“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness, and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system.” – Kris Carr
Hey there! Have you ever felt like running could be a great way to relieve stress but ended up feeling even more stressed because it hurts or feels too challenging?
Or are you an experienced runner looking for small aspects of running that can make a difference and realize being more relaxed helps with performance and running economy?
Well, you’re in luck! In this blog post, I’ll share tips on running more relaxed and stress-free.
Before we dive into those tips, let’s explore the science behind how running can help with stress.
The Science Behind Running and Stress:
We have two nervous systems – the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight or flight response, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system activates our rest and digestion response, slowing down our heart rate and reducing blood pressure.
The goal is to kickstart your sympathetic system just enough to get you running so that you don’t feel sluggish but not too much so that you feel stressed or agitated. And utilize your Parasympathetic system while running to feel relaxed and in control of your running.
Step One: Gently Firing Up The Aerobic System
Running at an easy pace for you is key. Not a rate you think you should be running at but a pace your body can comfortably cope with. Remember, to calibrate what is easy, your breathing is your best guide. If you can run and have the ability to hold a conversation, then you are running at the correct tempo.
If this is not the case, either slow down or walk. In some cases, you can walk and run depending on your ability. If you are an experienced runner, you can run faster and still converse as you will have a more developed aerobic base. It’s important to meet yourself where you are presently in your abilities.
Step Two: Activate Your Parasympathetic System
- Practice soft eyes – This means understanding that your focus becomes narrow in fight or flight mode. Activate a more relaxed state and utilize your peripheral vision. This is not looking side to side but widening your field of vision. This might seem odd but try it when sitting, and you might be surprised how much more relaxed you feel.
- Do a body inventory as you’re running and identify any areas of tension. Relax those areas by dropping your arms for a few seconds or loosening up your legs or lower back with a quick walk.
- Practice mindfulness by observing your thoughts as they come and go. Acknowledge them and let them pass by without dwelling on them. With practice, you can become more present at the moment and less focused on chasing your thoughts.
- Experiment with distractions while running. Some people prefer running with others and having conversations, while others prefer running alone with their thoughts. Some people find music or audiobooks helpful distractions, while others prefer silence. Try out different options to find what works best for you. Remember, the broad goal is to let go of the outcome and enjoy the process.
Conclusion: If you pace yourself, control your breathing, do a body inventory, practice mindfulness, and experiment with distractions, running can help you feel more relaxed and less stressed. Even if you are a pretty accomplished runner, there are many occasions in a run or race that we waste valuable energy with unnecessary stress, so learning.