We all need healthy coping strategies to help us manage life stressors, variations in our mood and for all the benefits healthy coping strategies give to our minds and bodies. We need these coping strategies even more when we are faced with crisis, loss or trauma. However, sometimes our distorted ways of thinking can get in the way of our willingness to utilize some of the best strategies to help with every day life.
One of my personal favorite coping strategies is to run. As I mention this to others in conversation, I often hear very automatic distorted thoughts spilling from their mouth. “I am not a runner,” or “I could never do that.” I have heard, “I should do that but I would never make it” and “I would come in last place in a race.” These are very familiar to me as I have practiced this type of negative self talk in the past. I have labeled myself over generalizing, catastrophizing, and attempting to predict the future. Although this type of self-talk can be common, it is useless and can compromise healthy coping.
The more I practiced my negative self talk, the less motivation I felt to try running. Although I was interested in trying it for weight management and as a different exercise routine, I struggled to work past my thoughts that discounted its positive benefits. I worried about my ability to perform. “What if I am too slow and can’t finish?” or “What if I can’t breathe?” I thought of people I knew that were already running and felt inferior in comparison.
Luckily, one day I decided that I may be missing out on something. I had been hearing about more and more friends participating in ‘fun runs’ and competitions. Then the most important thing changed, which was my thoughts. “What if I could do it?” and “What did I have to lose if I just tried it?” With these new thoughts I developed enough courage to purchase some new shoes and give it a try. I allowed my curiousity to learn more about myself strengthen rather than predict my own self-defeat by my way of thinking.
Within the first week I noticed that it would take ongoing work to change and to manage my negative self-talk. The effort it took to talk myself into going out for a run was matched with a mental effort to keep running. I would get started with an intended time or distance and I would hear my self-talk start. “I can’t go any further?” or “I can’t make it?,” both of which had a direct and immediate impact on my activity. It was amazing to experience its power over me. But I tried replacements such as “Just a little further.” and “You’re doing it!” I would also remind myself how I did it the time before. The music from my ipod was something I depended on for most of my runs to provide a distraction from my thoughts when I needed it.
The more I practiced this positive self-talk, the faster and longer my runs became. I give some of this credit to the euphoric feeling created by running, which is a result of ‘feel good’ chemicals that are released from the brain during exercise. I was eager to experience this, particularly when I became stressed. There were many more gifts that my runs were providing me. I was learning about my self and what I was capable of. I was feeling a sense of accomplishment each time I was finished with a run. Confidence and pride were also developing. These are the gifts that made me eager to share my experience with others.
I have recently been running with a group of my peers who have decided to learn about themselves rather to remain captive by their distorted automatic thinking that is critical and judgmental. Although we each run for ourselves and have individual goals, we find support in our group on days when our positive self-talk seems like merely a whisper. There are times we forget why we got started and the gifts we receive during and after each run.
Running is not for everyone. However, there are many ways to apply positive thinking to assist one to find a method for coping that produces similar benefits. It becomes hard not to be enthusiastic about this method of coping when its payoffs produce such an abundance of positivity. There are days I rely on others to help motivate me, days I remind myself there are those who can’t run and I should be blessed, and days I choose new places to run to help me focus on the sights and sounds around me. I set goals and get involved in ‘fun runs’ or races to continue to provide definition to my ability and challenge myself. Just remember, whatever you choose to do, be kind to yourself and let your self-talk serve you in healthy ways.
Tags: Healthy Coping, healthy coping strategies, running for stress relief
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Jody Johnson, LICSW, LIMHP, began working at Wholeness Healing Center as a therapist in 2007. Jody graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her Masters in Social Work. She received her bachelor degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
LATEST ARTICLES BY Jody Johnson
Sign up to receive the latest mental health tips and inspiration