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As a sport psychologist and professional running coach, I often work with a number of individuals who struggle with a mental health diagnosis. As a marathon runner who lives with the challenges of bipolar disorder myself, I have a special interest in learning about the value of tapping into running as a personal empowerment tool in difficult life situations. I often ask my runners (and myself) to note what attributes they feel have helped them to cope while dealing with ongoing mental health struggles.

Several themes emerged from these conversations about the wisdom and lessons learned, and I hope that some of these thoughts will resonate with each of you and offer you inspiration for your own unique life and circumstance. Overall, I discovered that the runners displayed a true “Warrior Attitude” as they dealt with the challenges, fear, sadness, and grief that can be part of living with mental health disorders. Here’s a sampling of their wisdom and how it can help your running mindset:

Realize What a Gift Physical Activity Can Still Be for You

Many stated that they needed running, walking, or training (whenever they were able) for dealing with the stress and worry from their mental health treatments. They grabbed onto these times and held onto them for dear life, saying that their workouts never let them down and gave them energy when they needed it the most. Even just 15 minutes of exercise offered up a much-needed boost and sense of accomplishment.

Keep your Spirit Alive

All of the runners noted how physically and emotionally taxing their day to day mental health challenges and treatments were and that they desperately wanted something to revive them. For many, their workouts kept their spirits alive during and after difficult crisis situations as well.  All felt a profound sense of gratitude to be able to just get out there, to breathe, and to move.

Find Your New Normal

When times of recovery and balance occurred, all discovered that with mental health issues you still have to find a new normal, as many experienced medication side effects and/or a general loss of identity and self-confidence. They noted how important it is to stay aware of possible complications and how their minds and bodies were responding, but to avoid giving up in defeat. Several runners were able to continue their workouts for example, by modifying the intensity, duration, frequency, type of workouts and/or locations, when dealing with depression or anxiety in order to remain safe while still feeling a sense of accomplishment and competence.

Take Responsibility for Believing in Yourself

Feeling more in control of their treatments by staying educated and informed, and establishing themselves as a partner with their medical teams helped many of the runners feel more connected to their ongoing care and their recovery. The more involved they remained throughout the process, the more they began to believe in themselves and their progress and the probability of being able to either begin to run or return to running.

Find the Opportunities in Mental Health Challenges

One individual made the decision to find every hidden opportunity in mental health hardships and to live those opportunities with passion.  She noted that once you’re diagnosed, your life changes and that what counts the most from that point on changes as well.  All of the runners also agreed that a great opportunity is to help others who are just starting on their path of living with a mental health diagnosis and to support them in any way possible.  (Still I Run has you totally covered on this one). In doing so, they realized that a new life for them emerged as they summoned the courage to turn setbacks into comebacks for themselves and others. They became their very own Warrior Heroes.

To the SIR community ~ I encourage you to remember this:  We’re an incredible group of individuals, who strive whenever possible to live strong, persevere, and show personal courage with our unique Warrior Attitudes as runners and human beings.

I’ll talk with you again soon…In the meantime, give some thought to these wise words that have repeatedly helped me over the years as you take on your next day, your next challenge, your next run… Let’s do this thing together…. Openly and proudly.

“Fate whispers to the warrior,

‘You cannot withstand the storm ~

“And the warrior whispers back ~

I am the storm.”

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