1. Just Get Started:
Exercise means having to overcome old habits of inactivity. We all live sedentary lives and it takes a lot to shrug off our normal routine. Running is hard work and can at times feel like the opposite of natural, even though it is. So, make a schedule and stick to it. It sounds obvious, but otherwise your urge for five minutes more in bed, or one more Netflix binge, is likely to take over.
2. Go Slow:
I mean it, as slow as possible without walking. It’ll feel ridiculous at first and your body will instinctively want to speed up but resist the urge. I started too fast, felt out of breath, got horrible stitches and quickly ended up with shin splints. Injuries this early in the game might put you off, and that would be pointless.
3. Get Appy:
Download a beginner 5K app. This might not be for everyone – totally understandable if you want to run freely and not be dictated to by a strange and tinny American voice. BUT – it can be brilliant for beginners who really have no confidence in their sporting abilities as the goals are achievable and you feel like you’re making tangible progress. I completed it in the allotted time, and the day I did 5K without stopping was utterly magical. I didn’t feel overstretched, or furiously out of breath. I just felt invincible. And it doesn’t hurt that by the time you finish the programme, you’ve run so much that most people get the bug and want to keep going…
4. Find Distractions:
Podcasts and music seriously help. Again, not for everyone, but they help distract me when I get bored or fed up. More importantly, at the beginning, they made my brain concentrate on something other than worry when I ran. I still whack in my earbuds when I get anxious, or when a place is too noisy, and I suspect my brain might start getting frazzled. I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie for that. Quaint murder, and the soothing tones of David Suchet. But death metal is also allowed.
5. Give Your Feet TLC:
They are subcutaneous receptors – they respond to stimuli and transmit data about them to the brain. They are capable of much more than you give them credit for. Respect them, give them rest days and if in doubt about your running form, go and see a specialist. Foot injuries will put you out of play, so please be careful. I have given up my beloved high heels for this very reason.
6. Smart Small:
If leaving your safe places makes you feel very vulnerable then start small, do a loop of your road. Run that road until you feel confident that you can go on to the next one. It all counts, and it’s important that you don’t push yourself too fast. Listen to your body. You can always venture out further when you feel more confident. I ran down a little alleyway for ages before I pushed further, and I’m glad I did. I eventually got bored, and sometimes boredom is the enemy of anxiety. When you’re no longer afraid, but just a bit fed up, you’re less likely to be held prisoner by your irrational fears.
7. You Don’t Have To Run A Marathon:
Remember that running does not have to mean marathons, endurance feats and six-packs. Some people will go down that route, and others will run around the park twice a week. As I’ve said, I’m in the latter camp, and I firmly promise that this option is fine too. However far you run is further than you’ve ever run before. What a brilliant thing.
8. Forget Everybody Else:
Nobody is looking at you. I know you won’t believe me initially, but it’s true. Running feels incredibly exposing, overwhelming and scary to begin with. I ran in the dark and stopped whenever I saw someone coming towards me. I didn’t wear leggings for months, preferring to cover up with baggy sweats. I’ve thought long and hard about what I was most scared of back then, and aside from panicking in an unfamiliar place, my main one was being laughed at by strangers. But nobody batted an eyelid. So much so, that I once fell over at the feet of a man on the canal path and he just carried on eating his sandwich. Cheers for that. I’m still angry.
9. Take Time To Enjoy The Surroundings:
I know this makes me sound like a third-rate guru, but it’s one of the joys of running. Your anxiety can make you introverted, never seeing what’s around you, always forcing your brain to see negative, scary things instead. Running makes you look outside all of this, concentrate on your surroundings and use your eyes in a new way. I’ve seen the beauty in all of it, purely from running. Nearly every time I go for a run, I stop to take a longer look at a building, or a poster, or a sunset. My phone is full of photos I’ve taken on my daily jaunts, of weird street names, of beautiful views.
10. Be Kind To Yourself:
Cherish every little goal, make sure you recognise what it is that you’re doing – you, a person who has a brain which has not always been your friend. Buy an ice cream after a run, have a glass of wine. Never berate yourself if you have a panic attack and need to go home abruptly. Running is not always a straight line (that would be boring). Sometimes there will be diversions and hold-ups. You can try again: it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You can’t ‘fail’ at running.
11. Listen To Your Body:
There will be times when you think you’re going to start feeling anxious, and you must remind yourself that exercise brings out similar physical symptoms to panic – heavy breathing, sweating, a racing heart, shaky limbs. But this time, it’s all for the good! You’ll quickly get used to having these feelings in a positive situation. Feel your breathing settle into a rhythm and notice how fast you get used to it. In a similar vein, take a note (mental or otherwise) of how you feel after each run – work out when is the best time of day for you to do it, and what you need to eat or drink before you head out. All of this will help you come up with some sort of running routine which can properly help relieve anxiety and stress.
12. Have Fun:
Running shouldn’t just be a joyless slog which you endure because you’ve heard it can be good for your mental health. I was advised that it was helpful to see running as ‘not exercise’, which I loved. Running is a lot more than a means to lose some weight. It’s a multidimensional thing that’s much, much bigger than just exercise. Try to remember this. Try to run in whatever way works for you – whether that’s for ten minutes, or doing hill sprints, or treadmill slogs or fun runs with mates. Sprint down a hill. Remember how you used to chase your mates when you were little? That childish abandon can be recaptured, no matter how long it’s lain dormant.