Cheaper Than Therapy?

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.

12 responses to “Cheaper Than Therapy?

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Amanda. I know it will help so many people dealing with loss and grief. When my mother died running was a huge part of how I coped. Simply hearing a running companion say, “I’m so sorry….” helped me know that I wasn’t alone and that my grief was acknowledged. I am so sorry for your losses. My hope is for you to feel your parents’ love during each and every run. Take care.

  2. You have had a heck of a year – our years of 2012-14 were all tough. That is when I started running. Four years later I am still processing because running doesn’t fix it all. But i would probably weigh more and have less emotional grit if I did not run. Thanks for sharing – hang in there knowing you are not alone!

  3. I’m so sorry in the loss of your mother Amanda. Likewise, I think it’s important to remember that not running when you are going through a difficult time is ok too. I struggled emotionally last year and had to stop running for a few months. The thought of running in the midst of a very stressful, anxiety provoking time was just adding more stress to my life. Giving myself permission to step away from my race plans eased my mind tremendously.

  4. Thank you for sharing this with us and I am sorry for your losses. You are right, running is not a replacement for therapy but looking back to the last 14 months it was also what got me through my days. I lost my mum to lung cancer and my dad just three months later to heart failure. Finding out I was pregnant after trying for a year whilst making arrangement for a funeral was shaking up my mental balance just the same. I find that the physical exercise helps you to be mentally tougher and I hope that running can bring you some balance on the rougher patches of your journey.

  5. Sending you big hugs… and virtual miles. This last 2 years have been very traumatic and running has been a huge part of the healing process… but also talk therapy, sleep, floating, massage, friend time and writing.

  6. So timely for me as I just lost my mother 5 days ago after her 3.5 year battle with ovarian cancer. I will remember your word. Thank you.

  7. So sorry for your loss. I just recently lost my dad and my mom is 91 and I brace for more bad news every day. I have been running for 47 years and just keep doing it out of habit and also to race/place and for the mental benefits of course. But the older I become (65 soon) the more I realize that putting myself out there in the community helping others makes me feel better during times like these. The day I found out my dad died I was at work. My co-workers kept telling me to go home. And do what? Wallow in my misery alone (hubby was at work also). Nope, I stayed and worked with “my” special needs preschool kids and between the hugs and condolences from co-workers and the joy the kids brought me that day, it was more than what I needed. I just kept thinking about how my dad would have loved to watch these kids and their antics as he loved that age also-so it was, deep down, for him that I stayed at work that day.

  8. Your post rings true for me too. In order to be resilient, it is critical to have a balanced approach to life. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I’m thinking of you and sending you healing vibes. I’m very sorry for your losses. ❤️

  9. Thanks for posting this important reminder! As a runner and psychiatrist, I am an advocate for all the wonderful things about running – it can be social when you want it to be, it is meditative, it is good self-care, it is even serotonergic. But sometimes it is not enough.

  10. Thank you for putting this in words! I resonate with this approach. Running has been my instant pick me up since high school but it has not “cured” the soul aches that I have felt for just as long. Like Amanda, running has been one branch on my healing tree. I think it often serves to waken the rest of the limbs and roots. It shakes the cobwebs off of them and encourages me to keep climbing.

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