Overcoming Anxiety: Tips For Getting Out The Door

So, yeah, I deal with anxiety from time to time. I’ve faced it socially, in my previous careers, and, oddly enough, with my running. Yup. Despite having run regularly for nearly a quarter century, I’ve increasingly battled anxious feelings when headed out for my near daily run. Anxiety is common and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, to get the most out of life, it’s something that should be addressed rather than avoided. The following are merely examples of some ways that I personally deal with my running-related anxiety.

Please keep in mind that I’m no medical professional and that persistent anxiety that affects one’s physical health, work, or relationships; causes one to miss out on life; or leads to self-medication with drugs or alcohol may warrant professional assistance.

  • Ax the Avoidance. I’ve been avoiding writing this point. Really. I’ve been avoiding it by attending to the other points in this article and other work more broadly. It’s easy to find something else, anything else to do when we need to overcome an anxiety hurdle. Taking care of email. Straightening up one’s desk or one’s room. Researching an upcoming race or purchase or travel on the internet. These are ways I might avoid facing what’s causing my anxiety under the guise of “doing something useful.” I learned of the whole concept during a short-term go with a therapist back in my attorney days, and it’s been so helpful. I both recognize my old favorite avoidance techniques and can catch whether I’m doing something that doesn’t need to be done at a certain moment in order to avoid an unpleasant task. Hint: That avoidance often looks like busy work.
  • Acknowledge and deal with triggers. Often enough, the anxiety I encounter when I consider heading out for a run originated somewhere else. That anxiety might come from a confrontation with a loved one, dealing with an unpleasant work situation, or thinking about contentious neighborhood politics. If I’m in a period when I’m prone to anxiety, I’ll plan on running when I’m less likely to have had an anxiety-inducing event (such as heading out in the morning) or avoid opening a particular email that’s likely to trouble me.
  • Prioritize. Many days I create a to-do list for myself and that list tends to be predominantly work related. It keeps me on track. I incentivize it. I love it. If I need a little help, I simply add “go run” on my to-do list. I suppose this could create even more anxiety if my current workload is what’s really troubling me, but much more often it succeeds in getting me out the door and running.
  • Go casual. There are numerous days last winter when I’d get up from my desk, throw on a hat and gloves, and start running… in my casual pants, flannel shirt, and whatever shoes I was wearing. I was quite the sight, but I was also out running. Cutting out the couple minutes it took to get changed increased the chances that I’d make it out the door. What’s more, once I was out there I was apt to view my run more casually and less critically.
  • Have fun. Sometimes when I need a little extra something to get me out the door, I make it a fun run. For instance, on Thanksgiving Day I felt buried with work and was tempted not to run… so I decided to set out on a “turkey chase.” That is, I’d start running and see how fast I could find turkey. (Answer that day: 33 minutes.)
  • Streak. While it has the potential to increase anxiety, I find that starting and sticking to a streak can at least help me get out the door and run. I don’t set conditions of any sort, I just need to do a bit of running, even if that’s just a one-mile lap around my neighborhood.
  • Start small. Speaking of one-mile laps, I find that I’m less anxious if I set out for the most modest of runs. The mile loop from my doorstep is great, as it’s as easy as my local terrain offers and I can easily add on more laps if I feel like it.

Call for Comments

  • So, does anyone else out there get anxious about running sometimes?
  • If so, how do you work through it?

There are 22 comments

  1. AJW

    Bryon, great piece, my friend. As one who shares a seat with you on that anxiety roller coaster I can relate to each and every one of your points. Thanks for putting it out there. Next time we’re together we need to get out for a nice long run and hash some of this stuff out!

  2. Andy M

    Great post, Bryon. All good points on breaking avoidance, pushing through, and getting out. I know many runners deal with anxiety. After all, there’s an inherently compulsive element to all of this which shares roots with anxiety. (Yeah, I’m a shrink).

    Folks should also remember that a little bit of anxiety is good — just enough to motivate appropriate training, prep for long runs, bad weather, etc. etc. We just have to find that sweet spot. As it is said, “everything in moderation” — including anxiety. Well, everything except miles of course!

