Anxiety and depression are two very real mental health issues in America. Due to lack of awareness and social stigma, millions of Americans with these illnesses go untreated every day. Families, jobs, and relationships suffer as many of us often struggle with the basics of daily existence. Whether a result of brain chemistry, prior emotional trauma or some combination thereof; this dark cloud of melancholy can be unrelenting but remains our silent burden to bear. Unfortunately, so many of us refuse to seek help, and it is not until someone takes his or her life (i.e. Robin Williams) that this problem becomes the topic du jour.
Most of my childhood and on through college, I struggled with mood swings that my parents never fully understood. I suppose that they assumed I would grow out of them. Living with my dad my first years in college, I returned home from classes to sit in the dark, stare at a shotgun I bought from my uncle, and wonder. I enjoyed lifting weights in high school with my friends at the local YMCA, but the pressure I placed on myself to lift for an hour every day until I puked began to give me panic attacks. I would retreat to the family bathroom and sit in the dark until they subsided. Fifteen years later, I have never consistently lifted weights since – the fear I began to feel the last day I sat a dumbbell down has never left me.
Athletics, like the forming of a brilliant diamond, is all about heat, pressure, stress, and sticking to a routine. Coincidentally, those forces are also the bane of any anxious and depressed existence. Running has done so much for both my physical and mental health, but I am careful to avoid letting it become something that I despise for expectations that I let my ambitious self or others create.
Below are a few principles I maintain to keep myself safe and to keep running a positive in my life:
1) Listen to your mind and body: Physical exhaustion can be good for the soul. However, if you don’t feel like running one day, don’t. It’s OK. If you grant yourself time to recover, you’ll be even stronger when you do feel like it.
2) Shun routine: This may sound crazy. However, the only times running has begun to feel like a burden is when I have stressed about missing a day on some guru’s online training regimen. I run three miles each morning because that’s what I have time to do, it feels good, and it is manageable. If I have time, I’ll run some more in the afternoon. On weekends, I’ll run farther if I feel I can, or if I have the desire.
3) Let running be your friend: Make it fun. Keep it fun. Run your own pace. Download new albums. Listen to comedy or podcasts. Let it inspire you. It should give as much to you as you give to it.