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A personal account of how running helps mental health

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I am sharing an account of my client’s experience with anxiety and how running has helped her manage and raise money for mental health charities while doing so. As interesting as theory is, it’s always better to get on-the-ground proof of the power of exercise. Here is Jane’s story :


“The day starts as the previous day did, and the day before that. I vomit the moment I wake up yet there is nothing in my stomach. My body shakes, the kind of shakes you get when you go into shock. It starts with maybe 2-3 episodes a day and at its worst I shake constantly. I cannot eat even though I am desperate to keep something down to stop my stomach aching and the constant feeling of nausea. Disorientated one moment, like I am watching everything in slow motion to the next unable to keep still, not able to control my breathing. The only respite is sleep which is hard to get. When sleep does finally arrive, I wake in the early hours only for reality to hit again. I am terrified. Sleep deprived, unable to stop crying, feelings of hopelessness overwhelm. I struggle to find the ability to physically and emotionally get through another day.”

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. It is not a comfortable subject to talk about, but this was my experience, a snapshot of the first 2 weeks of lockdown.

I have anxiety, which for the most part is not life impacting, but at its worst is terrifying, severely debilitating physically and emotionally and affects not just me but the people closest to me.

Unsurprisingly, and like so many people, this has been the worst period of anxiety I have experienced. Overnight the world changed. The cause was not going to end in a few days or a few weeks. I am having to find a new way to manage it, in a scenario that is going to be here for some time. I have been very fortunate that I have had the support of family and friends for which I am forever grateful.

I therefore wanted to put something back and do something positive as part of this experience.

As demand for mental health services have grown during these unprecedented times and will continue to do so, I decided I wanted to raise money for mental health charities who are struggling due to nationwide fundraisers having been cancelled and charity shops having closed.

It has taken a few weeks of ‘sleeping on it’ but I have decided that I should do one of the things that enabled the first step in finding a positive way out of this period of anxiety. Running.

I am not a natural runner or even a keen runner for that matter. But with sport options limited I set myself a challenge and joined the many people that downloaded the C25K app. It took 8 weeks, but I did it and in doing it found something that has helped my mental health enormously.

So, my current challenge is to run 100 miles, in 10 weeks whilst raising money for Mind and The Samaritans. These charities are a lifeline for many people suffering with mental health issues and without them many would suffer alone. [Jane is now over half way through the 10 week challenge].

If you would like to donate to one of these charities, please visit justgiving.com/team/janebull where you can read about the charities’ work. 

More on Jane’s experience of anxiety:

“One of the problems with anxiety for me is not having the head-space to prioritise ‘healthy time’ for myself. A big change I have found the running schedule has made is that it forces me to plan the day so that I can ensure I have time to run.  My meal planning is also more structured as typically I would skip breakfast and lunch and then snack until my evening meal. Running has ensured I eat breakfast before I go for a run, I am naturally hungry by lunch time and therefore don’t snack during the day.
 I find the best time for me to run is first thing in the morning. I feel more energetic and productive for the whole day.  If this isn’t possible, I aim to run after work in the evening which gives me the ability to run off any feelings of anxiety and or stress.  
One of the biggest differences is that it has improved my sleeping patterns and I have found I fall asleep a lot quicker than normal and I sleep for longer. 
Combining running with strengthening and resistance training has made a huge difference to my ability to maintain the levels of running, to limit injury and to build on my core strength.  This has been really important to maintain as I want to continue to run after my ‘100 mile challenge’ is over.”

Thank you so much to Jane for opening up about this debilitating condition, and giving us an insight into how exercise is helping.

Lisa 🙂

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