Mental Strength

Running for Anxiety | What You Need to Know

Anxiety affects many of us, for a plethora of unique reasons, often negatively impacting our daily lives and the way we feel about ourselves. Managing symptoms of anxiety through a positive outlet can seriously improve your day, here’s how:

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a general feeling of unease, like worrying or being fearful. Symptoms manifest not only psychologically, but also physiologically, resulting in things like sweating or shaking, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe, dependent on the situation and the individual.

In sporting situations, moderate levels of anxiety (known as arousal) can be advantageous to performance, but people often find symptoms to be disruptive and problematic when presented in daily life.

5 Ways running helps to combat anxiety

1. Vitamin D

Of course, this requires you to get out on the road instead of on a treadmill. There are documented links between vitamin D and depression, and even some findings suggest that vitamin D deficiency can influence anxiety disorders. A lack of vitamin D can also lead to an increase in cortisol, a stress hormone, that can ultimately contribute to heightening the symptoms of anxiety.

Getting enough vitamin D, both from dietary sources and from sunlight, is a good place to start when looking for strategies to physiologically reduce symptoms of anxiety.

2. Reduced stress

Endorphins such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are chemical neurotransmitters that result in positive feelings and in some cases, euphoric feelings (like runners high). These positive feelings, combined with their tendency to reduce cortisol, can aid in your efforts to manage symptoms of anxiety.

Notably, cortisol blocks the receptors in your body needed for effective utilization of vitamin D – meaning that if you have high-stress levels, then your body is also unable to properly utilise sources of vitamin D, further contributing to negative symptoms being experienced.

3. Improved sleep

Running can improve the quality and quantity of sleep that you get by inducing greater fatigue and by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin which is responsible for facilitating the all-important REM phases of sleep. Getting enough good-quality sleep contributes to a more stable hormonal balance within the body, which in turn can help in the management and reduction of symptoms of anxiety.

4. Community

It is well documented that socialization can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and also help to boost our confidence. One of the best ways to socialize when running is to join a community, whether that’s a local running group, or by finding like-minded runners on apps like Strava that help to connect you to others that use the same routes you do.

5. Fight or flight

Anxiety is essentially the mind preparing the body for a fight or flight situation, but the problem is, the situations that make us anxious are often not appropriate for this type of approach. Exercise in general activates the regions in your brain that are responsible for executive function, which helps to control the system in the brain that detects real or imagined threats to survival that stimulate the fight or flight response.

Running is therefore an effective method of helping our brain to process this type of information more effectively, reducing the prevalence of anxiety and those type of symptoms when presented with normal situations in daily life.

Take Home Message

Running provides a positive method that allows you to manage symptoms of anxiety in a healthy way. Although it is by no means a cure, managing symptoms can often have a significant impact on daily living, so it’s certainly worth a try!

Scott Whitney

Scott Whitney

Writer and expert

Scott developed a passion for sport and performance through competing in long‐distance running and bouldering prior to attending university. Scott’s academic achievements include a BSc honours degree in Sports Therapy and an MSc degree in Strength and Conditioning. He is also a member of The Society of Sports Therapists and CIMSPA. Previously, he has worked with amateur and elite athletes, ranging from university sports teams to elite rugby league athletes and Team GB rowers. He currently works with various gyms in developing and delivering training programmes for amateur athletes and gym‐goers. While passive treatments remain in his arsenal as a Sports Therapist, Scott uses his skills to promote physical activity for combatting obesity, lower back pain and other sporting injuries, and simultaneously providing programmes for athletic development. Being a recent graduate, Scott strives to gain experience wherever possible, offering advice and sharing knowledge along the way. He believes it is important to practice what you preach, so in his spare time, Scott practices Olympic Weightlifting and enjoys being active outdoors in all weathers, although he still believes it is important to make ample time for social activities.

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