What lies beneath: when running is bad for (mental) health

There is a trail near my place which leads to the Peak in Hong Kong. For 2-3 times a week, I used to hike on that trail and run along the Peak Circle, which is popular for tourists, joggers and photographers alike. I did it for fitness reason and sometimes, to give my mind a break from work. I have stopped for a while now because the supposedly fitness routine was giving me more anxiety and stress than any perceived health benefit.

Generally, it is stressful to leave the house. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being little or no stress), my stress level is approaching 10. The stress is positively correlated to the population of people. Given it starts at a high level, my aim is to minimise that stress as much as possible. I can reduce that stress to 8 or 9 by going out at a less busy time or choose a less crowded mode of transportation. I didn’t think I suffer from anxiety problems because it is anger and impatience that mostly dominate my mind. Anger is useful because I can transform that into energy to increase my walking speed and swerve my way through the human traffic. I am a walking road rage. Unfortunately, I don’t have the superpower of the Hulk. The purpose of travelling is also relevant. Flying is another activity that causes a lot of stress but I endure it because of the massive reward (holiday) in the end.

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How does anxiety come into place? I suspect there is an underlying anxiety issue. I’ve noticed that on my running routine days, as it was approaching towards time, I would be overcome by a sense of unease and a tight knot in the stomach. And then it is the physical evidence, my noticeably shaking hands as I was putting on my watch etc. getting prepared to leave the house. Although I have always had shaky hands (not sure if this is due to anxiety), they are non-noticeable under normal circumstances. So what is it about running that generates more anxiety (and anger) than the usual going out experience? There are a number of factors:

  • anxiety caused by not being able to predict the day’s (human) traffic at the Peak;
  • it takes more effort to navigate through people given I have to control my breathing whilst running and try to maintain my pace;
  • while anger helps to pick up speed, it would also disrupt my rhythm, pace and overall mood.

Certainly, sometimes it felt great and refreshing after a run and I would be glad I did it. However, it is a drag having to go through that cycle of anxiety – anger every time. Do I really have to put myself through that struggle? Eventually, I thought I would be better off to eliminate the stress entirely and stopped.

The trail leading to the Peak
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