I'd like to preface this by saying that I don't consider myself a very athletic person. I never played many organized sports (except for a brief stint of softball in elementary school and one season of basketball during which I cried the night before every game). Growing up, I would pretend I had gotten hit in dodgeball, so I could hang out on the sidelines. In the chaos of the game, no one noticed. My main activity was dance for about 15 years, mostly because I loved it, but also because there was no sprinting involved. But without a doubt, running has been the best habit I picked up this year.
Without a doubt, running has been the best habit I picked up this year.
When the pandemic struck, it was easy to spiral without the comfort of a normal routine. I was worried about the state of the world, concerned for vulnerable family members, and spending way too much time consuming the news, a recipe for a lot of anxiety. The past few years I've turned to an upbeat cycling class or a calming yoga class to help me level my head when I've felt my anxiety has gotten the best of me. Unfortunately, a spin class wasn't an option during a pandemic and online yoga wasn't as distracting as an in-person class. The one activity that was always available? Running.
I started slow, just trying to make it through one mile at a light jogging pace to get my muscles moving and walking the rest. After that felt more comfortable, I added another mile and another after that. My pace was pretty slow, but I wasn't in a rush, choosing to enjoy the scenery and my music.
Once the miles got easier, I found myself actually kind of enjoying it, like a moving meditation. Any anxiety that was sitting on my chest was transformed into usable energy to help me get through the run. Any problems I was worried about seemed less scary and more manageable as I plodded along my route. I'm not saying this is a magic bullet for anxiety (I still have my fair share of bad days), but I've found that on the days where I get in a quick run and breathe some fresh air, I'm better equipped to handle anything that may come my way later in the day.
I'm not saying this is a magic bullet for anxiety (I still have my fair share of bad days), but I've found that on the days where I get in a quick run and breathe some fresh air, I'm better equipped to handle anything that may come my way later in the day.
I think sometimes we're hesitant to start a new hobby or activity for fear we won't be immediately good at it. I know I've stopped myself from trying new things in the past for that very reason. I went into running knowing that I'm probably never going to be a marathoner, that my personal best times would be many other people's worst times ever, and that on some runs, two miles at a light jog is the best I can do. But in this case, the benefits to my mental health far outweigh the fear of failure. Plus no one else is really judging you as much as you're judging yourself. How do I know? The marathoners that pass me give me the same smile and nod as they do for the serious runners. We're all just trying to get through it the best we can.