When getting out of bed feels like a physical challenge, lacing up your running shoes and going for a jog is probably the last thing you want to do. I felt that way until I discovered just how powerful running can be to fight the depression.
I got off to a very slow start. In the beginning, I ran down my block for the time it took my iPod to belt out a Beyonce song, then walked for another song, maybe even two, before I could motivate myself to pick up the pace again. It was hard to thrust my body into motion, but I felt the slightest bit better after running for a few minutes, so I kept at it.
Eventually, I began to run whole miles at a time. I found that three miles was enough to give myself an emotional boost. If I was feeling anxious, sometimes I needed to run five miles for my thoughts to melt away until all I could focus on was putting one foot in front of the other. By the time I finished a long run, whatever had upset me suddenly seemed smaller and manageable.
Exercise releases endorphins, and as Elle Woods so aptly put in Legally Blonde, “endorphins make you happy.” Studies that associate physical activity with mental wellness are piling up, and some researchers believe that exercise can be as effective for depression as therapy or medication. That’s a big reason why running is in my arsenal of tips for coping with depression, but it’s by far the only one.
No matter how much my day is sucking or how bitchy I feel, getting a run in makes me feel like I’ve done something good. Running also creates opportunities for hundreds of little victories that serve as an excellent antidote to the hopelessness I sometimes feel. Every run is an opportunity to set a personal record for myself, whether is the fastest pace, furthest distance, or even “best run while slightly hungover.”
There’s no doubt that running has made me stronger. I have defined calf muscles and seven half-marathon ribbons to show for the hundreds of miles I’ve run. But the real reward I get from running is the mental strength that enables me to defeat sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety. When I start to feel myself getting depressed, I just need a playlist, sneakers, and the open road to get back on track.