Could Running be Adding Stress to Your Life?

 image thumb2 Could Running be Adding Stress to Your Life?

The Down­side of Running

Is it just me, or do you also expe­ri­ence a wide swing of emo­tions after run­ning? I know many peo­ple expe­ri­ence a “run­ners’ high” – that rush of endor­phins that leaves you happy and intensely present – and I do get that, but I also expe­ri­ence the oppo­site lows. I’m not sure if it’s my body, my per­son­al­ity, or if I’m doing some­thing wrong.

I’ve also been get­ting sick a lot. I’ve had the flu twice already and are only just now in Feb­ru­ary. Feel­ing the affects of run­ning on me phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally has lead me to won­der if run­ning has added stress to an already stress­ful life.

Stress is Stress

The body knows no dif­fer­ence between pos­i­tive stress or neg­a­tive stress. We’re the ones that label stress as being “good” or, more com­monly, “bad”.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale lists how much stress cer­tain events cause in indi­vid­u­als (there’s a copy of the Scale at end of this post). Var­i­ous life stage events are rated on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the score, the more stress-inducing the event – that’s how the the­ory goes. For exam­ple, vaca­tion is listed as 13, an out­stand­ing per­sonal achieve­ment is at 28, and a per­sonal injury or ill­ness is a 53.

While events like vaca­tions can be rife with stress­ful expe­ri­ences, the stress can be the same even when we’re hav­ing a grand ol’ time. That’s why an out­stand­ing per­sonal achieve­ment is on the list. These events are stress­ful because new expe­ri­ences devi­ate from our every­day lives, caus­ing some amount of stress.

Alone, a vaca­tion, pro­mo­tion, or even ill­ness won’t have too much of an impact on us. But start adding these stress­ful expe­ri­ences on top of one another and you can quickly reach your “stress thresh­old.” This can lead to neg­a­tive moods and even ill­ness. Ulti­mately, if not dealt with, stress can kill.

If you add up all the events on the Stress Scale, you get an idea of how close you are to get­ting sick. A score of 300 or more means you are at a high risk of becom­ing sick. Time to cut some stress out of your life and start tak­ing more vitamins!

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale serves to remind us that stress­ful expe­ri­ences are cumu­la­tive, and that with each stress-causing event we get closer to our stress thresh­old. Once we go over this stress level, we begin to break down. And remem­ber, as far as the body is con­cerned, there’s no pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive stress. Just stress.

Run­ning Puts Stress on the Body

So what does all this have to do with running?

It can be easy to for­get that run­ning, or any other sort of phys­i­cal exer­tion, puts a cer­tain amount of stress on the body. Train­ing, after all, is all about break­ing mus­cles down so they will repair stronger.

Per­haps run­ning, while not too stress­ful on its own – can push us over our stress thresh­old. Maybe this is why I feel depressed and even get sick after long runs or hard work­outs and even get sick. Put another way, maybe run­ning some­times makes me get sick because I already have too much stress in my life.

My goal with run­ning is to feel bet­ter, not worse! It’s time I take a hard look at where the stress is com­ing from in my life and work to reduce it. At least while I work up to a base­line of phys­i­cal capability.

What do you think?

  • Has run­ning ever raised your stress level, mak­ing other activ­i­ties more dif­fi­cult to cope with?
  • Have you expe­ri­enced emo­tional swings after your runs?

I’d love to hear from you!

Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Take your own stress test in the inter­ac­tive ver­sion here: Link

image thumb3 Could Running be Adding Stress to Your Life?

Photo by Mag­nusK

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  • Davids12

    After com­plet­ing my first marathon I def­i­nitely felt depressed. Sure I was stoked to have accom­plished some­thing that was a long time com­ing but after­wards I felt a sense of loss. My wife, who’s the real ath­lete in the fam­ily (2 time Iron­man with more marathons than she can remem­ber) told me I might feel this way. For me per­son­ally I think it was the fact that I no longer had a plan. For the months lead­ing up to that marathon I knew which days I’d be run­ning, when I would rest, then taper. Throw all the changes I went through (weight loss, etc.) and then just like that…it was over.

    Look­ing over the list, I expe­ri­enced sev­eral of the entries dur­ing this train­ing phase. While I agree that at times I was really stressed out, I can say that run­ning really helped me cope with that stress.

    • Clyn­ton

      Yes, David, some­thing def­i­nitely has to be said for all the stress-relieving that run­ning does, even if it is a lit­tle tax­ing on the body. Even thought I have not expe­ri­enced a low after run­ning a marathon (I’ve never run a marathon!), I can cer­tainly see how all of the build-up stop­ping sud­denly on top of the fatigue would be quite depressing.

      Thanks for sharing!

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  • Mark Wag­goner

    I started back to run­ning last year in order to relieve stress. I started out slow and worked my way up to a long run of about 18 miles. My, unpro­fes­sional, seat of the pants take on it is that there is a point of dimin­ish­ing returns for stress relief from run­ning long dis­tances. At some point the stress you put on your body starts to out weigh the ben­e­fits. Last year that point was at about 25–30 miles per week. Not that the stress reduc­ing ben­e­fits dropped off like a rock, just started to dimin­ish grad­u­ally. This year I hope to run my first ultra, more exper­i­men­ta­tion on myself :)

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