Running to escape negative emotions can exacerbate your feelings of happiness. Here’s how to reshape your relationship with exercise
How many times has someone told you they crave a run to clear their head after a long day? I definitely run to combat stress, and there’s a reason so many of us lace up our sneakers, blast the music, and work up a sweat with our heart rate up.
When running, the body releases endorphins that reduce stress and can lead to a “runner’s high,” or a euphoric, mood-enhancing post-workout state. Over time, running can also enhance focus and memory, and trumpet exercise is being studied as a protection against it physical mental illness and evolution Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
But new study Posted Wednesday in Frontiers in Psychology It explores how using running to “get lost” and suppress negative emotions can lead to dependence on exercise and a reduced sense of general well-being.
Escapism, defined in the study as “a habitual diversion of the mind…as an escape from reality or routine,” can improve our ability to manage emotions. Most people use some escapism every day, whether it’s streaming a show, playing a game, listening to a song, or playing sports. It can be exploratory and serve as a way to gain a deeper, more nuanced perspective on an issue. It can also boost motivation.
However, it is twofold. Watch out for the dark side of escapism: using activity to suppress negative feelings and thoughts, in this case literally and figuratively escaping, says Dr. Frode Stenseng, study author and professor of psychology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. .
“You’re doing something that’s good for your physical health, but it’s actually ruining your mental health,” he says. luck. “You are numb to your emotions.”
Self-suppression versus self-expansion
Using running as an escape isn’t inherently risky, but “the escapist mindset is more important than the activity itself,” says Stenseng. “You have to be aware of what kind of emotion regulation strategies you are bringing into your activity,” and whether you are engaging in escapism for self-suppression or for self-expansion.
When running, if you’re aware of your surroundings and open to feeling however you like, you’re probably predisposed to self-expansion. You are most likely to be in self-suppression mode when you are running and using all of your brain energy to avoid thoughts about negative feelings.
In a study of nearly 230 runners of all levels, participants filled out questionnaires regarding their motivation for running, their dependence on exercise, and their general well-being.
Participants were asked if they felt that running led them to learn new things about themselves or to feel more open to new experiences and perspectives, which determines their level of self-expansion. When participants felt closely connected to statements like, “When I run, I try to forget the hard things in my life,” or “When I run, I want to escape from reality,” It’s a sign of self-suppression, Sttensing says.
The study found that running for suppression was significantly associated with exercise dependence, and was associated with decreased subjective well-being. Instead, subjective expansion was not closely associated with exercise dependence and instead resulted in a positive sense of well-being. Suppression exacerbates negative feelings, creating a harmful downward spiral as continuing to run buries those feelings further. More than that, the decline in well-being may be both a cause and a consequence of exercise dependence.
It’s no surprise that if you want to avoid dealing with your feelings, engaging in the activity that causes you to escape can become addictive. This reliance on someone can lead them to engage in activity to cover up bigger problems, which in the case of running can lead to physical injury and mental health problems.
“When you try to suppress your negative emotions, research shows that you also kind of suppress your positive emotions,” says Stenseng. “It is not possible to suppress your negative feelings, and let the positive ones flourish.”
Stenseng found that the more mindful and present a person runs, the higher their well-being.
How do you balance exercise and escape?
Bottom line: Running or jogging is good for us, but a few miles won’t solve our problems as well as we hoped. Being more aware of the reasons behind engaging in various forms of escapism can help people be more intentional, Stensing says.
“We need all of these activities where we can explore the narrower parts of ourselves, or just let our thoughts wander,” he says. “But when you engage in this activity, and it takes so much energy, just to try to banish all your negative feelings and thoughts, you actually have to stop running and dealing with your problems… We have to ask ourselves, Why is this? Why are these activities and these kinds of cultural habits in So important to us?”
In future studies, Stenseng hopes to learn how measurably exercise dependence affects well-being, and how to change mindsets when seeking escape to enhance learning and expansion over avoidance.
So the next time you head outside on that run, practice being more aware of anything that might blow up.
This story originally appeared on Fortune.com
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