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Running stress? Here’s how to cope

Running stress

Stress can be a good or a bad thing. It can help you act fast in an emergency situation or even perform well in a race. But when stress is a constant in your life, it can negatively affect your body.

Runners know that running can be both a source and a cure for stress.

How stress can hurt you

Nearly half of the young adults who participated in last year’s Stress in America poll say they’re not doing enough to manage their stress levels. Stress can take a toll on your health. Stress hormones increase your cholesterol levels, weaken your immune system, spark weight gain, and can lead to chronic headaches, depression, and anxiety.

Exercise and stress

Experts have long known that one of the best ways to keep stress in check is through exercise. Physical activity releases feel-good hormones (endorphins), boosts your mood, helps you sleep, and acts as a distraction from the stressors in your life.

But what happens when the stressor in your life is exercise?

Running and other sports can cause athletes a lot of stress. And not just elite athletes but everyday athletes who only run against themselves and the clock. You may stress over choosing a training plan, hitting your paces, figuring out the right fueling options, finding time for your long run, etc. This amount of stress can literally make you lose sleep at night and turn exercise, a healthy habit, into something that is very unhealthy. Stressed athletes are more likely to burn out, get sick, and become injured.

Sports psychologists say athletes need a certain amount of stress to stay on top of their game. Before a race, it’s normal to feel a racing heart, sweaty palms, and butterflies in your stomach. Acknowledge this reaction and don’t let it consume you. This response means that you’re excited and care about running.

The key to stopping stress from getting the best of your performance is to have realistic goals. Having lofty goals can set you up for panic and burnout.

If you’re feeling running stress, take some time off. Only lace up your shoes when you feel ready again. Once you do, head out the door without a watch and without a goal. Rekindle your love with running, and then map out some realistic goals.

Other ways to stress less

Having a healthy relationship with running isn’t the only way to ease stress.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. Try mind-body exercises, like yoga and tai chi, or wind down with a warm bath or massage.
  • Have healthy habits. Eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, don’t smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation. Taking care of your physical health often leads to improved mental health.
  • Eliminate some stressors from your life. Say no to optional commitments once in a while. When possible, avoid situations and people that provoke tension or anxiety.

What are your thoughts on running and stress? For you, is running more of a stress-reliever or a stress-causer?

Written by Jen Matz

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