On World Mental Health Awareness day this year, we asked a number of women from within our community to tell us about their experience of the relationship between running and mental health. Their replies were brave and honest, and confirmed to us something we’d always believed to be true; that running makes you not only physically stronger, but mentally stronger too.
These are their stories…
“I don’t run for PB’s (I only have one, and that’s my current and only speed) or for the glory (well I definitely don’t look glorious when I’m running). I run to feel normal, for relief from an illness that I’ve been at war with since I was a little girl. My name is Sophi, I wear bright pink compression socks, and I have OCD. I am one of those high functioning people with a mental illness; I hold down a good job and I’m super organised. But secretly and silently I’ve been slowly breaking. I broke when my son was about 2, when my OCD took hold of my overwhelming fear of losing my son. It’s quite amazing how creative the mind can get, with constant visions and horrific thoughts amongst other things that plagued my days.
Since then I’ve been through various therapies and daily medication. Therapy didn’t really help, but then about a year ago I started running, this is when I felt it – when my lungs were screaming, the sweat was pouring; this is when I felt normally. Over time I’ve gradually swapped one medication for another more natural form and I am now medication free. I still have OCD but when the war starts, I just need to put on my pink compression socks and I always win!”
“In January 2016, 2 weeks after my daughter, Loveday, was born, my mum was admitted to hospital in the final stages of terminal brain cancer. 2 weeks later she died in St Peters Hospice in Bristol. I was utterly heartbroken. Not only for my own personal loss but also for the potential loss for my children who would never really know the love of their wonderful granny.
With a non sleeping newborn and 2 other young children, I felt like the grief was insurmountable and totally overwhelming. There was no space in my days to take the time to think about what had happened or to ‘tend’ to my grief.
When Loveday was 8 weeks old, I took my first tentative steps out on the road with our new running buggy. At first I would run for just 10 minutes at a time. But almost instantly I realised how much running was helping me to organise my thoughts and 10 minutes once a week quickly turned into 30minutes 4 times a week. Running suddenly allowed me the space and time to really think about and accept what had happened. There were times when I ran and cried at the same time but mostly I ran and soaked up the changing seasons and the fresh air with my daughter. Without doubt running has been and will continue to be my therapy.
I will never ever get over the death of my mum but a year and a half later, with 657 miles under my belt plus 2 half marathons and a couple of 10ks, I feel physically fit but more importantly I feel mentally strong enough to follow in my mums footsteps and be the best possible mum and wife I can be.”
“I have exercised regularly for the past 27 years and have never been in any doubt that exercise is as good for the mind as it is for the body. For the past 5 years running has been my passion. Unfortunately in January of this year I lost my husband to depression. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain that I’ve had to endure over the last 8 months along with a rollercoaster of emotions.
It’s a daily struggle but running has helped me get through this incredibly difficult time. It’s an amazing therapy for your mental health and I would urge anyone suffering from stress/anxiety/depression just to try it. It helps you to sleep better, clears your mind and just makes everything seem more positive. As soon as my trainers start hitting the pavement all of my anxiety disappears. It’s amazing how quickly it works. If I didn’t have running in my life I probably wouldn’t be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. ❤️ running….!”
“The first run after losing my mum was the hardest…I couldn’t breath, I felt sick and I couldn’t stop crying…however over time running became my grief therapy.
Whilst I’ve always ‘dabbled’ in running it has only taken the last year to truly demonstrate the positive mental impact of this sport. Losing my Mum in November propelled me into the darkest place I’ve ever been but running gave me an opportunity to carve out time for myself, cry in private (well, in the country roads surrounding my home) channel my anger and despair and give me a focus. Being able to put on my trainers, leave the family home, and breathe fresh air felt great, and as I was so tired from running I found I was sleeping so much better too.
I needed a goal…therefore I and two friends signed up for the Berlin Marathon, supporting the Alzheimer’s Society in honour of Mum. I’m thrilled to say we completed this challenge last week and raised over £5, 500 for this wonderful charity….running has improved my state of mind and enabled me to create a positive outcome from such a sad situation.
** my two friends and I have a combined age of 135 and 5 children between us aged from 5 years down to 10 months old – being a mummy and an older one at that does not stop you running!”
