Something recently brought to my attention that I believe to be so important, is recognising how we cope when things get difficult and ensuring this is productive rather than destructive. It isn’t only running that can be difficult at times, in fact it is usually life in general that poses challenges. So, how do we recognise if these coping mechanisms are constructive or not and how do I cope when life gets too much?
Whilst I am still only young, I feel I have learnt a lot about the coping mechanisms my mind automatically puts in to place, and the ones that are actually beneficial to me. I have experienced both positive and negative coping mechanisms and am forever learning how to employ positive mechanisms.
In the past I have let negative coping mechanisms rule me. It is difficult to realise at the time that these will never help me into the future, but I have come to recognise them before they happen and stop them.
Controlling what I eat.
One of the mechanisms my mind would adopt when I felt stressed and out of control in the past, was to control what I ate. When I felt as though life was not unfolding as I wanted it to and there was nothing I could do to change it, I would resort to the one thing that made me feel like I had my life together, and that was controlling food. Whilst at the time this may have felt like a good way for me to cope with the stresses going on in my life, it wasn’t, and it only added to the negativity I was experiencing. It was all part of a vicious cycle. I would control what I ate in order to feel happier, but how can you be happy when you are constantly hungry?! It’s just not possible. Had I known at the time that a few years down the line it would cause me to get injured and not run for a year, I wouldn’t have done it! It’s our inability to see the danger our present actions can have on our future, that is scary.
Whilst running is a god send at times of difficulty, it can also be a sin. As athletes we thrive off being challenged and pushing ourselves to the limit. Therefore, when we are experiencing stress, our tendency is to push ourselves even harder and run for even longer. It’s a form of punishment without even realising it. When we are stressed our ability to recover and repair well whilst seeing training in a rational light, is inhibited. Therefore, running for me can’t always be a mode of relieving stress as that is when I overdo it.
Shutting off and dwelling.
This way of coping is one I find myself doing without even realising. When you are feeling low it can be easy to shut yourself off, however, this doesn’t really help us feel better. I have found myself in the past spending too much time on my own when I don’t feel happy, but this only makes me feel worse. The more time I spend on my own, the more I dwell and overthink. This too becomes a vicious cycle as I become so caught up in my own thoughts that I can become negative. Once again, I am punishing myself for feeling down, rather than doing things that will genuinely make me feel better.
More recently I have become better at recognising when I need a positive boost to make myself feel better. I have learnt not to punish, but instead look after myself when I am feeling down and fragile. It is important to recognise when you feel your mind enforcing destructive coping mechanisms on top of you and act to enforce positive ones. More awareness needs to be made to help people see there are other ways to cope that aren’t destructive to us. This is what I do when I am feeling down.
As a university student, there is this huge stigma that we should be strong on our own and be able to cope independently. But, who is to say this is the case? I’m more than happy to admit that I still need my home and as I remind my mum, I haven’t left home yet!! Something that never fails to ground me and remind me of what is important, is going home. Whether I’m there for 24 hours or a couple of days, it does me the world of good. Living on your own is difficult, there’s no denying it! Why should I punish myself and not go home because it’s what I ‘should’ do? If going home allows me to refresh and stay on the straight and narrow, so be it. There’s no embarrassment to it! Plus, I can have a long relaxing bath!
Enjoy the outdoors.
Spending time outside, not running but instead walking or sitting, can be immensely powerful. It is very peaceful to watch the natural world go by. It allows me to ground my thoughts and be present in the moment. Some may say it’s even a form of meditation. I love going on walks with my dogs as it gives a purpose to the walk and switches my mind off from whatever is stressing me.
Catching up with friends.
There is no point shutting off from the outside world and those who care about us when we are feeling low. I have been guilty of doing this in the past and it definitely doesn’t make me feel better. Now, I love to catch up with friends over tea, or brunch, or have them round to cook dinner together. Catching up with friends doesn’t have to be fancy, especially if you’re like me and hate clubbing. I love having movie nights with my friends where we can chill and chat. There is no need to do things you don’t enjoy, ask if you can do a more relaxing activity.
Ultimately, we need to look after ourselves. There is no point employing coping mechanism that are destructive and punishing. We need to be kind to our minds when they are finding life difficult.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!