A space to run and think

Running away old anxieties in Japan

I recently returned from a wonderful honeymoon vacation with my wife in Japan. We’re not so much the sit-on-a-beach relaxing type, so we chose to go to a place that would be a bit of a challenge for us. A place that would help us grow and change as individuals and a couple. All while exploring and experiencing new sights, tastes, and sounds of cities and the countryside surrounding them. There were many incredibly interesting things I experienced on our trip, but I wanted to write about one thing for this week. How going to such a foreign place helped me leave my thoughts of anxiety behind, and how it changed a bit of my life since coming back.

I’ve written a bit about how I got into running here on Everybody has a brain before. On one of my first posts about it, I wrote about how I used to be afraid of running because of bad memories I had of gym class in grade school — of always being one of the slowest and feeling pressured to do better. Although I didn’t think it would affect me so much, it was just enough to keep me from even thinking of running until a couple years ago. Eventually, my wife helped me get into running. I started going on small routes with her, which helped me establish a routine and get past the fears and anxieties of not being ‘good’ enough at running.

Fast forward to now. Even though I run quite regularly and much farther than I used to, I use music to keep my old feelings of anxiety at bay. I would notice at points in my runs when my music stopped, I would feel a quick rush of anxiety — especially if I ran outside. I started being worried about what people thought of me — like they somehow knew I wasn’t a ‘real’ runner. That I was still that kid that ran slow in grade school. So I’d scramble to turn my music back on, and keep running.

Before Japan, I had never been to a place where I didn’t understand much of the language around me. In that place, I couldn’t read the signs or billboards, and I couldn’t understand what people were saying (most of the time). It was almost a complete cleansing of media and culture for my brain. It gave me space to think — and more importantly — not worry about the things I worry about in my normal environment.

So on one morning before a run in the streets of Tokyo with my wife, I decided to not wear my headphones. This was a new place, no one knew me, and I just felt like I wanted to hear the sounds of the city. After the first few steps, I felt kind of naked without music. It was unsettling, but I kept going. And after a mile or so, I was used to it. I loved hearing the sounds of the city around me — whether it was people walking, cars driving, or trees blowing in the wind. I tried to concentrate on just hearing those, instead of letting my anxieties slip in.

After running a few times like that in Japan, I was happy to know I was finally doing something to leave those anxieties behind. But I knew I had to keep it up, so even after I returned to Vancouver, I kept running outside without music. It’s given me a whole new perspective on the city — just being able to hear it. I feel much more in-tune with my surroundings, and that’s much better than how I felt before.

Originally published on Everybody has a brain on April 19th, 2014. Slightly edited for Medium on April 26, 2014.