Progress, Not Perfection: Mental Health Victories While Running
By Christina Torres. Christina is a 2019 Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon Ambassador, Teacher, Runner, and Writer. More of her work can be found at www.christinatorres.org
I do not want to do this. This is the thought that keeps running through my mind as I’m sitting in my car at Ala Moana Beach Park. The perfect day builds a case to go for a run–there’s light rain cascading down along with a matching wind that ripples through the water. Yet, I stay glued to the seat of my car.
I know I need to run. It’s not because of some prescribed schedule, or feeling like I “have to do the work” or “be bigger than the pain.” I’ve been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid, even writing about battling panic for The San Francisco Marathon in 2012 when I first publicly shared my mental health journey. Until then, the waves of panic that convinced me I couldn’t breathe and make me unable to think rationally were colored with shame.
Fortunately, the conversation about mental health has improved, and plenty of runners discuss how running bolsters their mental health. Running may not cure more severe mental health issues, but it can prove helpful for many who struggle with with depression and anxiety.
A therapist once told me to imagine my anxiety like a wave I had to ride out, instead of the monster I used to see it as. When I go for a run, I often find my body relaxes after a few miles. For any of us who struggle to get moving, it can feel like we’re battling a monster we can’t beat. There are a few ways that can help get us back on our feet, even when it seems impossible:
Have an Accountability Partner
Anxiety and depression can make it hard to interact with others, and it’s easy to get isolated and convince ourselves not to run. Having someone check in and make sure we’re taking care of our mental and physical health can help pull us out of that rut. It’s very important to have someone who we really trust and who understands our mental health so they can ask in productive ways that don’t make us so overwhelmed we shut down.
Get rid of the things that overwhelm you (temporarily)
Feeling “slow” can get in my head while I’m running. Sometimes, I’ll run without a tracker or turn off the notifications on my watch so I don’t get caught up with pace. Doing this allows me to run free and remove all the unnecessary things that are indirectly weighing me down. Try letting go of things that break you down mentally so you can come back strong.
Be Inspired to Adapt Your Training Calendar When Needed
I loved this piece from Runner’s World featuring the times runner Allie Kieffer cut a workout short or didn’t do it. Often times, self-care and good running are not about pushing through. Let go of the idea that we have to do every workout to the letter. Do so will help us to be become more adaptable and stronger as runners in the process.
Do One Thing Differently
Anxiety can manifest as cyclical thoughts that persist beyond necessity. Doing something different in your workout–listening to different music or podcasts instead of your normal playlist (or don’t listen to anything at all!), doing your usual route backwards, etc.–can help shake up your routine and give you a challenge that can help break the cycle we can find ourselves spiraling down.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the reasons why we can’t, particularly when we’re struggling with our mental health. The monster in our head whispers that we shouldn’t bother, that it’s not worth it, that we’re not good enough. Running has become less about “fighting” that monster than it did when I first started. Now, it is a fight to not only be my best self, but love myself as I am. With every moment I run, I celebrate the stretch of my muscles, the blood pumping through me and the breath in my lungs. There is no perfection, only important moments of progress that need to be celebrated.