a teacher and recently landed the coaching job I have been dreaming of. Managing these negative feelings left me feeling guilty and ungrateful. I also felt underserving of having so many positives in my life. I guess it could also be characterized as sort of imposter syndrome.
Benefits of Running on Anxiety
Research has shown that running is a great remedy for managing anxiety. Some studies show the benefits of running to be nearly equal to some medication treatments, such as SSRIs like Lexapro and Fluoxetine (Prozac). Along with the physical health benefits, running can help manage your mental wellness.
Running can give you a mental break from the negative spiraling thinking that comes with anxiety. Exercising also encourages the body to release chemicals that help you feel good, endorphins. Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders have troubles with healthy sleep patterns. The physical exertion can help calm the body and allow for better sleep.
Exercise induced Anxiety
So with all of these wonderful mental and physical health benefits it’s easy to see how my enjoyment for running grew into a passion. Well, until it became a trigger and I felt like I had lost my strongest coping mechanism.
When I am anxious my mind races and I can not sit still, I sweat and my heart races well above what would be normal for the situation. When I am really struggling I have panic attacks that can leave me physically sick. The physical symptoms far outweigh the mental struggles I manage. Symptoms including, light-headed dizzy feelings, nauseas, heart rate sky rocketing, sweating, chills and all over body shakes. Sometimes when it was the absolute worst I would have black out vision and begin to loose function in my hands and feet.
The problem, many of the basic “symptoms” of a good workout so closely mimic the symptoms of my anxiety attacks that even when I mentally knew what was happening it was as if my body couldn’t tell the difference. They began to occur frequently and at the worst possible times. Being miles from my car or home and having these panic attacks became down right terrifying.
Overcoming my anxiety
I had to start by getting my body and mind back to zero. I could not move forward without first working on my anxiety issues as it impacted parts of my life that were of much greater importance then running. I took time to first take care of myself and family. I used a combination of talk therapy and medication to help me move past some the biggest hurdles. I feel like I have been relatively successful at recognizing when I am struggling and possible triggers and being proactive about taking steps to minimize symptoms.
One of the greatest gifts running as ever given me is the life long friendships I have created running. Those friendships have blossomed into an amazing support group when I needed it the most. I continue to talk about how amazing the running community is, and this was another example. To better manage my exercise induced anxiety attacks I take few steps to work on breaking the cycle. As I am able to overcome hurdles the related anxiety lessons. Running with friends and keeping my mind distracted is a huge part of that. Focusing on enjoying the run and the friendship can take always my body analyzing each triggering symptoms.
What else have I done to help add running back into my life?
- I run loops and break longer runs up currently. The opportunity to stop if the run becomes overwhelming paired with being a safe distance from my starting point offers a great mental relief and I am able to take those less frequently then when I started.
- I have changed my goals to reflect action steps verse outcome based. Which is funny because I am actually seeing quicker results from focusing on the process verse the outcome. Mentally, I am enjoying the process so much more and I take time each day to journal the positive moments so I can see just how far I have come.
I need some accountability! My goal (resolution) is to be consistent in my running and prioritize my mental health. I will share my successes and struggles weekly and would love for you to join me. For 2021 I am reclaiming my running journey and I want to hear about yours. What have been your biggest roadblocks in fitness/running in 2020 and what are you doing to overcome them?
Join my 2021 Accountability Group on Facebook. It will be all about sharing and supporting group members goals in 2021.