This weekend, I will run the New York City Marathon. As I get ready to embark on this milestone in my own life, I thought it would be appropriate to share two articles about running and mental health. The first talks about the science behind running’s impact on mental health. Sure, we’ve all heard of “runner’s high” but there’s more to it. New studies show positive structural changes to the brain as a result of running. Additionally, there is a cognitive impact. Scott Douglas says, “On a daily basis, running reminds me that I can overcome apathy and torpor. Seeing that small victory, I can convince myself that progress is possible on meeting professional goals, or not feeling lonely so often, or figuring out how to afford retirement.” I can attest to this as I’ve progressed in my running. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would someday run marathons and enjoy it, I would have laughed at you. I surprised myself when I began running, and that new way of thinking has translated into a willingness to take positive risks in other areas of my life. We challenge the boxes we put ourselves in when we take steps like this. We begin to ask the question, “what else is possible?”
The second article cautions runners against using running as therapy all on its own. As a therapist, a runner and someone who has seen therapists myself, I agree with this as well. Erin Kelly says, “Running to improve our connection to ourselves, to enhance our physical and mental health, and to harness the power of intention, discipline, and goal-setting is a good thing. The problem is when running becomes an avoidance strategy, like fleeing from pain, anxiety, trauma, relationship dysfunction, and other issues.” Like any coping mechanism, running can become an unhealthy one if misused. Developing a trusting relationship with a therapist who can walk with you through the hard things of life can put things in perspective and allow you to really enjoy running again rather than using it as an escape.