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Running Towards Mental Wellness: How Movement Can Transform Your Mind

跑步

, by Fabienne Lang

Photography courtesy of: Brooks Running

For many, movement is a way to unlock a clearer headspace. Four Brooks athletes and Brooks Running Collective members share with us their relationship between running and mental health and how they use movement as a tool to find a clearer headspace.

Trigger Warning: The following content discusses mental health and suicide. 

May is a big deal for mental health awareness, not just in the U.S. where it’s Mental Health Awareness Month but also in Europe where mid-May is Mental Health Awareness Week. Wrap your head around this: over 57 million adults in the U.S. are living with a mental illness, according to NIMH. That's more than one in five people. 

The good news is that there are many great ways to manage our mental health, and we’re going to focus on one of them: movement. Whether it's a leisurely stroll or a heart-pumping run, getting our bodies moving is key.

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Take Brian Reynolds, for example. He's a Brooks athlete, para-athlete, and double amputee. For him, “Running has changed my life in so many ways, all for the better. It has become one of the most important tools in my arsenal to keeping myself a calm, level, and good human.”

Then there's Denoja Uthayakumar, a member of the Brooks Running Collective, a mental health advocate, and a survivor of both cancer and suicide, who explains that “Running is a big part of my identity as it saved my life with my ongoing mental health and thyroid cancer journey.”

Photography courtesy of: Brooks Running

Running, and movement in general, isn't just about putting one foot in front of the other – it's about transforming lives. That’s why we’ve partnered with Brooks Running and their inspiring crew to dive deep into how getting active can seriously boost your mental well-being. Let's keep pushing to spread the word about mental health, one step at a time.

Removing the stigma around mental health

Rach Junard, a dedicated member of the Brooks Running Collective and a soon-to-be mental health counselor, beautifully encapsulates how running helps her manage her mental health: “With running, I treat each opportunity to be mindful about how I am physically feeling, what I can offer myself, who should I reach out to – it’s a gentle body scan in a way.”

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Whether it's finding solace in the rhythm of your strides or experiencing the euphoria of crossing a finish line, running can be a haven from life's uncertain moments. And, in a world where mental health is still stigmatized, speaking openly about our struggles is a radical act of self-care. Brian echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of breaking down barriers: “Even with all of the great conversations that have been occurring around mental health there is still a stigma attached to it.” 

Even with all of the great conversations that have been occurring around mental health there is still a stigma attached to it.

“I grew up a silent and closed-off person and it affected me in a very negative way,” he shares. “Being willing to open up allows me to lean on the people in my life, it gives them a doorway into how I am feeling, and helps them give me grace when I am having a rough day.”

Being vocal about mental health plays a vital part in breaking down the stigmas that remain around the topic. “I want to help be part of a movement that normalizes going to therapy, taking medication if needed, meditating, and being in a community that accepts you for who you are,” adds Rach.

The importance of conversation for your mental health

Sharing our stories and struggles can foster empathy and solidarity, reminding us we're not alone. Denoja emphasizes this strength in vulnerability: “You can't see depression, anxiety, or other mental health illnesses physically but that doesn't mean they don't exist. I have learned that vulnerability equals strength.”

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“Bringing light to the importance of advocacy in the running community and beyond is something I believe is necessary,” she explains.

This becomes especially true and practical for runners when we’re facing pre-race jitters, which can exacerbate underlying stressors. Brooks athlete and University of Arkansas’s track team member Shawnti Jackson knows about managing pre-race stress. The 2023 USATF Youth Athlete of the Year and American High School 100m record holder shares her strategies for mental preparation to race against the fastest athletes in the world. She likes “to keep positive thoughts and energy around me when I am gearing up to a race, surrounding myself with people who want the best for me and support me unconditionally are key!” 

When I am having rough days and even running doesn't feel good, I take the time to recenter myself around gratitude. I am so grateful I have the ability to run, to fly along the streets and trails.

As for Denoja, she turns to “positive self-talk and visualization from what I will do when I get out of bed on race day, the course, the stops along the way, the finish line. I must be fully present in every moment that I am in the race,” she shares. By prioritizing self-care and creating a supportive network, we can approach challenges with confidence and resilience.

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Long-term focus for your mental well-being

Beyond race day maintaining mental wellness is an ongoing commitment. Denoja encourages us to embrace individualized self-care practices: “It’s important to remember that someone’s version of wellness and self-care might look completely different to those around you,” she explains. “I actively remind myself of my unique strengths and capabilities, focusing on what I can do and accomplish, instead of dwelling on the limitations.”

Brian underscores the power of gratitude and running as tools in protecting his mental health. “Running has changed my life in so many ways, all for the better. When I am having rough days and even running doesn't feel good, I take the time to recenter myself around gratitude. I am so grateful I have the ability to run, to fly along the streets and trails.”

Photography courtesy of: Brooks Running

While running can be a powerful tool for managing mental health, it's essential to recognize when additional support is needed. For Shawnti, that translates to turning to her tight-knit and trustworthy community, “Realizing I’m not alone in taking care of my mental health helps me, finding that one person you know you can talk to or who makes you comfortable and calm makes a difference,” she shares.

As for Rach, she emphasizes the support from a community, as well as seeking external help to keep her two feet on the ground, “I’m a huge advocate for therapy and journaling. Joining a run club where all paces are supported is helpful too!”

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Find what works for you and your mental health

Whether it's carving out time for peaceful journaling sessions, connecting with nature on a trail run, or simply talking to a close friend, by nurturing our mental health consistently we can lay the foundation for long-term, sustainable well-being. 

Realizing I’m not alone in taking care of my mental health helps me, finding that one person you know you can talk to or who makes you comfortable and calm makes a difference.

As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, let's continue the conversation and prioritize our mental well-being every step of the way. 

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Follow the journeys of the runners featured in this article and discover the practices that resonate with you. After all, “The therapeutic effects of running on the mind are undeniable,” reiterates Denoja. “So, lace up your running shoes, hit the trails, and let the rhythm of your steps guide you toward a clearer mind and a healthier mental state.”

Disclaimer: The content provided is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional for personalized guidance.