Blog | I Run For My Mental Health

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Running gathers many fans and followers for a whole variety of reasons.  Whether it’s the thrill of achieving a once thought impossible 5km / 10km / Half or full marathon goal or attempting the punishing ultra-marathon distances.

For others it’s something subtlety different.  It’s used as a crux to support and improve their mental health and well-being. Whilst all runners/athletes will go through mentally tough periods to achieve their aims I want to talk about what it means to me and how taking up running has been a positive experience (even with all the small injuries).

I suffer from anxiety; I’ve suffered from depression.

I’ve had good mental health; I’ve had bad mental health.

I’m in a high-pressured job. I have a team of 35 staff I have to look after and I put them out into potentially dangerous situations everyday of their working careers.  Overtime this responsibility starts to grate and eventually my anxiety takes over.  I’ll second guess my decisions, become more irritable, disconnected and depersonalised from everything around me and suddenly I’m in a whirlpool without being able to stop.

The scary stats about Mental Health are staggering and whilst I don’t want to dwell on figures I think it’s important to show some aspects of the

  • Suicide is the most common cause of death
    for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales

 

  • 1 in 15 are estimated to have made a suicide attempt

 

  • 75% of people with diagnosable mental illness
    receive no treatment at all


The World Health Organisation have these stats

  • 800,000 people will die due to suicide this year world wide

  • 2272 per day

In the time of one Tuesday night running club session 94 people will have taken their lives.

Two of my favorite (if there’s such a thing about this subject) quotes about depression are below, one serves to show how I once felt and the other the path to a better place.

“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . .  It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again.  The absence of hope.  That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.  Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling.  It is a necessary thing to feel.  Depression is very different.” – J.K Rowling

“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – Ronda Rousey

Last year I started with Run Macclesfield on one of their C25Km course.  This encouraged me to join the club and get myself active again.  From then on I’ve raced multiple 10km’s and recently signed up for my first half marathon.  I’ve even signed up for 121 coaching sessions…. although I fleetingly regret those after every painful session.  

But… the BIG but for me… the social aspect of running is more important than the events.

I’m not interested in beating my fellow runners.  I’m after a good group I want to run with. A social group that understands and supports through the tough steps is key to being in a safe space. 

I love running (I also hate running).  Being out in your own mind space just worrying about the next step or milestone on your run, not worrying about anything else is ace! 

The release from everyday pressure and being able to just focus on the run and to lose yourself within the exercise.  There’s nothing better than coming in from a good run.  Your exuberant, checking the splits on strava and telling the world how good each step was.  Running has even improved my family life.  I’m less anxious at home and I have an avenue to release my work pressures.  I don’t bring things into the family home and worry my wife.  I literally tread them into the pavement or ground them into the dirt when I’m out running.  

On the flip side, there’s also nothing worse than coming in from a run having ran slower than the previous.  Every step is under analysis and you wonder “how am I worse than my last run?”  I’ve come in from runs hating every pain and every ache. 

Pain is good, pain is a “feeling” – it’s different to depression.  It makes me want to go again and smash that bad run into the ground.  Struggle means growth and growth means you’re taking the initiative.

The relationship between sport and good mental health is backed up through many studies and the NHS suggest it alongside Cognitive Behavioral Therapy “CBT”. 

Getting up and getting active is so important to give you a goal to achieve. It also…

  • Reduces stress by lowering the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.  Aerobic exercise can reduce both generalized anxiety and anxiety sensitivity.

  • You’ll see an increase in body confidence through training, self-esteem and social confidence, as well as determination and resilience.

  • Running encourages social interaction, both online and in real life. While this can also create anxiety in itself (who hasn’t had the worry that they’re not fast enough to run with a group?)

  • A social network is so important when dealing with mental health. It encourages speaking out and the hardest first step of accepting it’s okay to not be okay.

I’ve struggled to think of something fitting to close this. However, anxiety, depression and mental health don’t have closing segments. They always have the potential to be raw, open and ready to burst through at any moment. Everyone has scars, but not all are visible. It’s important to have the social support network that I’ve found from my amazing family and through running.  However, if you need to there’s nothing wrong in admitting you’re not okay and that you require further help. We need to break the stigma attached to mental health.  I encourage anyone who wants to talk about any of the above to feel free to get into contact if they need an ear to talk to.

An update 4/12/18, I’ve been asked to reassess this article and add further comments to it. The good news is with the help of Run Macclesfield coaches I completed my first (and not last) Half Marathon. I ran this with my friend and fellow RM runner Jon Wright. In May we managed to finish the Manchester Half Marathon, following the programme developed by Run Macclesfield / Macclesfield Performance. It’s one of the best things I’ve done and I’m really proud of it. The run was hard, it was 28 degrees at the height of summer. I ended up with a ‘runners vest tan’ for a few months afterwards. For me it was a very personal journey, I’ve struggled with weight and mental health issues for some years and to be able to achieve 13.1 (you can’t forget the .1) miles in one run is something I’ll forever look back on and see it as the start of something new.

Personally my mental health has been on an upward curve. I’ve become more involved in helping others. Having taken a variety of Mental Health First Aid courses (I advise anyone to do these). I’m more involved with helping others at work and in my personal life. I’m in the position to being able to potential trigger signs of any issues and be able to provide support if people want or need it. Whether it’s informal support or more direction to any relevant charity or NHS care. If anyone wants further information I’m more than happy to provide it.

I struggled to find an ending to this last time but now I’d like to think that the ending is more clearer. I’ve got a distinct route to improving myself and to help others. If anything I’ve been through can help anyone I think that’s the best ending for the article I can say.