Running Away the Fear: Advice for Runners with Anxiety
From worrying about school presentations to freaking out and running off the track during my first varsity track race when I was a high school freshman, I am no stranger to anxiety. In school, nerves during races plunged me from one of the top runners on my team to almost last. And in my personal life, let’s just say the social awkwardness scale has tipped way too far in the Steve Urkel direction than I’d like to admit. But, the up side of anxiety is being very mentally active, and I’ve researched and tried many strategies to overcome anxiety over the years. Here are my top tips of what helps me combat anxiety, and please feel free to weigh in with your tips and experiences in the comments.
First off, the definition of anxiety is a normal reaction to stress that can be beneficial in some situations. Anxiety can alert us to danger and help us prepare and pay attention. When your anxiety is out of control and interrupts your daily life, however, it becomes a problem. Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, and involve excessive fear or anxiety. Anxiety may make you breathe shallow and clam up in a race, putting a wrench in that PR goal. Or it can make you skip a date, avoid social gatherings, or miss out on important work events. If you suffer from anxiety, however, don’t feel like you are alone.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older, according to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America. Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services, according to the New York Times. In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase — to 62 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2011 — of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year.
For combatting anxiety, there is no simple magic remedy but the great news is running helps a lot! Here are the top ways to overcome anxiety that have worked for me. Please note, these tips are not intended to replace mental health treatment from a therapist.
Run! This is such a great way to release that flight or flight anxiety welling up inside you, and relax the mind. Run regularly (5 times a week if you can), and you’re guaranteed to feel calmer after each run and also feel more relaxed in your daily life.
Meditate. As with running, meditation takes practice. It is easy to get frustrated before even giving it a chance but just remember it is a practice. So everything won’t be solved in one meditation, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the better you’ll feel. I went to a 5-day seminar at the Art of Living and found it incredibly helpful for reducing my day to day NYC anxiety. It also offers the bonus of giving you clarity in your life and improving your concentration.
Eat clean. Certain foods or drinks can increase or decrease your anxiety. Cut caffeine and alcohol from your diet, as they will amp up your anxiety (alcohol decreases your inhibitions but once you come down from the buzz, you’ll be more anxious). Also cut out processed foods from your diet as much as you can and add in more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Be social. Even when you feel like burrowing up at home with Netflix, make yourself get out more and see your friends. Go to events you’re interested in, and catch up with the positive people in your life who uplift you. Focusing on others will help diminish the size of the anxiety cloud floating around in your head.
Take action. When anxiety strikes, usually our first instinct is to hide or run away. Avoiding situations will only make them worse in your head, however. And chances are, what you fear will be so bad is usually a lot more benign once you actually get out and do it. The dreading it is worse than the actual event 99% of the time. So take action. Make yourself go on that date, get out to events, and do that thing you’ve been avoiding. You can start small by going to a laid back event centered on an activity you like (such as an Art Run!:), and you’ll already have something in common with people to talk about and a distraction from anxiety.
Seek therapy. Therapy is another tool that can help you reshape your thought process and reduce anxiety. Mental health is vital to living your best life, so seeking help from a licensed therapist is important. Find a counselor you click with in your area, or you can find an online therapist at BetterHelp.
What helps you conquer your anxiety? Comment below.
Marnie Kunz is a writer, entrepreneur, and running coach based in Brooklyn, NY. For more articles by Marnie on mental health and NYC life, check out her stories on Medium.