Sunday, January 28, 2018

Why Running is My Therapy

If you know a runner, then you've probably heard at least one of the following statements before:

"Running is my therapy",

"I'd go crazy without my daily runs", 

or my personal favorite, "I run because punching people is frowned upon."  

Until about 6 years ago, I thought those nutty runners were just exaggerating.  How could something as sweaty, difficult, and boring as running be therapeutic?!?  But then I started running.  And you know what?  It's true.  It's all true.  Running has become a form of therapy for me and helps me through my anxiety, my daily stresses, and my worst days.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't have much to complain about in my life.  I am healthy, have a full time job, have loving friends and family, and adore the area I live in.  But I do have a great deal of anxiety, which I've dealt with since I was very young.  And everyone has the occasional bad day/week/month or stressful situation.  So how does running as therapy work for me you ask?  Let me explain...

Running is Music Therapy-
One of my favorite parts of running is that I can put in my NON noise-canceling earbuds (gotta stay safe on those trails!), turn up my music, and tune out any stressful thoughts in my head.  What I listen to on any given day depends on my mood and it varies greatly.  I have multiple running playlists on Spotify that range from upbeat pop music to get me moving, to movie soundtracks and musicals I can sing along with, to NKOTB (yes I have a whole running playlist that is nothing but New Kids on the Block... don't judge!).  I also love listening to music that brings back fond memories like the Disney-themed playlist I used when I was training for/running the WDW Marathon!

Of course there are also those days when I just need some peace and quiet so I don't use any music at all.  I especially love running like this when it's drizzling outside.  As you can probably tell from my blog title, I enjoy running in the rain.  There is just something so indescribably peaceful about splashing rhythmically through the puddles while listening to the raindrops pitter patter on the surrounding leaves,  pavement, and dirt.

Running is a Real Life Snow White Experience-
You may have noticed from the photos in my blog that I like to run on paved trails, usually surrounded by lots of trees and nature.  I relish the feeling of being transported when I'm running, almost as if I'm in another world far from the one I actually live in.  Running amongst the trees allows me to achieve this feeling of escape from my daily stressors without actually having to leave home.  I'm lucky that I live in an area that has several running trails like this.

The best part of running in this environment is that I often encounter various animals while I run.  I've even had a few come close enough to me that I could touch them, although I never do because I want to respect their personal space and I don't want to scare them and get bit or scratched.  I often talk to them as I run by and sometimes they look at me as if they want to reply.  I'm probably making that up, but it makes me feel like Snow White when they do that, so I'm sticking with my theory!

Running Does a Body (and Mind) Good-
We've all heard it before... exercise is a natural anti-depressant/anti-anxiety pill/cure for insomnia/etc.  And while this may not be exactly true (running alone will not replace medication/therapy/etc. for those who truly need it), it does go a long way to alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, depression and more.  I am not a medical professional but I can tell you from experience that running does in fact release endorphins that make you feel good.  The cardio aspect of it can also help you lose weight, gain strength and increase stamina... all of which can lead to better mental health.  I always feel more energetic after a good run and it helps me sleep better too. 

While there are multiple physical benefits to running, the more important facet to me is that it makes me feel happier, stronger, and better about myself in general.  Plus, there is something to be said for the rush you feel after completing a particularly challenging run.  I always feel like a total bad-ass after running a new long distance, over difficult terrain, or in extreme temperatures.

Running is Good for the Soul-
Running is not only excellent for your body, it can also be incredibly satisfying for the soul.  I do a lot of running for charity for this reason.  It gives my running a greater purpose than just doing something for myself.  (Read my previous post if you're interested in learning more about running for charity.)  Running for those who can't or in honor of donors helps me push myself further than I would be able to if I were just running for myself.  I sincerely believe that I would have dropped out of my first full marathon at mile 18 if I hadn't been running it for children with cancer.  Remembering who I was running for helped me through those last few miles when I really wanted to quit... and now I am able to call myself a marathoner!

This is not to say that there is anything wrong at all with running for yourself!  It's just a personal preference for me to run for charities sometimes.  There is absolutely no judgement if you don't run for a charity.  You are still doing something wonderful for your body and mind and whether you know it or not, you are probably presenting yourself as a positive role model to someone!

Running is Social/Me-Time-
Some people prefer to run in groups, and others (like me) prefer to run alone.  There is no right or wrong way to run when it comes to who you are with.  It all comes down to your personal preference.  I have tried running with friends and joining running groups and I enjoyed the social aspect of those experiences.  But when it comes down to it, I like my running time to be 'me time'.  I enjoy being alone with my music, my thoughts, my steps, and nothing else.  If you're more of a social butterfly or want the distraction of having someone to talk to while you run, you might find more peace in running by joining a local running group or finding a friend to run with.  To each his/her own!

Running by myself gives me a chance to reflect on and react to the way I'm feeling on any given day.  If I'm in a good mood, I am running to celebrate.  If I'm feeling sad, I am running to alleviate the pain.  If I'm frustrated, I am running out the anger.  And if I'm feeling anxious, I'm running to relieve my stress.  Whatever I'm feeling, running is pretty much always the answer for me!

So there you have it, why running is my therapy.  Does it work for everyone?  Of course not.  Will it replace medication or professional therapy if you need it?  No it won't.  Is it worth trying regardless?  Absolutely!  If nothing else, you're getting a good workout and who knows... you just might discover a whole new version of yourself.  It worked for me!  Now get out there, put one foot in front of the other, and see where it takes you.  Happy running!!

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