Running and Anxiety – Eight Tips for Anxious Runners

In the last Running and Anxiety blog we looked at how running helps to prevent and ease anxiety symptoms. Running with anxiety can be hard though, just getting out of the door can be a challenge in itself. Here are eight practical tips that you can use yourself or to guide you to help those around you to stop anxiety ruining those plans and reap the benefits of running:

1.      Be honest with yourself – Take time to reflect on how you are feeling, why you want to run and what is stopping you. Working out ‘your why’ will help you to stay motivated. Will it make you feel fitter, calmer, bring you joy? Make a list and keep looking back at it when your motivation is lacking. Then work out what your main barriers are. It will help you to identify steps you can take to overcome them. If it’s fear of going out alone then it’s time to find a running buddy. If it’s worrying about having a panic attack, then following a graded return to running will help you feel more confident. Be honest with yourself and put your problem solving head on. If you can’t find the solutions alone then ask a friend to help you.

2.      Set your goals. It’s crucial that you set realistic and achievable goals for yourself. You need to succeed to feel the positive feedback which will lift you. You might have an ultimate goal of running a 5k or a marathon but you need to break it down into tiny chunks that you can add to your daily calendar. This may begin with getting as far as two steps from your front door and then five steps and then ten. It doesn’t matter, all forward progress is good. 

3.      Don’t overthink it. Give your brain too long and it will have talked you out of running. You will have come up with a list of reasons why not going will be best for you. The reasons will feel valid and justifiable at the time. Find the time slot that works most easily for you. One tip is to go early. Prepare your running kit the night before and put it on and get out of the door before your brain has had time to engage. Just take the first step. Tell yourself you will just go for five minutes and see how you feel. You will be surprised that once you are out, you will feel able to go a little further than you expected.

4.      Use distraction. With anxiety, simple thoughts can quickly snowball and get out of control. Why not try listening to music, a podcast or an audio book while you run? – obviously making sure it’s safe to do so and perhaps choosing a quieter, traffic-free route. You might use relaxing music to help calm your breathing or a funny podcast that makes you laugh. Experiment and find what works for you.

5.      Get company. Running with friends has so many benefits. Setting a time to run with them means you are more likely to go. Having someone by your side can make you feel more secure and relaxed. It may be that you feel best in a group rather than with one person; everyone is different. Choose someone that you can be yourself with. Talking about your feelings is always easier when you are side by side, out in nature. You may just want to continue with the distraction and talk about everything except anxiety and that’s fine too.

6.      Use positive talk. Be your own cheerleader. Avoid criticising yourself. Always compliment yourself and celebrate what you have achieved, even if it’s only a small win. Imagine you are talking to your friend, speak to yourself as you would speak to them. Replace, ‘You’re rubbish, you’re going so slowly, you can’t do this’ with ‘You’re doing great, look how far you’ve come, you can do this’.  Push out those negative thoughts and replace them with positive self-talk, it can make all the difference.

7.      Try mindful running. Running mindfully and being in the present can help you to enjoy a run, it can calm you if your thoughts are rushing and it can act as a form of meditation. Read up on how to do it but as a basic start, run with your senses. Really take time to notice what is around you and focus on what you can see, hear and feel as you run. The peaceful feeling will stay with you for some time after you get home too.

8.      Add in some yoga. Yoga is a great stretching exercise for runners which can give you confidence in your own body but it can be much more than that. The breathing techniques will serve you well as you run but also help you to take control of your breathing if it becomes shallow and rapid as a result of anxiety. You can learn it in the privacy of your own home with online videos if you don’t feel comfortable in a class.

Take things at your own pace. Celebrate all your successes and remember that the path always has lots of ups and downs so don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day and don’t meet your goal. There’s always something you can learn from a failure that makes you more likely to succeed the next time.

Do let us know if these tips help you and how anxiety has helped you in your running. 

Dr. Juliet McGrattan

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