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Run Away From Your Problems

Run Away From Your Problems

Exercise and stress

A tightening in my throat,

‘Put down the plate.’

‘Don’t break anything don’t break anything’

Go for a run. A sprint… let it out, breathe through the tightening throat until it loosens, push the quads up the steep slope till you can only think about what you have to do right now, not worry about what was or is or might be…

Turn it all off and just run.

Let me go…. Let me run.

My cousin is sick. Very sick with something that in her case won’t get better and probably will get worse. I just got news that she’s in the hospital again. I have a similar condition, but I’m in remission. I’m a nutritionist, I’m a trainer with a passion for medicine and health, I make things better, I’m a healer. But I can’t heal this. I can’t make it go away. And as I watch her waste away I feel hurt and powerless… and it just adds to the baseline. I’m worried about my family- the stresses of my brother’s life, my aging parents’ health, my own health that I’ve just reclaimed. Sometimes it gets to be too much and I need to run.

Walk in the door, drop down my keys on the counter. I’m fine, I’m in control… I’ll work through this’… The heavy red keychain clanks on the thick oak. The sound breaks something in me. Suddenly I’m crying.

Bawling and gasping.

Standing there in the kitchen. I pick up and manage to put down in quick succession: my favorite red flower plate, my handmade acorn mug, a drinking glass…. “Don’t break anything, don’t break anything.” I must be angry under all of this crying, because the urge to break something is almost undeniable.

“Go for a run, girl. Go for a run. You’re ok, you just need a run. You’ll be ok. You’ll be ok.” Keep repeating it as I shimmy into my running pants, shrug on a sweater and my Merrells and beeline for the front door, barely closing it behind me.

Icy air bites my face. I wedge my headphones into my ears, take large strides to clear the end of the driveway and swing right to take on the steep street. Crank the volume up and jump forward to a song with an aggressive beat that takes me up the hill and away.

Run Away.

It turns out that ‘running away” from your problems is not a problem. I used to think that there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t just “think it out”. But guess what? We’re not made that way! We are made to move- and there’s nothing wrong with using physical activity to deal with stress- in fact it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Exercise is one of the best to ways to clear the mind. According to researchers (and a lot of people like me) it’s a great and natural way of dealing with anxiety. Recently scientists have started to pin down exactly how exercise works to help us cope by disrupting the various feedback loops that worsen the effects of stress.

Anxiety Feedback loops

“The mind is so powerful that we can set off the [stress] response just by imagining ourselves in a threatening situation,” relates neuroscientist Bruce McEwen in his book ‘The End of Stress as We Know It’. So, the more we think out our stress, we literally make it more real and threatening to us and make our response to it worse and worse. Thanks, real nice catch 22.

By providing something else to focus on, exercise short circuits this nasty loop before you work yourself into a frenzy… And here’s the news flash- If you can work yourself into a frenzy, you can run (or hike or bike) yourself out of it. Just as your mind influences your body, your body affects your mind.

How it works: made to move.

In order for your mind and body to be optimally functioning, you need to move. Staying still and dwelling on it will just make matters worse:

“Researchers immobilize rats in order to study stress. In people too, if you’re locked down — literally or figuratively — you’ll feel more anxious. People who are anxious tend to immobilize themselves — balling up in a fetal position or just finding a safe spot to hide from the world…in a sense any form of anxiety feels like a trap. The opposite of that, and the treatment, is taking action, going out and exploring, moving through the environment.” Sparking Life

Tense muscles? You need to get out and go. Physical activity (especially short bursts of intense activity) reduces the resting tension in your muscles. This disrupts a nasty anxiety feedback loop between your muscles and brain. If your muscles are tight, you are much more likely to be anxious- and vice versa. If your body is calm, your brain is less likely to spiral into worry.

Exercise also produces calming neurochemical changes. As our muscles begin working, it sets a process in motion that makes more tryptophan available to our brains. More tryptophan = more serotonin. This helps to calm us down and enhance our sense of safety. Heart muscle cells chip in and produce a molecule called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) that puts the brakes on the stress response. Trust me, this is a good thing for your overall mood.

The best thing is, exercise works both immediately as a quick shot in the arm and increases stores of serotonin, GABA (the main target for most of our antianxiety medicines) and norepinephrine in the long term. In fact, research reveals that it’s at least as effective as anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications without the side effects. Sparking Life

So, when you say you feel less stressed out after you go for a run, hike, or even a swim, you are.

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