“Running is what keeps me LEVEL ! After finding out I had early menopause at 39 I was suffering from awful hot flushes, paranoia, mood swings, anxiety… I was started on a low dose of HRT but although the hot flushes stopped , my mood remained low . Running was the ONLY thing that helped lift my mood. Just to get out in the fresh air and get those happy hormones flowing made a huge difference.
I struggle with my weight and hold my hands up to emotional eating. Running helps me to focus on my diet and usually stops me drinking fizzy juice or snacks (Not always sadly🙄) My weight in numbers is still quite high but I’m starting to see a change in ME and my clothes fit me a little better too.
Running has been the one thing that has saved me and I think my family would definitely agree. I’ve been running for , I think, 8 or 9 years and I’ve seen a slow but definite progress in my running and am so much stronger than I was before. So, I would encourage you to get out there, walk, run, hike, skip or jump in muddy puddles 🤣
Look after yourselves and don’t worry what others think 😘 You are amazing.”
“Nearly 4 years ago my first child was born. A beautiful time filled with love, celebration and happiness? Not really. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I couldn’t believe what I had done. I kept wishing that someone would take it all away. I was not meant to be a mum. All these feelings I had were symptomatic of me spiralling quickly into the depths of post-natal depression. Although I loved my daughter, I just felt that I wasn’t capable of the new job I had. I felt like I had a permanent attachment and if I’m honest, it felt like a prison sentence.
Thankfully, I’m a proactive person. When I realised that I needed help I went to my doctors and got it. Half-way through my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I was asked about what exercise I could do to help my low mood. I didn’t understand what she was saying – I had a baby and therefore I could never get away to do any exercise. However, as the weeks went on and with a lot of support from my husband I decided to give it a try and went out for a run. I can genuinely say it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I couldn’t believe how it was possible to have my own time and space, but running gave me that, and the high I got when I finished lasted for hours. Ever since then, running has been a part of my life. I love the headspace it gives me and every shiny medal at the end of a race is a trophy of me being happy and healthy.”
“I started running when we began trying for a baby; I knew that I could get consumed by the potential stress and worry that this might create, but I guess at that time, I didn’t know how challenging my journey to motherhood would be. I ran until the day before I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and had to have emergency surgery. I ran to recover from this emotionally. I ran until I fell pregnant again with our daughter Orla. And when she was stillborn at 37 weeks, I wanted to run to survive. However, I fell pregnant again very quickly and now we are incredibly lucky to have our precious rainbow baby Esme at home with us. So, now I am running again to manage my grief and the overwhelming emotions that come with parenting after loss. I run because of my daughters and for them, but I especially run for Orla because she will never get the chance. She is my motivation to dig deep and keep going.”
“I’ve always considered myself a very ‘together’ or ‘strong’ type of person, mentally and emotionally. So it was like a bolt out of the blue when, as I sat crying in the GP’s room like a nervous shaky wreck, she told me I was suffering from anxiety. It seemed to come from nowhere and from no real trigger, but it hit me like a sledgehammer. I was scared and paranoid and cried ALL the time, I felt lower than I’ve ever felt before, I was getting to the point were I didn’t want to leave the house, and had started having panic attacks. I literally felt like I was losing my mind. I was embarrassed as I thought there was such a stigma attached to mental health issues. I thought it made me weak and ‘unwell’. I didn’t take the medication I’d been prescribed straight away as in honesty it scared me. One day I dragged myself out for a walk. Being in the fresh air amongst nature felt good and so I spent a few weeks doing nothing, except going for walks. I relished the quiet time away from being the many Me’s that I had to be: Mum-Me, Wife-Me, Working-Me, the Me who always managed to ‘do it all’. I craved the headspace it gave me to let my ‘airport departures board’ style mind flick its way through all its thoughts. And then one day, without having decided that I was going to do it, I ran! And I can honestly hand on heart say it s the best thing I ever did. I am a new person because of running, it has shown me I can achieve anything I can put my mind to and actually I AM a strong person. Running has made my body healthier but more importantly my mind. Because what’s the point of one without the other? I would urge everybody to get out there, fix yourself, make yourself proud. It may be small steps at first but sometimes small steps lead to the biggest changes.”
We hope that sharing these stories will help in some way to break down the taboos surrounding mental health in this country, and to encourage anyone battling with poor mental health themselves to strap on some trainers and get outside, for health, headspace and happiness.
You can read more about the mental health benefits of running on our blog post, here.