What does it mean to be happy? Can you make yourself happy? I believe you can, if you choose to. For me, running and exercising makes me happy. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, and the only method that has consistently helped me feel better is exercise. Running, for me, is almost a survival skill; it keeps me sane, it helps me cope with things that would normally overwhelm me. But, when I work out, the everyday things that would normally send me over the edge don’t seem so bad.
When you run or exercise your brain releases endorphins—which make you feel good, and norepinephrine—which helps improve your mood. Endorphins have also been called the “runners high”, because of the feelings of elation that accompany them. I am at my happiest after I work out; when I see the results in the days following a workout I can’t help but feel proud.
I’ve been a competitive athlete for the past eight years or so. I’ve run track since high school and ran cross country for two seasons in high school. While training in college, during the season and in the off season, I never felt like I was doing the right things. In high school I didn’t struggle with the feelings of inadequacy so much as I struggled with constantly having to overcome obstacles. Most of my sophomore year was spent battling one illness after another. My junior year left me with two stress fractures (one in each shin) that took about a year to recover from.
In college I found out I struggle with what the trainers discovered to be chronic compartment syndrome (also known as exercise induced). This means that when I exercise, there isn’t enough oxygen in my blood for it to flow consistently, causing my calves to cramp to the point of barely being able to move. The only thing I can do then is rest until my legs become less rock-like and I regain some mobility. I could only run a few days a week because of this, which meant that I could only practice with my teammates on those few days.
Those college years are when my anxiety and depression were at their worst I think. I constantly felt like I couldn’t do what I wanted to or needed to to feel like I was in good shape. I wasn’t venting my frustrations in a healthy way because I was constantly focusing on how frustrated I was with my physical limitations. I couldn’t participate in the same training regimens as my teammates which made me feel like an outsider and like I wasn’t as good as them. Some of the coaches I worked with made me feel like my needing a different training schedule was an inconvenience, and made me feel even more alienated. I’ve learned in doing some research that athletes do suffer from depression as a result of injuries and that therapy for more than just the injured muscle or body part should be considered to help the athlete fully recover.
Last year, my senior year of college, I finally made the decision to stop putting myself through this personal hell. Most of the teammates that I had run with for the past few years had graduated or quit, and I was tired of feeling inadequate. I quit the team and took a break from running and exercise altogether but eventually started to feel bad about being out of shape.
Once I decided I was ready to start exercising again, but on my own terms, I gradually became happy with my results. It has been a steady process, but I actually want to work out now, and am disappointed when I am not able to. Because of my compartment syndrome I can’t run everyday, but on the days I do I push myself to new limits and, despite being a sprinter in track, am running about three miles on average per workout.
I really believe that so many of the limitations we see for ourselves are mental. Even though I have numbness or tingling in my legs the day after a long run, I don’t mind it as much. I don’t feel like I’m inadequate because of the limitations I have physically; I have overcome so many of my mental hurdles that I don’t spend my time comparing myself to others, but feeling like I’m doing a great job and can keep improving.
There will always be days that I want to make excuses, or try to blame circumstances for why I can’t do something. When I’m honest with myself though I know that I can push myself and that there really isn’t much validity to the excuses I’m trying to make. If you know what can help make you happy, do it. Don’t make excuses for why you can’t be happy or why you aren’t motivated to be happy. The important thing in your routine is whether you feel good about it. Competition and comparison can be good to a certain extent, but when all you do is constantly belittle yourself because of what someone else can do, you’re only hurting yourself.
I recommend checking out a blog called Hyperbole and a Half if you are interested in reading some more about depression. The author does a great job of making the topic relatable, and even helps you identify with the problems that accompany depression in a humorous way. Link: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/
Here are some of the articles I used in my research too if you are interested in checking them out; these are the articles I didn’t directly hyperlink to in my post.