This last year has been dreadful for so many of us, with millions dealing with grief, stress, financial difficulties, job losses, relationship break-ups, injury and isolation caused by the pandemic.
This week, the new lockdown in England and similar restrictions across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are adding to the gloom of winter; a season that can be tough for many of us even in normal times, but there are some #tips and techniques we can practice to give ourselves a lift.
Here are five tips to stop the walls caving in on you and keep yourself sane, develop more of a sense of optimism and keep your running mojo intact:-
1. Keep moving and produce more protein
Getting outdoors and keeping moving for exercise can be more challenging in winter, but pretty much all experts agree that it's a great way to boost your mood.
Our minds and bodies are completely inseparable. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being.
Running increases electrical activity in the emotional processing areas of the brain, particularly the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex. Therefore, it stands to reason that lack of exercise increases your risk of anxiety and depression.
Exercise can also boost the production of a protein: Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is crucial for brain health. BDNF is like a kind of brain fertiliser, it helps parts of your brain regenerate. Even short periods of exercise, say a 10- minute walk can help.
2. Do more practical problem solving
Practicing helpful habits to stop you over-thinking is one of the best things you can do. I like to think of this as ‘getting it out of my head.’ We often dwell on problems, going over and over the same negative thoughts so if you've been worrying about a problem for 30-minutes or more without coming up with a plan of action, or you've been going over questions with no answers, it's time to stop.
The idea is to shift your focus from worries to practical problem-solving. Stop and ask yourself what steps you can take to address the problem? It's not easy, of course, to stop yourself dwelling on issues but I also know that physical activity including running will help you shift mental gears. In any case, it takes some persistence, conscious thought and practice but you can do it! I believe in you.
Please remember it is perfectly normal to worry, but many of our worries never materialise. A recent study of patients with anxiety found only around one in ten worries ever turn out to be real problems. One explanation is the way we have evolved. It has made us highly tuned to negativity and danger, as a defence against threats which led to death or serious injury. Some experts believe danger is "over-encoded in our brains". You can make yourself feel much calmer if you recognise that you're over-thinking, stop and focus on facts.
Maybe try limiting your news consumption (after all, it's pretty dire going at the moment) and make your time online more purposeful by setting a goal before you reach for your phone, tablet or computer. If you know what you are going to do before you use your device you will feel much calmer and a sense of accomplishment once you have completed that activity.
3. Set a new running target
Setting a new goal or target, can really help pull you through.
That could be a big project like training for a #halfmarathon, #Marathon or even an #Ultra. It could be learning a new language or something as small as trying out a new, healthy recipe. If big ideas are too much, start small; drink one more glass of water a day or aim for the same bedtime each evening.
The point is that if it's outside your normal comfort zone, and it's pushing you forward, it gives you a focus and a sense of control. For many runners that's hugely helpful for their mental state. Novelty is fundamentally rewarding. Learning to do new things is frequently how we acquire self-worth. Goal-motivated behaviour is one of the most fundamental ways that we operate.
So what are you going to do this year? What new targets do you have in mind?
4. Talk it out
The Coronavirus Pandemic has made it a lot harder to be with others in person, and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere winter can make it more difficult still. That's a big issue for millions of people and the mental health consequences for some will be serious. Therefore, it's a good idea to maximise the little social contact that is available.
Humans are not really designed to be on our own. We are, in the large part socially oriented. We feel better with social contact. Talking problems over when you can is a good idea, but the key thing is how it's done.
Going over problems again and again, just rehearsing how terrible you feel, does not help at all. Talking things through with someone who can help you reframe your challenges, encourage problem solving and help you navigate through them is much more helpful.
Isolated people are more likely to focus on themselves and that can make things worse. Therefore, reach out if you are isolated (but in a positive fashion) and to the isolated when you can, and, if Covid-19 means you can't do that in person, make that phone call to a friend, or arrange to talk online.
5. Just do it, don’t wait!
We know that optimists live longer- fact! Optimists have better relationships and better immune systems and ultimately get injured less as runners and athletes. The good news is you can cultivate optimism: an inner sense that you can make a difference to your life, and that it's not all down to things outside your control.
One of the key philosophies at #RunWithIan is to work with others and help lift each other up by encouraging us to take on new challenges. This applies to everyone who is part of the family.
'But how?' I hear you ask. Just try something new, do it and do it poorly. In other words, don't wait to do things in a perfect manner at the right time on the right day.
Our inner voice of criticism continually stops us from doing worthwhile things. This often manifests itself as "I am nota runner' but you so are! Jump or run straight into action. Do things and accept that they might initially be done in a poor fashion. When you do that, most of the time the results are actually not that bad, and they are almost always better than doing nothing.
Also try writing down three things each day that you're grateful about, to force yourself to focus on what's gone well and why. It'll fire up the left-hand, creative-side of your brain which is associated with positivity.
Emotions and attitudes are contagious so if you can, gently steer away from negative, miserable people who are constantly complaining, because you'll find yourself becoming one of those people too.
For additional resources and help related to our own mental outlook see below:
The Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/
In any event, just get out and run!