If you’re a runner, you know well the phrase “running is cheaper than therapy.” As someone who has been at it for 20 years and who writes frequently about the intersection of science and exercise, I agree with the sentiment--to a point.
I am fortunate enough to say I’ve never suffered from depression, anxiety or other type of mental illness. But I am two months removed from losing my mother; this, less than one year after my father’s passing. For the first time in my life, I am on the struggle bus.
Layered on top of this is a third, impending loss: my son just turned 17 and is a junior in high school. We’re touring colleges, he’s spreading his wings, and I simply do not want to face the day he leaves for school.
In the midst of this seemingly insurmountable pile of sadness, I am doing all the right things. Radical self care: I get up and run as planned. I spend time with friends. I take the dog for walks. I unplug from social media and crack open books that serve to transport me to another world. Writing and writing some more: essays and assignments, and free writes with two friends on our bi-weekly dates for just this purpose.
These actions are undoubtedly helping me. I shudder to think where I would be if I weren’t taking these steps. If I didn’t get out at sunrise and hear the birds, see the peaceful deer along my route and enjoy my dog’s smile as she runs alongside me. If I didn’t allow my voice to crack with emotion when running with my friends. I am grateful for a body that can carry me through these restorative miles, and the realization that I need these runs like oxygen right now.
So yes, running is a form of therapy for me, I know this. It is a crucial part of my healing process.
But I think it’s important that all of us remember that it can’t be a cure all. We can’t expect running—as wonderful and as valuable as it is for us—to take care of everything that ails us. It’s a piece of the puzzle, snugly fitting in with so many other important types of care.
When you’re as sad and emotionally raw as I find myself now, you have to throw everything at it. Each one of the steps I’m taking plays a critical role in the process. It’s my own chicken soup for the soul, and my advice to anyone who winds up in this place is to figure out your ingredients and start mixing.
Not every day is an emotional roller coaster and some weeks I have glimmers of my normal, optimistic self. But when the tough moments rise up, I’m trying all the things I know bring me comfort and joy. I give myself the grace to allow time to work its magic. In the meantime, I’ll run and write and read and reach out, and do it all again until I arrive at a place of healing.