Let’s start with a moment of silence. Stop running. (Don’t worry, it’s only temporary).
Close your eyes, take ten deep breaths. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Did you try it? Nice work! High five! You just participated in self-care.
Talking about mental health is hard. Running is hard. Putting the two together can be empowering. They become friends, running buddies of sorts. Personally, I’m not a fan of talking while running because, well like I said, running is hard. I embrace the journey and allow my mental health to decompress, to reflect, to grow. We run alongside each other. Well, sometimes. When I’m angry with my mental health, I like to run ahead and leave it in my dust. On other days, it runs ahead of me and trips me up. It’s a nice balance.
The relationship we have with ourselves is of utmost importance. Now, more than ever, mental health is out and about. There’s still a stigma, but we’re seeing change, as slow as it may seem. I was clinically diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in 2009. I’ve seen it all, but I’m hopeful. Just like running, it can be an uphill battle, but I envision a lovely, gradual downhill followed by a flat section. Off in the distance I know I’ll see a beautiful open field, dressed in wildflowers that are dancing in the wind. Okay, it won’t always be so magical, but it’s a healthy mindset to have. Have you ever tried visualization exercises? They are fantastic and another way to manage your mental health.
What does running do for you? Or walking? Or hiking? Many of us are aware of the physical benefits of exercise. According to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, some of the physical benefits are:
- Weight Management
- Strengthen Your Bones and Muscles
- Improve Your Ability to do Daily Activities and Prevent Falls
- Increase Your Chances of Living Longer
- Manage Chronic Health Conditions & Disabilities
What about the benefits of exercise regarding mental health? Good news here, especially for us runners! In the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry some benefits are:
- Improved sleep (Tommy like sleepy)
- Increased interest in sex (Yes please)
- Better endurance (100-miler in progress)
- Increased energy and stamina (Run longer, farther, harder)
- Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness (Conquer roots, rocks, & hallucinations)
Now that you’re enthusiastically mentally prepared to take on your next challenge, we need a plan. Not a planner eh? Don’t fret. Take ten more deep breaths. Or go for a run!
Let’s start with self-care because, well if our minds are healthy then so too, are our bodies. We are humans. We’re not perfect. We’ve already discussed a couple of ways to manage our mental health. Doing so will show in your training and running. I like to think that things flow from the “top down”: Mind, Middle, Metatarsals & Phalanges. Say that ten times as quickly as possible. You’ll never forget it.
Maybe your daily self-care plan looks like this:
- 6am-7am Glass of water, morning stretch, healthy breakfast
- 7am-8am Run/Workout
- 8am-9am Singing in the shower/getting ready for work
- 9am-5pm Production time, make a difference, eat snacks and lunch, stay off Amazon
- 5pm-7pm Dinner, family time, read a book, run/workout if not morning person
- 7pm-9pm Thinking about running whilst completing items on to-do list, evening stretch or date with foam roller
- 9pm Sleep, put on pajamas or don’t put on pajamas
That’s just a rough plan, but you get the point. Think structure, think fun. Focus on you first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. I know, it’s not always that simple. Consistency doesn’t have to be consistent. Consistency is effort. Keep trying. Keep training. Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. Sometimes we fall. Sometimes we come in dead last. Sometimes we must poop in the woods. Make the best of it.
I was hesitant to write about myself in this article, but after I thought about it a bit more, it made sense to do so. How can I contribute to the mission of Trail Sisters if I don’t open my heart and share my story in my writing? This is how we humans connect and help each other heal. My discovery of trail running, specifically ultra-distances, has transformed my life. When I run I breathe easier, I think clearly, I plan, I reflect. I embrace the ups and downs. Exercise and trail running are long-term management plans for my physical AND mental health.
I hope you find what works for you. I know you will.
Happy trails to you!