Wednesday 16 May 2018

It’s Easier to Run

Michael discusses how he uses running to as a way to cope with depression and anxiety.

For a long time I struggled with depression and social anxiety and my two ways of coping with these feelings, avoidance and distraction. Now, having learned how unhelpful these behaviours are for my mental health, I have developed a new way of coping, running, which has been massively beneficial for my wellbeing. Here, I recall the destructive impact of psychologically running away from my feelings through avoidance and distraction, and the benefit of physically running for my mental health.

Firstly, avoidance. I would run away from social contact. I was convinced that people would see me as I saw myself, and whilst I had become numb to my own pain, I found that, around others, I felt an expectation (real or imagined) that I could only disappoint, an intensified self-consciousness and humiliation, and a heightened sense of vulnerability and misplacement. I distanced and isolated myself, pushing away and shutting down anyone that tried to reach out to me.

Second, distraction. I would run through life as fast as I could to try and distract myself from how I was feeling: I was running away from myself. In my desire to distract myself, I became unhealthily occupied by my University studies. For me, study was simultaneously a manifestation, an excuse and a comfort for my isolation; a psychological space to channel my self-dissatisfaction as perfectionism, whilst at the same time being one where I didn’t have to face anyone and where I could pretend to myself and others that my isolation was a choice that I was in control of.

Clearly then, these safety behaviours were destructive. They exacerbated the very feelings and insecurities that I was running away from. I lost both confidence and practice in social situations which simply reinforced my beliefs of inadequacy and misplacement. It’s like the harder I ran away from my feelings, the bigger the shadow that I was running from became and the harder it became to face. It had become a cycle that felt impossible to break out of. Not only this, but in running away from myself and others, I ended up shutting down any opportunity to get help or support. Just as I felt I couldn’t run anymore, I reached the finish line: the line in my life were I was finished. I was finished running and I knew that I had to, with some help, make some changes.

This is why I decided to run the Edinburgh Marathon for Student Minds. I am running, but this time I am running as an enabling and empowering physical activity, not as a destructive psychological defence mechanism. In doing so, I hope both to raise funds for Student Minds and to raise awareness of student mental health issues and the support available. I am still running but now, with the direction and support provided by Student Minds, I am moving forward. Increasing my physical activity has massively benefitted my mental health: I am eating better, sleeping better and have so much more energy to cope with life’s pressures. Sometimes, it’s easier to run.

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Hi, I'm Michael. I'm currently a PhD student at Durham University and wanted to write for Student Minds about my own experiences of depression, anxiety and university life.

1 comment:

  1. From time to time, I'm also thinking that occupying oneself with loads of work as a way of distraction may not be a really sustainably effective method to cope with one's mental wellbeing. Perhaps,a more tenacious heart might be the one that can stand with a parcel of void. I'm thinking of bridges, what if building them to the full as walls, then they might not be that sustainable in confrontation of floods compared to the ones built with structural voids. So, I've trained myself to learn how to go with the void when I feel it: let it be there but not to stick to it.