I used to run whenever I got the chance. I ran in the morning, in the middle of the night, on vacation. I have run on three continents. I was never a great runner, but it made me feel good and helped me to work through some complicated feelings. When I ran I felt proud of myself, it was as if I could do anything. That was, unless I was joined by another person. Something changed inside of me with a running buddy. It became less of an enlightening experience and more of a comparison. Running with a partner awakened all of my insecurities. Am I going too slowly? Why am I breathing so much harder than they are? They can carry on a full conversation at top speed; what is wrong with me!
It wasn’t strictly running that made me feel this way. What was inconvenient is that sometimes my insecurities would even creep in around people that I would normally feel very comfortable with. It could get so severe that I would feel frozen in place, making conscious decisions on every subtle movement. Eventually, I would just have to leave. On my own I would never fret about how I looked, if I was being judged, if there was something in my teeth, or whether I had chosen a flattering manner of sitting – I could just be. Then why did I get so insecure when other people were around? What had changed?
I met a Psychologist in Sydney, Dr. Scott Wright. He granted me thirty minutes of verbal diarrhea until he explained something that would forever change my perspective. Over the following ninety minutes he educating me about anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling of extreme uneasiness or apprehension caused by fear or danger. People who experience it report feeling an accelerated heart rate, perspiration, dry mouth, a churching stomach, and difficulty concentrating. This is because our blood is moving to our outer extremities in preparation to either fight the danger or to flee from it. What is interesting is that our bodies don’t understand the difference between what our brains perceive as danger versus what is actually dangerous. So technically that means that our fears, no matter how small, have the potential to trigger crippling anxiety – should we allow it.
There is a world-renowned Professor, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who teaches on the practice of mindfulness as a tool to help treat those suffering from anxiety and stress disorders. Dr. Wright explained briefly about this concept of mindful meditation and had me try some basic breathing exercises. Despite my brief experience, this was helpful for a person like me whose mind is most often lost in the clouds. It made sense that I was sometimes experiencing a physical reaction to imagined situations. Mindful meditation proved to be a way to bring me back down to earth and refocus my energy on my surroundings. My over-simplified explanation of mindfulness is that it is a mindset of always being present and interested in what is happening around you.
This revelation was excellent news. Not only was I given a glimpse at how I could make changes in my life, but I was also relieved of some insecurities simply with the knowledge that most of them existed purely in my head. I realized that my family and the people who truly cared for me probably wouldn’t have noticed or even cared if my hair got a little frizzy, if I had spinach in my teeth, or if I put on some weight. Just knowing that I would not have to be a solo runner forever was such a relief.
I ended up taking a break from running and we have yet to resume our love affair. I can’t say that I feel amazing about myself yet but I do feel as if I am on my way to breaking through another significant obstacle. So in preparation for my triumphant return to the track, I’ve equipped myself with some quality running shoes and a killer cardio soundtrack. This time around I’m going to find a good running group for beginners. I should be back in stride soon enough. 🙂