Literally running away from anxiety can help an anxious person deal with life. It may seem too good to be true that all you need to do is strap on some athletic shoes and hit the pavement to calm nerves. The reality is it’s what many anxious people need to do in order to curb their anxiety. There are many reasons running can be therapy for anxiety.
The Physical Effect
Going for a run physically and mentally alters your body with anxiety. It boosts your oxygen intake and makes your blood flow faster. The GABA neurotransmitters that work hard to soothe anxious nerves and beat stress increase as the body runs faster. Endorphins pump through the body increasing mood and happiness. After a long run, the body is tired and is able to sleep better. All of these things lead to psychological advantages in the body. The anxious tendencies are pushed away as endorphins and an overall happier mood lift the spirits naturally. Endorphins aren’t something that lasts throughout the day, but hitting the pavement can actually change your brain for long periods of time without just this spike. The boosts in serotonin, norepinephrine and the creation of new neurons during regular running can work in the mind to change its structure. This doesn’t mean it’s a miracle cure to change the brain entirely, but this creation of neurons called neurogenesis helps the brain’s wires. Scans of the brain after only a few months of exercise have shown an increased size of the hippocampus in the brain that is usually shrunken in many with mental health problems.
Peace and Quiet
The peace and quiet of a good run is medicine to many. Early in the morning when the air seems calmer and the streets seem quieter is when many runners find their peaceful place. Running shuts out the noisy world as you simply look forward and take each step one stride at a time. The world isn’t shouting at you and all that matter is the ground beneath your feet and the wind in your hair. Even if you run on a treadmill, you can get the same effect with headphones to shut out the world as you simply run. Finding that solace and quiet place is essential to mental health. The anxious mind simply has no place when the mind is filled with peace and quiet.
Most runners report what they call a “runners’ high” after a long trek. The entire body is pumping so their spirits are usually soaring. They are tired but happy about the accomplishment of a good run. It’s not only about this “high,” mental health is boosted way after the high is over. This is because runners have cognition of the effectiveness of their exercise. A person with anxiety can take medicine to help them feel better, but a runner has the cognition that their exercise is naturally working to help their mental stability. There is an internal understanding that what they are doing is changing them because they are putting in the effort. It is not because something externally is trying to fix their issues. An anxious person often feels a loss of control over the world around them. They cannot control the bad things that might happen. Running gives them the tool to control how long they run which makes them feel better. It puts them in the driver’s seat instead of being a passenger waiting for the medicine to work its magic.
No Strength For Worry
Running makes you physically tired. Your mental health might be boosted to a runner’s high, but your physical body is usually worn out. This means you don’t have the strength to worry and fear the worst. Your body doesn’t have the strength to fall apart as it usually would in an anxiety attack. You shake, your stomach is in knots and your heart wildly beats. It wears you out to the point sometimes you curl up in a ball on the floor. It’s a great feeling to be so tired that you can’t sit there thinking of worst case scenarios. You will actually even sleep better, and your mind won’t wonder for hours thinking of tomorrow’s worries. Anxiety fades to the background as your tired physical body hits the pillow.
Running for therapy might not cure an anxious mind to the point of living in a calm reality every day, but it can make a difference. Focusing on the road ahead and the pavement as you hit that perfect stride can alter the brain on a daily basis. The physical body gets a boost while mental health gets a natural dose of medicine. Going the distance for an anxious person could be as easy as strapping on those athletic shoes and hitting the road.