It is amazing the impact stress can have on your body and your athletic performance. Even more than you know. I for one can say first hand, stress has been the largest impacting factor on my running in the past years. More than I knew!
Stress impacted my running both directly and indirectly. The direct impact it had was on my mental state. How I thought and how I was mentally feeling. My thoughts became very negative. From the stress I was experiencing from exams, unfortunate health problems within close family members, the loss of one of my closest friends, and finally general changes as life moved forward. Whilst life may have been forward, I most definitely was not. I would go into a running session, or even easy run, already psyched out. Before I had even started my run, I had already convinced myself I would perform badly, I was not good enough, and all the stresses of life were continually running through my head. Instead of running being a time to switch off and focus simply on the here and now, the isolation and thinking time lead to me dwelling on what was stressing me out, and as a result intensified the extent to which I was worrying. I was no longer able to momentarily forget my worries and escape them, rather than running away from them for an hour, I was running further into them. This was not conductive for my performance.
Thankfully, I am now able to cope better with life’s stresses. Running allows me to escape what is worrying me, and allows me to put them into perspective. Whilst it is impossible to avoid stress, I now realise it is important to allow yourself time to get away from stress and put your head in a clear space. This is now once again what running does for me. I don’t allow my head to ‘run away’ with itself, I have control over how I allow stress to affect me, and don’t let it hinder my performance. I do realise that this is sometimes something that cannot be escaped, but I can put all my worries and stresses into perspective.
The indirect affect stress had on me is also something I have now rectified, and looking back on it I wish I would not have let it happen. But as I strongly believe, everything happens for a reason, and although I may not have wished to have experienced the things I did, I am much stronger, both physically and mentally for it. Stress indirectly led to my physical dilapidation. Due to being immensely stressed, I resorted to restraining and controlling what I was eating. Quite possibly the worst thing any person can do, especially an athlete. Everyday I was thinking of the next food I could reduce. As a result, I reached a point of being roughly 2.5 stone lighter than I am now. A place I never wish to return to. Stress, along with a weak body, was no combination for a strong, successful runner. Whilst worrying about my stresses on a run, I was also struggling to run physically. My body was not strong enough to support what I was continually asking it to do. The lack of food it was receiving meant running was impossible, but I continued to do it.
Eventually, after several years of struggling with my mind and body, I am now in a stronger state than I ever have been. Being able to see the effects of a physically strong, and mentally stable runner, I can now see the stupidity in restricting what you eat. It didn’t help my running or mental state in any way, but I have learnt from this and am wiser for it!
Stress may have temporarily weakened me, but when dealt with appropriately it has only made me stronger. Remember that when starting something new, whether it be uni or a new job, or if you are going through stressful life experiences, don’t allow the stress to affect your running or your health. Use running as a stress reliever and eat to your benefit.
Let me know how stress affects you or if you have any questions about dealing with it.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!