For a few months now, I’ve felt myself stuck with anxiety and depression bleeding into my creative pursuits. Writing my screenplay, a novel, short stories, and writing and recording new songs, even just practising guitar is hard work. I worry that what I do is rubbish, that, consequently, I’m rubbish, and that the whole thing is a waste of time (A later blogpost will discuss being trapped in thoughts circling creativity, productivity, money, and self-worth).
In addition, I’ve felt stuck in thoughts on how I will be able to get out of an insecure financial situation because I’m so anxious about finding work, doing interviews, starting a new job, etc. In sum, it’s been a rocky start to the year.
So, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit and start a new project which has absolutely nothing at all to do with creativity, work, or money: I’ve rekindled my love of trail running! I’ve found that what works best for me to keep myself motivated is setting up specific goals and making a plan to succeed. Therefore, my running goals for 2021 are:
- 5 mile run in April
- 10k run in June
- Half marathon in September
Which in turn are part of my three long term running goals:
- Half marathon in 2021 (13.1 miles)
- Marathon in 2022 (26.2 miles)
- Ultra marathon in 2023 (mileage undecided)
(And no, I clearly have no idea what I’ve have gotten myself into.)
This blogpost was inspired by a wonderful episode of the Wild Ginger Running podcast featuring an interview with mental health- and running champion Sally Orange, as well as my own work with social anxiety. One thing I struggle a lot with is running in public, and this for many reasons, but mainly the whole being seen, judged, and evaluated, feeling self-conscious about how I look, in particular how red my face is as I have rosacea which means my face goes deep red and hot for a myriad of reasons, including, but not limited to, drinking alcohol, being cold, feeling stressed, embarrassed, being warm, or exercising.
So signing up to races where I will be seen by other runners and by an audience is a challenge, but one I believe is manageable. For me, I think signing up to the London Marathon and run whilst watched by thousands of people would be overwhelming. So starting with smaller races seemed a good idea (in my first race, I’ll be competing against 38 other 5 mile runners).
As you all know, exposure is an important part of working with social anxiety, but it’s important to go slowly. I know from experience that when you push yourself too hard and expose yourself to anxiety-inducing situations too fast, the effect can often be counterproductive. For me, it has meant my journey to self-acceptance and wellbeing was more or less reversed, and it’s taken years to get back to the point of actually wanting to work with my SAD again.
Taking My Time…
As I’m naturally a highly competitive person and tend to compare myself to others — even people on an entirely different level of skill and experience — I’m also using my running as part of a tool to put more focus on myself, my needs, desires, and capabilities, and less focus on others, or me in comparison to others. It’s so easy to look at how fast or far others run, and then put yourself down because you’re slower or can’t run as far.
For me, it’s been very beneficial to read blogs and listen to podcasts from other trail runners. It becomes clear that lots of people use trail running as a way to manage their mental health, and connect with nature in a way that’s difficult to do when you’re running on tarmac through polluted cities. (I grew up in the country, surrounded by forests and lakes, so I’m perhaps biased in the whole trail vs. road question…!)
So my goal is to finish these races and enjoy the experience, focusing on resilience and endurance rather than chasing places and beating a certain time. I want to focus on appreciating my body and how strong and able it is, whilst also practising mental resilience. This includes dropping the competitive thinking that I have always used to berate myself. It has been truly liberating. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people, practice my small talk skills, and get a feel for being part of a community again.
And it has come with the added bonus of giving me the mental energy and resolve to start this blog, keeping me creative each week. I truly believe creativity fosters creativity, so in working with this blog, I’ve also started setting up some creativity goals for this year and am actually looking forward to getting into them. (I’ll be sharing those in another post, too.)
Again, my competitive nature wants me to not only set up goals for what I want to write and for when, but to also start dreaming of future successes from these projects. I am trying my very best to close the door on those thoughts; they have no place in these early stages of planning. Not only do they trick my mind into feeling as though I’ve already accomplished something before I’ve even started, making me somehow less motivated to get going, but they also rely on other people, luck and circumstances I have no control over.
But I digress — much like the other day when I had planned a short hill repeat run and ended up exploring a new trail over 16k and 2 and a half hours. I came home revived though, and with a found phone I could reunite with its owner after some detective work. So, several birds with one stone there: explored a lovely new trail, got more exercise than I bargained for, did a good deed, and worked on my SAD! Not bad for a lazy Sunday.
But as I’m writing this, it’s another Sunday, and this really will be a lazy one. Yesterday, I took my new hydration vest for a 16k spin over two and a half hours, talked to a couple of handsome geese, smiled at some newborn lambs climbing a wall to get to the tastiest leaves. Oh, and I also got to admire some very large and quite awe-inspiring cows that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the footpath… Today is my rest day: a slow stroll to pet some horses, gentle yoga, a foot massage (by a machine, not a person, as I hate people touching my feet), a bath, some blogging, and baking. Just because I deserve it.
So, what’s part of your anti-anxiety toolbox? And have you set any SAD goals or are planning to? Perhaps you’ve even achieved some of them already? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!