How to Get Started Running for Your Mental Health

Becoming a mental health road warrior.

It’s no secret that running can help a person’s mental health. Even if you run for just a little while, the act itself results in the release of feel good brain chemicals and reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. Not only that, but running can confidence and take your mind of things.

As such, if you’ve ever been depressed or anxious, you more than likely have had someone suggest you go out for a run. Yes, technically a run can help, but it’s not quite that easy.

When you’re depressed, motivation to do anything is just not there. I remember, when I was in the throes of depression, that even getting out of bed to eat was a challenge. So how in the world do you start running when you feel so weighted by the world?

If you’re in a terribly black and dark place, the first thing to do is at least get yourself stable enough to function. For me, that meant regularly visiting my psychologist for medication and my counselor for a little talk therapy. Once I was able to get to a place to do basic things like eat, bathe, go to work etc., I knew I was emotionally and physically strong enough to get started working on other things. Running being one of them.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Take It Easy

Before you start your running journey for mental health, take it easy on yourself. Grant yourself a little grace. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, the point is that you actively made a decision to do something for your physical and mental health. This is a huge step. Pat yourself on the back for it!

If you haven’t run much before, that’s ok. Start off with short 15 minute walks every day. Once you start feeling stronger, increase the walk time to 30 minutes. After that, you can start incorporating some running into your walks. Even if you can only run a couple seconds or minutes at a time, you’re making progress. Becoming a runner doesn’t happen over night.

Make a Plan

When I first started my running journey, I’d sit down with a calendar and write down for the week, what I planned on doing. Having something written down (or put into my Google calendar) definitely made my mission to run feel more real. That, and if I planned stuff out ahead of time, it was less stress on me during the week to remember what I need to do.

The plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a sample of what it could look like:

Monday — 30 min. walk
Tuesday — 30 min. run/walk
Wednesday — Rest
Thursday — 10 min. run/20 min walk
Friday — 30 min. walk
Saturday — 60 min. run/walk
Sunday — Rest

As you can see, there’s a lot of walking there. That’s fine though. You’re just starting out.

Make an Accountability Buddy

One of the best ways to make sure you stay on track with your new running journey is to tell someone about it. As mentioned before, finding motivation when you’re depressed isn’t easy. Telling someone about your goal though means you have a person you can count on to encourage and motivate you.

Better yet, find someone that wants to run with you! It’s a lot harder to stay in bed, knowing there is someone else depending on you to show up somewhere for a run. If you’re not sure where to start in finding a running buddy or running group, this article should help.

Sign Up for a Race

Once you’re in a really good place mentally and you’ve gone out for a few runs, try signing up for a 5K. Sure, it sounds daunting, but when race day rolls around, you’ll truly see how wonderful the running community can be. You’ll be amongst some of the strongest (physically and mentally) people around.

Signing up for a race provides a clear goal that you can work towards. If you’re not sure how to start training for your goal, there are numerous training plans for every distance. Having a set training plan will help with the motivation.

If and when you do sign up for a race, remember that you’re only racing against yourself. You’re doing the best that YOU can do and it isn’t about anyone else out on that course. This is your goal and your goal alone.

Bonus: Buy New Shoes

As a bonus motivator for starting to run, buy new shoes. Regardless if you’re running one or seven days a week, you’re going to need good shoes. Having the right pair of shoes can make or break how you feel about running. A poor fitting pair of shoes can cause injury and that’s not a very great way to start running for your mental health.

If you’re not sure how to find the right pair of shoes for you, go to your local sporting goods store. Usually, they’ll have someone on staff that will look at how you walk and run to find the best pair of shoes for you.

Good luck on your running journey to better mental and physical health!