A lot of us runners are more sane after a run. It’s a literal fact. Frankly, I believe it and stand by it.
I hear a lot (and see a lot on social media) about people using running as therapy. “Running is my therapy ;-)”. While I agree that we feel great after runs, I checked in with two Psychology professionals to get their professional opinion on running for mental health. Below we will hear from two runners and psychology pros by trade, Katie and Ally. Their bios and street creds are down below!
How can running and exercise help the brain and overall mood? What happens in the brain?
Ally states that, “running and other aerobic exercise have been associated with helping improve overall mood and brain health. As a person exercises more oxygen is sent to the brain, which promotes healthy brain cell growth. This has been shown to especially happen in cells in the hippocampus, which influence our memory and learning.” Katie adds, “exercise has been proven to impact mood, particularly mild to moderate depression as it increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. There have been studies that show that exercise has about the same effect as anti-depressant medications in moderate depression, which is pretty cool. Exercise also gives you endorphins, which are natural “mood lifters,” and is also a great way to prevent relapse with depression. Exercise can also be helpful in anxiety management. Anxiety can have a lot of physical manifestations, therefore exercise can be super helpful in managing stress and anxiety and keeping it at bay by getting you moving versus staying inside your head and body (also, let’s notforget those endorphins!) ”
A lot of people say, “Running is my therapy.” When can this line blur and when should runners seek additional counseling?
Think about running as “self care” instead of “therapy.” While running can be extremely helpful with mood, it should not be the only line of treatment if you’re struggling.
Running helps relieve stress and anxiety and helps a person “feel good,” but if a person is struggling they should seek help from a professional. Whether that be a counselor or therapist, it’s important to find someone that will meet their needs. Licensed professional counselors provide both therapy and counseling from many different interventions and approaches. This allows each individual to work with a professional to determine the best course of action. It’s important to note that you can receive counseling/therapy even if there is nothing “wrong”. Being proactive for one’s mental health is just as important as physical health.
Running can be therapeutic for many reasons. As mentioned above, there are actual changes in the neurotransmitters in your brain that occur with exercise, so for some people with mild to moderate depression or anxiety, this can be an excellent way to improve mood. Setting goals to work toward: whether a race, a pace, or a distance, can be extremely helpful to improve mood, and goal oriented behavior is often something discussed in promotion of mood in therapy. Running can also be therapeutic when done socially. Running with friends is an easy way to talk through problems, vent, and seek advice and feedback While this is super helpful, your running buds are not licensed therapists, therefore it’s important to seek professional help if you notice that you are feeling down, depressed or hopeless; you are no longer interested in things that you are usually interested in; you have changes in your motivation or energy; or are having any thoughts about harming yourself.
Anything else you can think of with this topic or in general?
Katie says she could really go on and on about exercise/running and mental health. “It is something that I “prescribe” in some form or another to all of my clients. Exercise is extremely helpful with the treatment of PTSD, there have been some studies in connection with ADHD and Bipolar Disorders as well.”
Ally wants to add, “I think running or exercise is great self care and can be a healthy coping skill for anxiety or stress AND it is important for people to not overdo it and solely rely on running.”
Meet our Expert, Katie
My name is Katie Llewellyn and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in Milwaukee, WI. I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology from Western Michigan University and my Masters Degree in Educational Psychology from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. My main areas of interest are trauma, perinatal mood disorders, women’s issues, anxiety and depression. Self-care is something that is extremely important to me and that’s where running comes in! My favorite distance is the marathon, and I also love running with my run squad, as I find running with friends is one of my favorite pastimes and the best way to merge my two favorite things: running and friends! Katie is a member of the #runMomentumMKE team!
Meet our Expert, Ally
I am currently a graduate student at UW-Whitewater for a MS in Counselor Education. I have been running competitively since high school. My favorite distances are 10k and half marathons. Ally is a member of the #runMomentumMKE team!
Links for additional Resources:
Finding a therapist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
Thanks Ally & Katie!