Exercise, in a variety of forms, has always been a big part of my life, but since being diagnosed with generalised anxiety a couple of years ago its importance to my mental health has now exceeded its importance to my physical health.
I used to take part in a lot of group exercise classes and go to the gym but for me there was still something missing. It wasn’t until a friend suggested I take up running that I found what I’d been missing – community.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’d tried running back in my University days and HATED it! I was too self-conscious to run outside with the local running group and even running on a treadmill soon became impossible due to horrendous shin splints. So as you can imagine, I was just a bit dubious! However this time around I had a secret weapon – knowledge. Knowledge that I needed to go and get my gait analysed to make sure I was in the correct trainers (and not the £10 bargain pair I used for the gym), knowledge that compression calf sleeves can help massively if you’re prone to shin splints and most importantly access to the general knowledge of my new-found running community. Helpful hints and tips that transformed a very reluctant part-time runner into a fully-fledged parkrun obsessive, running club member (Fareham Crusaders) and marathon runner.
What does this have to do with mental health I hear you ask? Well, if you’ll forgive me my ramblings I’ll get to the point. As anyone with mental health issues will tell you, it’s isolating. The easiest option is just to retreat to a safe place and hibernate. For me, exercise is a key coping mechanism when I’m feeling anxious or my brain decides that it doesn’t particularly want to play ball. Without the support of the wonderful friends I’ve made through running I wouldn’t have the motivation that I do now to pull myself out of that safe space and get out there and run. When I’m running my brain doesn’t have time to be anxious, it doesn’t have the opportunity to convince me that the world is ending. It’s too busy working with my body propelling me whatever distance I’ve chosen to complete, using up all the excess adrenaline that my anxiety has caused. It’s focused on my breathing, on my movement and on the sheer enjoyment (well most of the time) of being able to run.
Now I know that I am lucky, that I can use running to focus and control my anxiety and this is why charities such as Mind are so important because they can reach out and help those who really need it. Which is why I will be running 100 miles over the month of May to show my support. With every mile I will be battling not only my mental health but helping others to battle theirs. Because that’s what community is about – supporting each other.
Thanks to Louise for sharing why she runs and it's great to see how a her love affair for running has developed and how it helps her deal with her anxiety.