In this edition of Stress Hacks, I want to talk about one of the most popular stress relievers known to man (or woman)– running. Physical activity in general is a great way to let off some steam, but running in particular is one of the best forms of exercise for dealing with stress.
But it’s important to know why running helps relieve stress, because there’s also a downside that you might not be aware of.
How Running Relieves Stress
The reason why stress takes such a huge toll on you is because it has both physical and psychological effects on your body. You’re mentally drained from constantly thinking about everything that’s been stressing you out, and then your body’s response to stress is to:
- Demand more from your heart
- Strain your brain (and who doesn’t like a good headache?)
- Weaken your immune system
- Tense up your muscles, which reduces oxygen supply
- Throw your digestive system out of whack
Ok, so what does this have to do with running? Well running helps relieve a lot of these symptoms. Running helps:
- Keep your digestive system somewhat regular
- Boost your immune system
- Keep your heart pumping strong
- Release muscle tension
*Cheesy Infomercial voice* BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! */cheesy infomercial voice* You’ve probably heard of endorphins before. They’re the “feel good” hormone that you can think of as your body’s all natural pain reliever. They’ve been working long before Aleve and Advil came out.
Running causes endorphins to run through your body like a bunch of teenage girls playing hide-and-seek with Justin Bieber. The endorphins create a euphoric feeling in your body, which helps relieve some of the physical and even psychological effects of stress.
Mental Benefits of Running
Another reason running is great for relieving stress is that it gives you time to be at peace with your mind. You might be stressed out about not having enough money to fix your car, a big exam coming up that’s worth 60% of your grade for some reason, or other things going on in your life. When you’re running and those endorphins are pumping, you can start to see things more clearly with a positive outlook.
Or, running might just give you the break you need. Some people just like to clear their mind and focus on running. If that sounds like you, then use running as an opportunity to just live worry free for a little. After your run is over, you’ll feel better physically and have a much more positive outlook on things.
After I go for a run or do any other type of exercise, it’s hard to get me out of that “runner’s high” for the rest of the day. When you feel good about yourself physically, for some reason it just feels like you can conquer the world and nothing’s going to stop you. It’s a great feeling to have and kind of indescribable.
Caution Before Running Stressed
Running definitely helps relieve stress, but running under the wrong conditions could lead to injury. And who wants that?
Here are some cases when you might not want to go rushing out for a run when you’re already stressed out:
You’re too tense: Remember how I said stress causes your muscles to tense up? Well if you’re stressed out to the point where your jaw is clenched tight, your shoulders are darn near up to your forehead, and you feel extremely wound up, then you might wan to think twice about hitting the track. Running while all your muscles are tight and tense can lead to pulling or straining your muscles.
Solution: Give yourself about an hour to get loose and do some flexibility and stretching exercises. Heck, use it as an excuse to treat yourself to a massage (I’m sure you deserve one). Basically the goal is to get some tension out before you go for your run, or you’ll really pay for it later.
You’re too distracted: Stressful situations will completely take over your mind sometimes. Don’t worry, I’m not contradicting what I said earlier about running to get your mind off stress, but there are some cases when your stressors can completely throw your focus off. If you’re too distracted to pay attention to your run, then you can easily slip up and end up on a YouTube video.
Solution: Listen to music when you run. It will help you keep your mind off the stressors, and focus on just running. Also, make sure you’re running somewhere safe and free of potholes or busy streets. You don’t want to get run over.
You’re pissed off: If your stress level is at SUPER DUPER MAXIMUM SLAP A PUPPY, you’re more likely to overexert yourself when you’re running. Letting off steam is one thing, but running so hard that you’re stomping your feet on the ground with each step because you’re mad is an entirely different beast. Say hello to a world of painful shin splints.
Solution: Try to slow down and run at a moderate pace. In fact, you might want to just go for a walk instead. If you’re constantly angry because you’re stressed out, then you might also want to look into some anger management classes. Never be scared or embarrassed to ask for help.
Tips For Running When You’re Stressed
Now that I’ve told you some of the Don’ts of running to relieve stress, I’ll give you some tips on how you can make this stress hack even more effective.
Run outdoors: If the weather is decent enough for running outside, then I’d definitely recommend doing that over a treadmill. Being outdoors gives you fresh air, which will also help relieve some stress. It’s also a lot cheaper to run outside than buy a treadmill or join a gym.
Listen to music: I could never go running without music. I know that it’s a common thing for a lot of people, but it’s definitely not for me. Music is a great way to shift your focus away from your stressors and focus on the task at hand–running. If you’re using running to help think over your stressors, listening to instrumentals or songs without words can help give you some background sounds.
Invest in some decent shoes: If you’re going to be running on a consistent basis, then eventually you’ll want to get a nice pair of running shoes. Even if it’s not something you do daily, the right shoes will help make running a lot more comfortable and decrease your chance of hurting yourself. I’m no expert on running shoes, but here’s a pretty cool tool from Runner’s World that will help you find the right type of running shoe specifically for you.
Just Do It
The best tip I can give you is to incorporate some type of REGULAR exercise into your life. I know some people dread running, but really any type of physical activity is better than being stagnant. Aside from the stress management benefits, running will help you live longer, feel better about yourself, and improve your physical well being.
So the next time you’re stressed out, try going for a brief run for 10-20 minutes. Those brief minutes can make a huge difference in your life.