Running anxiety is fairly common. It happens to a lot of runners, whether they're prepping for a long run or standing at the starting line of a race. A bit of the pre-run jitters is okay -- even motivating -- but when it spirals out of control and causes you to feel nervous and miserable, anxiety can take the joy out of running. Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can do to keep your nerves from getting the best of you.
Identify your fears and face them. You must pinpoint exactly what is causing your anxiety. Maybe you're worried about your pace and that you won't be able to make it through a grueling speed workout or don't know if you have the strength to get through a long run.
Take steps to alleviate fear and anxiety over things within your control. For example, if you're worried that a new pair of shoes are going to hurt your feet, break them in slowly. If you're anxious about weather, check forecasts ahead of time and dress accordingly.
Visualize success. Self-doubt is often the cause of increased anxiety. If you give into fears of failure or injury, for example, you're going to have a hard time performing your best. Go into each run knowing that you will accomplish your goal.
Repeat a positive mantra. Mantras are words, phrases or sounds that you can use for motivation and inspiration. Use mantras that directly combat whatever the cause of your anxiety is. If you're afraid you aren't strong enough to finish a long run, try repeating "I am strong" to yourself. If you are worried that you will do poorly in a race, repeat "I am fast" over and over. Replace fear-based thoughts with positive, inspiring ones. This will shift your focus and greatly alleviate feelings of anxiety.
Keep it in perspective. Nervousness and anxiety can start out as a tiny seed of doubt that quickly grows into a monster when you empower it with your thoughts. Usually, the fears that cause pre-run anxiety are over things you cannot control, such as course terrain or digestive discomfort. If you think about it, there's no point in worrying about things that are absolutely outside of your control. Force yourself to stop over-thinking by focusing on putting forth your best effort, thinking about how far you've come in your training or by giving yourself permission to simply enjoy the run. Running should be fun, but runners sometimes get so wrapped up in the details that they forget the joy they experienced when they first started.
- Leave your heart rate monitor and GPS at home. These can be great training tools, but if you're finding yourself stressed and nervous when you run, it may be because you're too focused on your stats. Try running with a buddy or throwing on your headphones and jamming out to your favorite tunes to help calm yourself. If all else fails, try to step and ask yourself what is the very worst thing that could happen. Usually, when you confront your fears in that way, you'll realize they aren't nearly as scary as they may seem.
- Consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. If you experience severe and intense bouts of anxiety, you may need to discuss it with your doctor or therapist. Sometimes, chemical imbalances cause anxiety that may be outside of your control. In these situations, advanced therapy or anti-anxiety medication may be needed.
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.