Running for Mental Health

by Ansen Chamberlain

These days, the world seems exceptionally complicated. There’s a lot to unpack, and usually, very little time to do it. Many of the fast-paced and draining concepts that the world is centered around tend to be pretty exhausting, especially on one’s mental well-being. Our global mental health has taken a hit these past few years and worldwide, rates of anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders are climbing. Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize this and be caring for our mental welfare. One of the solutions to the mental health epidemic we’re facing involves embracing the need for speed.

In the acclaimed book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall touches on the concept of how – in relation to evolution – running is something humans are made to do. However, knowing that you might be “born to run” isn’t necessarily the boost you look for when it comes to lacing up and heading out. Instead, running for the sake of your mental health might be more motivating (if you’re hesitant to try therapy, running is for you!)

Running is easily one of the most mentally challenging sports, yet that’s why it can be so positively impactful. The mental strain that you place on yourself when it comes to going for the extra mile or pushing through a cramp can help to build strength, strength that will subconsciously transfer into other aspects of your life, improving dedication, focus, and motivation.

And not only can running build mental strength, but it allows for relief and recovery. The idea of recovering while you’re running seems counterintuitive, but it’s not, especially not mentally. On a tough day, going for a run with the single goal to enjoy yourself can be much more impactful than a half-hearted workout, and it can allow you to regain your motivation to do that workout. Not all runs need to feel like a struggle. Doing what feels comfortable and fun – exploring new trails or scenery, listening to music, or running with buddies will still contribute to how good of a runner you are. Doing things to make running “worth it” will fuel your commitment and progress for the long term.

This past year, I was forced to take a 7-month hiatus from running after being sidelined by a stress fracture due to careless overtraining. During this time, my mental health took more of a hit than my physical health. I missed the release of stress, the endorphin highs, and even the struggle to keep pushing.

Now that I’m back to running, my purpose has shifted. Every run holds so much more value to me than before. Not only do I run to be able to perform well and maintain my physical health, but I run to stay mentally healthy. Consciously making the decision to be purposeful with running for my mental health has been huge.

Regardless of where you are in the chaos, acknowledging the benefits of running – or simply, just movement – for your mental health is vital to your relationship with yourself and your body, and the longevity of your athletic career. It’s easy to get caught up in the stressors and craziness of life, so consider running as your way to fight that stress. My coach likes to say running is 75% mentality, so do what you can to ensure you have a good one.

Ansen is a junior at Bethlehem High School who loves to run and write.  He runs on both Bethlehem’s track and cross country teams. You will be seeing more articles from Ansen in future issues of The Pace Setter.

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