there has been quite a bit of discussion about the merits of exercising to improve your mental health of late. I wanted to add my personal experience without calling out any of the other people who’ve posted on this subject, who I generally like but disagree with on this point.
I used to believe with absolute conviction that running was improving my mental health. Research backed me up, my family and my doctor encouraged me. I used to run every other day, somewhere between 4 and 8 kilometres.
At the back of my mind, I think I always knew that my motive was mainly vanity, and that I was punishing myself and obsessing over my appearance.
Then, following the breakup of my final hetero relationship, my anxiety became a lot worse. Running didn’t ease my negative thoughts, instead, it gave them time to breed. (Running is really boring, you see). Anxiety does things to your body, things that aren’t conductive to exercise. So I would often end up hyperventilating.
My times and distances got worse, I berated myself for it and panicked about my weight, thus my anxieties multiplied.
Here’s the thing - running hurts. (It also made me throw up in my mouth sometimes, but I was always too embarrassed to find out if that was universal). In order to get better at it, you have to carry on when it hurts. I don’t think we should be encouraging mentally ill people to do something to themselves that’s painful, especially when so many of us have problems with self harming behaviors in the first place. I think it sends a confused message.
I don’t run anymore. I think it might help with mild anxiety, but then so does watching old episodes of Father Ted on 4OD, and that doesn’t carry any undertones of control and self-flagellation. When my anxiety is really bad, no self-care panacea is going to help, and running makes things a lot worse.
I’m willing to believe other forms of exercise might be better, but most other things cost a lot more and/or take up a lot more time.