May is mental health awareness month. May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of people of all ages. Now, more than ever, it is critical to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles, because that stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help. COVID-19 was instrumental in the boom of new runners this past year which sparked our interest in coaching/nutrition into finally becoming a legal business. Seeing so many people starting to run and become invested in their health not knowing where to begin, their next steps and having so many general questions made us want to reach out to everyone and lend a hand. Running is not only beneficial physically but also mentally.
"Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
Family history of mental health problems" (https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health)
I, Lauren, am no stranger to mental health worries. I suffered/suffer from crippling anxiety and I cannot explain the triggers of it some days. Anxiety takes away many of your freedoms, you become prisoner to it and it controls your emotions as well. Anxiety tried to take away my passion of running but my deep determination to want more and more from running forced me to consistently lace up my shoes, even it was just to the treadmill or an out and back near my house. Running made me feel alive, feeling the blood rushing through my veins, the pulse under my skin, and the mental clarity. I am very open about needing Trintellix for depression (depressed because I have anxiety) and Xanax for calming me down when I am experiencing turmoil. Being open about my anxiety helped me to get a sense of control over it. If someone knew that I was having a difficult moment, it made me feel more relaxed about my feelings and could get under control faster.
For those trying to find something to keep their mind quiet or to channel their energy physical exercise has many health benefits. Taking your running outside in an open space on the roads or trail has other benefits, like lessening feelings of loneliness and isolation, a feeling of a sense of achievement, completing a goal. When you exercise and run, chemicals are released into your body that improve your mood. These naturally produced chemicals in your body floods your bloodstream and moves into the brain. This provides short-term feelings of reduced stress and calm. These chemical are called endorphins and serotonin. Running regularly can improve your mental health, reduce stress ( blood circulation to the brain is increased and the part of your brain that responds to stress and improves your mood is affected. This causes a change that temporarily improves your reaction to stressful situations), depression, and anxiety. your sleep habits, your memory, and ability to learn.
The key take-away for people who are not running is that just getting started is important. Through only a few minutes of running a day and building up gradually, you can start to experience all the benefits listed above. For instance, some brain imaging studies have shown that within ten minutes of doing a light jog you can get the rapid electrical activity in the hippocampus (Hippocampus is a complex brain structure embedded deep into temporal lobe. It has a major role in learning and memory. It is a plastic and vulnerable structure that gets damaged by a variety of stimuli. Studies have shown that it also gets affected in a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders. - ncbi.com), giving you some real mental health benefits. The hippocampus is really important for emotional processing. If you look at conditions like dementia, cognitive impairment or even depression, this area of the brain shrinks. Also, running results in an increase in activity the anterior cortex - the key problem-solving and emotional resilience. For people who are already running there are continued benefits going up in a linear fashion from 30 minutes to about 300 minutes a week, where we believe the mental health benefits start to plateau.
New research overseen by Stubbs on a small group of elite and everyday athletes produced some startling improvements in brain activity after just 20 minutes of running. The everyday athletes saw an improvement of up to 29% in their ability to deal with stress and an% increase of up to 18% in relaxation levels. There was also a drop of up to 135% in their frustration levels, and they became less prone to making rash decisions. (https://www.coachmag.co.uk/mental-health/8602/how-running-can-improve-your-mental-health)
Resources for mental health advocacy: