Life is full of surprises. Ups and downs, highs and lows. It’s filled with amazing moments, dull moments and heart-breaking moments. As much as we can speculate, none of us know exactly what is going to happen tomorrow or the next day, or the next day.
When the wave of life hits, you must ride it with some stability otherwise you will quickly feel overwhelmed and get swept away in a current of struggles and troubles.
I believe running can help provide the stability we need to push through life, coping with its many challenges with trained resilience and determination. In this article, I’ll explain how running can provide a sense of stability in an unpredictable life.
My experience with running and stability
Early 2018, I started running on a regular basis and my life changed forever. At least 4 times a week, I’d put on a pair of running shoes and hit the streets early in the morning before work. I noticed lots of benefits like weight loss, becoming leaner, being happier and more alert. However, the biggest benefit of all for me was that running provided a sense of structure to my days.
Before I started running, I’d stay up late the night before and battle with my alarm clock in the morning when the clock struck 6:00AM I had nothing urgent to get up for. Work started at 8:30AM and it was only down the road, so why bother stressing? Why not lie in for a few more minutes? I often did lie in but ‘a few more minutes’ turned into an hour which would send me shooting up out of bed and into panic mode because I needed to complete my morning routine to get to work on time.
Without running in the mornings, my routine was unstable, and I lacked structure. There was no motivation to get up, I’d feel lazy and worthless for sleeping in and I lacked motivation to get up and seize the day.
Starting to run changed all of that; I got up at 6:00AM every morning, put on my running shoes and became structured and disciplined. Before long, I felt I had a sense of purpose and stability in my life as I wasn’t rushing in the morning and everything felt like it happened at the right time. Running set me up for a productive day with structure and discipline being principles that I started to live by.
Fast forward to today (29th November 2019) and I run every single day, without exception. I get up at 5:30AM in the morning, run and then go about my day feeling alert and like I have accomplished something meaningful.
I accomplish a lot more now and feel like I have more structure in my day to day life. No matter what happens during the day, running is the one constant each morning which happens – without fail – to provide the structure needed to feel a little bit in control.
What are some ways running can help you achieve stability in an unpredictable life?
Coping with Trauma
Sadly, life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, we face life-changing events which inflict us with heartbreak and grief. Examples include the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, seeing something disturbing, or being in an accident or natural disaster.
A personal recent example was my beloved pet dog of twelve and a half years sadly passing away from cancer. Easily one of the worst experiences of my entire life to date. It threw me off my normal routine completely and I was unable to concentrate on anything in a temporary bout of depression.
These traumatic experiences are harrowing and, if you’re not careful, have potential to swallow you up in a torrent of pain and depression which can be a difficult rut to get out of.
When trauma hits, you may have time off from your regular commitments like work to give you time to come to terms with what has happened.
However, don’t let that mean you stay in bed all day and mope around. Not only will this be bad for your physical health, it’ll also make you feel worse mentally as you’ll feel trapped and unmotivated to do anything. Not good.
You need a ‘constant’ in your life to get up for and do every single day to give you a sense of structure and purpose. Regardless of what has happened and how bad things are. I believe running can be that constant during a traumatic episode.
Running regularly gets you physically up and moving so you don’t feel ‘physically’ depressed and down. If you run during trauma, it gives you time to do something totally different so you can temporarily stop thinking about what has happened and focus on something else.
Of course, it won’t solve the problem, but it will give you a break from fixating on what has happened.
When you experience something traumatic, run regularly to give you some stability in the chaos and confusion you will be feeling.
Having one ‘Constant’
Our lives are filled with tonnes of distractions, commitments, challenges and puzzles which get greet us at every turn. Work, a project, learning a new song, spending time with the kids, a romantic relationship.
All these things in life happen on a seemingly ‘random’ basis. There’s no set way of knowing how much mental effort a work project will take or how long the kids want your attention for.
Without knowing the fine details of the commitment, it’s difficult to plan for these events and you can quickly feel out of control in your day to day life. A feeling of little control quickly equates to stress which can drastically reduce your quality of life.
If you run regularly (3-5 times a week) you can regain a sense of control in your life. Running can be a ‘constant’ which you can accurately plan for. You can decide where you will run and how long you will run for each day.
You might want to run 4 miles, which will take approximately 30 minutes, on a relatively flat route. Knowing this information means you feel in control about the activity you’re about to complete and you can predict how it will go i.e. how long it will take and the amount of effort required.
Do this on a regular basis and running can become your one ‘constant’ for a feeling of control in a busy life. It might not sound like it will help but after I started running regularly, I felt a sense of calmness and control in my busy life.
If you have lots going on and find it easy to be swept away in life’s unpredictable events, run regularly for a constant sense of stability and structure.
In the 21st Century, we’re plagued with thousands of distractions which steal our attention every single day. Advertisements, the radio, mobile phones, social media, TV, books, colleagues. All of these can pull away your focus from an important piece of work you’re trying to get done.
Have you ever had to study or complete an important project, only to find yourself constantly procrastinating by flicking through Instagram or reading bite size news snippets? Same here!
We find it difficult to concentrate on important work because these distractions provide a quick dopamine hit which make us feel good for a couple of seconds, before we come crashing back to reality in realisation, we have a paper to submit in a couple of hours.
If you can’t concentrate on important work, you probably feel out of control and without a sense of stability. You might start working, with the best intentions to concentrate, but as soon as you get the urge you let your mind wander to something else and you lose all sense of control.
Running can help you achieve greater concentration when trying to get important work done. The benefits of aerobic exercise have positive effects on brain function. ‘According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.’
Running, as a form of exercise, sends more oxygen to the brain which means it has more resources to utilise as it concentrates on a task. ‘A study from Stockholm showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.’ Running will help you retain new information whilst concentrating too.
If we’re not able to concentrate and get ‘deep work’ done in this busy world, we quickly fall behind and feel out of control. If you can run on a regular basis, you’ll improve your ability to concentrate for prolonged periods of time and – subsequently – achieve a sense of stability in life.
Life is full of surprises and challenges. It’s difficult to plan for and unpredictable at the best of times. To thrive and succeed, we need something to give us a sense of stability. Running can be that ever present constant in your life to give you stability.
If you run regularly you have something to do which you can plan accurately for, use to cope with trauma and to improve your concentration in a busy world. All needed to achieve a sense of stability in an unpredictable life.