Go running they said, it’s great stress relief they said. I know a lot of people for whom running is fabulous stress relief. Athletics have certainly been stress relief for me for a long time. In high school it was sports, in college it was classes and lifting at the gym – like the time I found out that if you buy a sack of potatoes and leave them in your pantry in Texas for a long time, bugs will get in them. Upon learning this (the hard way) I promptly closed the pantry door and went to the gym. “Time to go to aerobics!” became a joke among my friends about how I dealt with stress, including but not limited to, horrific bug invasions. Later in my life dancing, and the workouts that accompanied dancing, were always a great way to deal with stress.
Then last year I focused on walking a marathon, and this year run/walking another one. I just assumed that as I changed activities the stress relief would follow. I’m still waiting for that magical moment. I like the accomplishment of running – doing my hill repeats faster every week, beating my times from last year’s workouts, or last week’s workouts. My mantra is still the same as it ever was: cross finish line, get medal. I remind myself that I’m not not running/walking because I love it, I’m doing it because I want to cross the finish line in this marathon and get the medal that comes with that. Everything else is about what I need to do to meet that goal.
Some people have asked how I can talk about engaging in joyful movement while simultaneously engaging in movement that I don’t really enjoy. As always, it goes back to my underpants. None of us are under any obligation to engage in any movement at all. Many people’s choices about movement are limited by access, disability, and other life circumstances. Those of us who do choose to engage in movement and have the privilege to do so get to choose what kind of movement we want to engage in, and get to choose our goals – if any – for that movement.
I think it’s a shame that so many people have messy break-ups with exercise because they’re told that if they’re not miserable they’re not doing it right, or because they’ve never been given the opportunity to explore movement without shaming, stigma etc. so I think it’s really important to make it clear that movement we enjoy totally “counts.” That doesn’t mean that I can’t engage in movement that I don’t find “joyful” by some definitions for other reasons.
Still, for me it’s important to have methods of stress relief to replace the ones I lost when I switched to distance walking/running, so I make sure that at least some of my cross-training is stuff that I really like, and I’m cognizant of the fact that even if I don’t feel less stressed after a run/walk it’s likely done my body some good, and I look for other methods of stress relief (like a computer game where I get to smash inanimate objects with hammers.)
Maybe someday I’ll have something really stressful happen and think “I’m going for a run!” and maybe that will never happen. I’m cool with it either way, to me the important thing is staying in touch with my goals, make sure they still work for me, and understand how those goals, and the things I do to reach them, do and do not affect me.
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