  3. ClownRunner

    You need the Clown Man to fire you up for a run, just like the old days! Nothing to it–just waddle down the road chewing a home-made chia crud-ball with some Succeed salt stuck to it. And then just some good ole’ fashioned trash-talkin’ to keep you motivated.

  4. Tim

    Thank you for writing this Bryon. As someone also experiencing anxiety I recognise all of the challenges you describe, especially other triggers of anxiety spilling over into worry about going out for a run. If I’m feeling anxious about other things – or even just anxious about nothing in particular – the prospect of running can be too much sometimes; “its going to hurt”, “I’m a rubbish runner”, “it’s too hot/cold/windy/sunny/dark” are all milling around in my mind and the prospect of having time alone with my thoughts can be daunting.

    I try to shift the focus from expectations about performance to remembering that even a short easy run dissipates the physical experience of anxiety and bring mental clarity that makes dealing with the underlying causes so much easier. After a run I may still be experiencing anxiety, but I’m rarely suffering with it.

  5. Vincent

    Thanks Bryon for a fantastic and timely article on this topic. As we enter the winter season and the days are increasingly getting shorter and darker this month, I find that any usual levels of anxiety I feel about going out for a run are magnified at this time of year.

    The “go casual” tip is a great one and reminds me that I’ve relied on that particular one in the past.

    Running with a buddy, encouraging self-talk and picking up some new gear I’ve been wanting are other stratefies I plan to call on more and more – especially over the next few months.

  6. Vincent

    Mile loops and streaking are two other go-to motivators for me. So glad you mentioned them. Just reassuring and anxiety-reducing to know that none of us are alone in this situation.

  7. Margaret

    Thank you so much for writing this. I feel so relieved that such an amazing runner such as yourself also suffers from this. I don’t feel so weird after all.

    I have usually used go small but am starting to find go casual is very helpful too.

  8. Jackie

    Thank you for this article. I do not have anxiety but your honesty has made me aware that others may have it and it can affect their running. I rarely get the feeling that I don’t want to run, my motivation remains at a good level most days. If the weather is challenging or I am tired it does get harder to get out there. Having a dog that needs a walk or run daily makes it easier to go run. I will have to get out there anyways to walk him so I might as well run.
    Your article reinforces the notion that everyone has challenges, many that are not apparent just by looking at a person, and it is helpful to interact with people with kindness.

  9. Andrew

    I’d have to say the “go casual” advice is my favorite. Don’t fuss about all that gear just start running! That is unless by “Streak” you mean go naked… then I’d have to say that is my favorite advice.

  10. Sean

    I started running to help with my anxiety…. which it did until I started pushing my self to go farther. Thank you for this post, it helps me realize that I’m not alone with this.

  11. Jeff

    I deal with anxiety, including about running. My favorite tip is to watch one of Ken Chlouber’s Leadville speeches on YouTube. By the time he’s done, I’m ready to head out the door to run, and prepared to run through a brick wall.

  12. mark

    Good article, one thing I’m doubting though is that streaking would help with anxiety, I think for me personally the thought would bring on anxiety, but hey to each his own :)

  13. Scott

    There’s a solution to the avoidance (or procrastination) problem that I learned about in grad school, no doubt while putting off grading or working on my dissertation. I’m assuming that most of us (ultrarunners) are pretty motivated people so its not that we are lazy. We often feel the need to be doing something constructive. Constructive procrastination is a method we can use to get the things we are avoiding done:

    http://tinyurl.com/jsgdhvb

  14. Cat

    Thanks so much for this article! It’s been great to see runners open up more about mental health issues. I suspect many of us find solace in running, yet those same issues can make it hard to run. I haven’t found that my anxiety affects my running that much, but its friend depression can make it really hard to get out the door some days due to low energy, apathy, negative self-talk, etc. How do other runners deal with this? Cheers!

