I started running a couple of years ago.  Not every day and sometimes not every other day.  But certainly a few times a week.  So now that I’ve done it for a while what can I say about it?  Well, to start with, it hasn’t gotten easier!!  I still have to drag my butt out the door to get going and I can’t say I notice any endorphin-like effect after I get going.  So, you ask, why do it?  Must be because it keeps me in some sort of shape, right?  No, that’s not it either.  It’s because it keeps me sane.  It helps me clear my mind and come back mentally refreshed.  Let’s just say every time I go out I’m running out of my mind. 

Can you get the same effect from other activities?  Can you walk out of your mind?  Or cycle out of your mind?  I don’t know.  For me it’s a function of pushing myself enough that I have to focus on my running and breathing…not too hard in my case!  So, I suppose if you power walk, cycle hard, etc. you can get the same effect.  But I do think you need to avoid too much external mental stimuli (take note you “stationary bicycle in front of the TV” folks).  And I think you need to set out with the intention of clearing your mind.  But everyone’s different in this regard so let me know what you do to clear your mind (there is a comment section on the blog).

Which leads me to the state of mental health in this country.  (Healthcare is an obsession, isn’t it?)  I’ve known enough people – friends, family – that have struggled with mental health issues that I can’t help thinking about why and what can be done about it.  I think it’s fair to say that it’s directly related to stress and the lack of regular stress relief.  And I think we can all agree that stress is not going to go away.  I get a little irritated with people who preach stress-free living.  Stress is part and parcel of living.  In fact, it may very well be necessary to living.

So, if stress is not going away what’s to be done about it?  This is where the tricky part comes in.  There is no one size fits all solution.  Everyone’s biochemical makeup is different and everyone’s tolerance for stress is different.  But it helps to think of stress in the context of its origins.  At its root it’s related to fear.  And our evolutionary response to fear is flight or fight.  Yet when we’re sitting at our desk absorbing the stress of a day’s work we can’t very well jump up and run out the door on impulse.  And we can’t very well get up and start a brawl with the boss or coworker that’s driving us crazy.  Although both actions would probably be very effective at reducing our stress levels!

This is where you need to develop your own responses to stress.  I’d be lying to you if I told you that I’ve always had ways to deal with it (and I’d be giving Paula an excuse to write a very long comment on my blog).  But I’ve had enough experience with it that I feel I can offer a few recommendations.  First, try to understand the sources of your own stress.  If it’s dealing with incompetent, thoughtless people then recognize it for what it is and don’t internalize it.  Remember that bad behavior is usually a result of someone else’s weakness, not your own.  They’re not likely to change just because you think they should, so learn to neutralize them (in your mind at least).  It took me 20 years to realize that the Peter Principle (people rise to their level of incompetence) is very much a reality and the best way to deal with it is to recognize it.

Money (or lack thereof) is another major source of stress for many people.  Of course, what we consider short money would be laughable to our parents and certainly our grandparents.  But, then again, they didn’t have to own such large houses, expensive cars, and eat out so often.  It’s not easy maintaining such a high level of consumption!  Afraid to say so, folks, but there’s only own one way to deal with financial stress – get a better handle on your finances and, if not, keep reminding yourself that retirement is overrated.  Going back to my previous point about difficult people, if you can’t beat them, outlast them!

If your retirement keeps retreating into the future like mine then you better find ways to deal with stress today (I love circular arguments).  You need to develop your own flight or fight strategies.  In my case, I’ve come to the conclusion there has to be a physical component to it.  I can’t get rid of the mental stress without creating a little bit of physical stress.  For many people running is not an option but, whatever it is – walking (briskly), cycling, yoga, or competitive lawn bowling – you might want to look for ways to “run” out of your own mind.  At least it will feel good when you stop!