How running helps manage my anxiety and my life
My decision to start running
In January 2013, I had nine inches of my small intestine taken out. After a difficult diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, a short time on autoimmune medications to help control it, and worsening symptoms, I was told that a portion of my small intestine was so scarred and inflamed that it needed to go. Concurrently, with my chronic illness, I had had some periods of depression and anxiety which fluctuated depending on the amount of control I felt I had over my own body at the age of 29. In my hospital bed, while scrolling through social media I noticed that all of my friends (and seemingly all the people in the world) were either running long distance races or having children. I knew my body and life wasn’t ready to welcome a child just yet, but I knew I could work diligently on running to improve my health. So I decided then and there, at my lowest point physically, that I’d pick up running.
Running in 2013
Slowly, very slowly I picked up running. (Trust me, it was very slowly.) I first started with a few minutes of running and then progressed to a mile of running. That mile then turned to multiple miles of running. I knew that when I started running, my body would start to feel better physically, but I was shocked at the improvements in my baseline anxiety. As a detail-oriented, type A person who had struggles with anxiety and insomnia, I noticed that with regular running, my anxiety levels lowered and became more controlled. Both my insomnia and early morning waking stopped. As a result, I began to feel more well rested. The fatigue that went hand in hand with my Crohn’s disease also disappeared. In July 2013 I completed a 10K and I felt triumphant! Even though I finished 3rd from last, I did it with a giant smile on my face. I felt so strong, accomplished, and in control. All I had to do was move one foot in front of another. In 2014 I completed my first half marathon at the age of 31. While I am a slow and steady runner (I’m a real champion-of-the-last-race-corral kind of girl)- each stride I make and each breath of fresh air I take feels like a true blessing. I am able to understand who I was created to be. When I run, I feel like the powerful, confident, and strong woman that I am. These are all attributes that I feel my anxiety and chronic disease had taken away.. that is until I started running. In 2015, I gave birth to my twin sons, but I was able to return to semi-regular runs to complete my second half marathon in 2016.
Why it’s hard to run now
Since 2016, I’ve found it difficult to lace up my running shoes on a consistent basis. I’ve had all sorts of excuses between starting a new job and increased professional responsibility, a new job and increased role for my husband, being a full time working mom, and the 24/7/365 schedule of a mom with two toddlers. However, the more that I have been examining it over the last 6 months I think the truth comes down to how my emotional health has been. My fulling, amazing, 100% active sons came into this world as premature babies and ever since their grand entrance into this world, I have been in overdrive. My anxiety has been switched on and I have tried to over control everything – to plan for all emergencies, to try to reduce all of the risks they could experience. However, fighting all of those worries has increased my levels of panic and anxiety. This has made it more than impossible for me to have enough time for self-care. First thing out the window, when things got hectic, was my own personal time to provide myself with time to run, think, decompress, and collect all of the amazing endorphins that were helping me so much. Since labeling this problem, I try to be creative in how to get my runs in. Sometimes my thinking outside of the box has been successful, sometimes not so much. Prioritizing my personal mental wellbeing has impacted and improved my home life, work life, and balance. On the days I run now, I realize that the toddler terrorism tantrums impact my emotional health much less than they used to. (So hard to be surrounded by ALL of their feelings without being impacted by it). I have been far from perfect with increasing my running therapy to where it needs to be but warm weather and the sunshine help get me back out there hitting the pavement. Restarting a previous anxiety medication has helped too. Here’s to a full and happy (and emotional and physical injury free) racing season!
Ashley Wyatt is one of six Still I Run ambassadors for Still I Run. She is a 34-year-old wife, mom of twins, nurse practitioner, and a slow but persistent runner. Ashley discovered running after a surgery for her Crohn’s disease. She now uses it to help recover and deal with anxiety and depression from her chronic health disease. Running has been a great tool for her and continues to be a great support as she continues to figure out how to balance her work role, physical health, anxiety, and family.