Using Marathon Training to Calm My Anxiety
Michigan Runner Girl’s podcast. It was a wonderful experience, but I think one of the best parts about it was having people reach out afterward. One such person to reach out was Jennifer Symons, who wanted to see how she could help Still I Run! Jennifer is not only a rock star in that she runs for her mental health, but she is also a clinical therapist with a wealth of knowledge. I know when the time is right, she will definitely be a great resource when I move towards my goal of having mental health running ambassadors around the country. I can’t wait to pick her brain some more in the future, but in the meantime, you can get to know about Jennifer through her story. Enjoy and be inspired!
I didn’t know I had anxiety until I began graduate school. Ironically enough, I was studying to be a clinical therapist. Prior to that, I had always thought of anxiety in the stereotypical sense; people having panic attacks and being unable to function in society. After reading about the symptoms of anxiety, I realized that this was what I had been experiencing most of my life. My irritability, continuous behavior of canceling plans, struggle with focusing, and relentless restlessness was a mental health disorder. In high school and afterward, I had always thought I was just “anti-social.” I thought something was “wrong” with me because I never wanted to follow through with plans I made with friends. Little did I know I actually suffered from something that so many others experience too. As a result of my anxiety in high school, I used eating as my coping mechanism. I would come home from school and essentially “blackout” in my kitchen. I quickly gained weight and became even more uncomfortable in my own skin. Interestingly enough, I have always enjoyed running. Back then, however, I used it as a way to ‘balance out’ my binge eating. My pattern was always the same; come home from school, eat far past being uncomfortably full, then run until I felt slightly better about myself. It was a horrible cycle and I never felt like I could relax or feel good about myself.
Taking that first step
Growing up, my older brother, Bryan, was always my go-to person. He is courageous, ambitious, generous, and my number one supporter. He has always been a runner as well and ran his first marathon while living in Ecuador serving in the Peace Corps. I knew that because he ran a marathon, I had to as well (there may have been some friendly competition at play). I asked him if he would be willing to run my first one with me, and of course, he said yes.
Training for that first marathon changed my life. Something about working towards that goal helped to soothe my anxiety in a way that I had never experienced before. The symptoms of my anxiety certainly did not completely disappear, but they were easier to manage. My training runs filled a void that my binge eating used to fill for me.
As I mentioned, my brother has always been my number one supporter. I am so grateful for him, and am equally as grateful that I married someone just as wonderful. My husband supports me in all that I do and he is incredibly patient when the symptoms of my anxiety arise. I cannot believe I found someone so wonderful to spend my life with. I completed my first marathon with my brother, and my husband was there to cheer me on the whole 4 hours and 16 minutes that it took me to finish.
Sometimes I still struggle with my relationship with food. I still feel restless and my irritability still strikes out of nowhere. Also, I still have to work really hard to follow through with plans. But I am now training for my 7th marathon and as I continue to run, these symptoms are manageable. I am now a clinical therapist, helping people through some of the same things I experienced. By no means is my anxiety gone, but running makes it an ok thing to live with.