  15. M @readeatwriterun

    I use some of the tactics above – like “just warm up”, then “just do one mile, then you can stop”, bribing myself, berating myself, trying to think of others for inspiration.

    I think my anxiety – often about how long I’ll be able to run, what pace I can hit, how I’ll feel – shows up as procrastination (avoidance). And I only have steps to get to my run since I run on a treadmill in the basement! I have to walk past it between the bedroom and the rest of the house. The time between getting up and running keeps stretching (into hours) as I find things to do like work, surfing the net, loading/unloading the dishwasher and laundry, re-syncing podcasts, etc. It’s something I struggle with a lot.

    Today’s challenge is that my morning run didn’t happen as the power went out, and by the time it came back I’d eaten and felt like I needed to get to work and deal with other obligations. I’m not an after-work runner – I tend to bonk or have GI issues, one more reason I run first thing – and am having enough trouble with miles/pace as it is. I am trying to convince myself to at least “suit up” in an hour or two and warm up, run one mile. If I can’t make myself run, hopefully I can make myself walk for a while (not much of an excuse with that).

    Thanks for honest sharing Bryon, much appreciated. (and reminds me that you never know what someone else is going through, and assumptions are not worth much!)

  16. Delia

    This is great. Thanks for the gutsy and honest post, Bryon.

    I’ve noticed that when I have a nagging uncertainty or anxiety about a long run, I can convince myself to stay home in order to do something much more fun, like cooking a really delicious brunch and vegging out with my husband. I’ve found that running at odd hours really helps – if I set the alarm early enough I can get out the door before my inner critic has woken up, and then be back in time to enjoy the last of the morning at home, and I enjoy it more because I’m not feeling anxious about having missed a workout. If I procrastinate until my husband gets up, I’ll be too tempted to stay home. Running super early also helps avoid the feeling of looking stupid, with lots of people watching me – the only other people up are either other runners, or are too tired to care (or both).

    Oh, and avoidance also masquerades as indecision for me. I can agonize over choosing the perfect route that offers something new and exciting to explore along the way, and all the while I’m just procrastinating. When I recognize that I’m doing that, I have to snap out of it and just default to one of the “old hat” routes or I’ll never get going.

    Just about the only way I can convince myself to do any serious mileage on weekdays is to run home from work (~8-12 miles, depending on choice of route). If I wait until I get home I’ll just want to stay there.

  17. Sam

    Needed this post Byron. I am in the same boat as you and the past month has been somewhat difficult for me. Hate to read all the comments of people who struggle with the same but I am encouraged that we are in this together!

    Thanks again!

  18. Doug M

    Hey Bryon,

    Thanks for writing this piece! I think a lot of us struggle with anxiety. It’s helpful for us and for those around us to hear about it so they can be empathetic.

    My anxiety stemmed from childhood speech problems (a horrendous stutter), which lead to me becoming a writer and editor, I think! (Anything to be behind the scenes, not in front of the mic or camera.) I’ve found trail running to be really helping in tamping down the elevated level of stress I still sometimes feel. But, for the anxiety, for me the only thing that ultimately worked for me was to find the fear that was powering it, which took– as they say– some “work.” Once I understood that, the anxiety was defanged– it still existed, but its power over me was greatly diminished. All those circuits are still wired in my brain, but I now recognize them and when they power up, I head for the hills. :) Thanks again for the piece.

  19. etimft

    Thanks Bryon, I have dealt with anxiety for years and running has greatly helped manage it. As i have moved into my forties and life pressures mount, getting into longer runs and consistent training has helped. Gives me a positive distraction/obsession to keep mundane anxiety at bay. The week leading to my first 50 mi race last week (NF 50 MI SF), was anxiety riddled. I woke flat and questioning, calling myself crazy in a neg way. critical self talk. I flipped the script with music and reminding my self of the positive crazy of endurance running, the fun and appreciation for suffering that I have built up too. I talked with my shadow during the run and came out with new ideas and skills to manage negative mindsets and anxiety. Thanks for normalizing anxiety with your article.

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