I should probably do a more in depth post about my struggles with anxiety, but for now, let's just keep on topic and talk about how running has affected my anxiety.
If you've been following me for a while, you're probably well aware of the fact that my fitness journey/passions have kind of been all over the place. I get really into something and then I drop it like a bad habit. I tend to have an obsessive personality.
For several years, I was doing the whole IIFYM/body building thing where you don't really do cardio and you measure and track every bite of food that you put into your body, aiming for specific carb, protein, fat numbers each day. Not gonna lie, that is an extremely effective way to get the lean muscle look, but it started to take a toll on me mentally and socially.
I started to think it was super normal to have MyFitnessPal always open on my phone and to choose artificial versions of full-fat foods (like butter). I was the leanest I probably will ever be, but it wasn't making me happy. In fact, it was stressing me the heck out.
IIFYM by no means caused my anxiety/depression. I've always been an anxious person and NYC was really kicking my butt at this point in my life. But it definitely didn't help.
I got to a place where I had zero motivation to do anything, especially exercise. I gained weight, lost strength, and felt even sadder. My counselor suggested that I try turning back to running. She said that a lot of her clients see a positive benefit in terms of stress relief from running.
I think my relief came from a combination of factors -- moving to beautiful Colorado, starting to work from home & removing my work commute, Matt finishing school (being done with tuition), quitting IIFYM, and starting running. I feel like a totally new and different person.
It's funny because when you're in the heat of it, you feel like things will never be better or the same as they were before. You feel trapped in your own head and your own thought processes. If anxiety/depression is something you're struggling with today, I hope to encourage you that it doesn't have to be forever. A lot of things can contribute to relief.
The science is there that running is helpful. And while long distance running is not the most efficient path for me to get the perfect Kayla Itsines or Christmas Abbott body, it's the path I'm on now because I'm considering my mental health over athletic aesthetics.
In addition to the chemical stuff that's happening behind the scenes while you're running to reduce stress, running gives me alone time that I so crave. It gives me hours and hours each week to decompress, unpack my thoughts, and process through things. It gives me time to forgive, to pray, and to consider ways that I could be better.
I've fallen in love with running. Yeah, it allows me to maintain weight while eating all the food, and that's great. More importantly, it allows me to keep sane and happy. It makes my brain a little less crazy, which is frankly just as good for my husband Matt as it is for me.
Whether or not you struggle with clinical anxiety, we all have stress in our lives. I just want to encourage you to give running a try -- or biking/swimming, if you're the type who absolutely despises running.