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When Life Throws You a Curveball: Coping Strategies for Temporary Running Hiatuses

Updated: Jan 4

Due to experiencing a syndrome that impacts my nervous system functioning, I have not been able to exercise a whole lot for the past 6 months. Although I have experienced a fair share of low moments during my recovery, I do feel like I have coped fairly well with such a drastic life change.

Being forced to reduce running volume or stop running all together can lead to significant distress for some runners, whether it be due to an injury, increased workload, life being too busy, or whatever the reason! Although we can’t always change the situation that leads to us needing to stop running, there are some things we CAN do to make the period of our lives less distressing.

Here are some tips on how to cope when you need to avoid/minimize running

Find a hobby other than running NOW vs later

For those of you who aren't injured: Whether you run for fun, to strive for new challenges, or run to connect with others, you need to have more interests than just running. Preferably find something that doesn’t involve exercise just in case you need to stop exercising all together. If running is your one and only interest, your one and only way of creating a friendship network, and the only means you are using to grow as a person, then you are going to have an extreme void in your life if you forced to stop running. Finding a hobby NOW vs later is important so that you know what interests you the moment you have to stop running! Scrambling to find a new hobby is going to create a lot of extra stress on top of the stress you already have from not running and the situation that lead to you to stop running in the first place. The goal is to have LESS stress, not more stress.

If you are currently injured: Now that you are not running (or not running as much), this creates time to discover different aspects of who you are. This is a great time to try out new hobbies and activities and discovery new things you enjoy doing. You might even surprise yourself by discovering a new hobby that you are good at that you would never have tried doing if you hadn't gotten injured in the first place! Experiencing injuries or taking an involuntary pause from running for other reasons can be frustrating, but it also can be an opportunity to grow in other ways if you make the choice to make that happen.

My personal example: I am an avid knitter and I seriously think this has saved me from a lot of unwanted mental distress around not being able to exercise. I can do it anywhere, at any time, and it involves sitting for long periods of time. Socially, there is a great knitting community on social media and if I wanted to, I could join knitting groups. Through knitting, I have the opportunity to meet many internal needs: accomplishing new things, growing as a person, and connecting with others. But, I am doing it in a way that doesn’t involve exercise. You can follow my crafting on Instagram: @thenorthshoreknitter

Find other ways to cope with distressing emotions

I hear a lot of people say that they run to cope with anxiety, depression, to stay sober, etc. If running is the only tool in your coping-skills toolbox to manage mental health concerns, then these symptoms are going to be very difficult (if not impossible) to manage if you need to take a break from running. The more coping tools you have in your toolbox, the better! That way, you have tools you can use at any time, at any place, and during any life situation.

Some things to try: Do some deep breathing, listen to a guided imagery videos on YouTube, try progressive muscle relaxation, or repeat a mantra that focuses on strength and health. If you are still struggling to managing distressing emotions, then it's time to reach out to a local mental health profession to get the help you need and deserve.

Embrace doing other types of exercise

Most runners have to take a forced break from running due to an injury. If this is you, then it is time to embrace doing other types of exercise and trying new things! Bike, swim, hike, lift weights, or take a Pilates or yoga class. Be fully engaged in the moment when you are doing these other types of exercise and enjoy how they make your body feel. Try to avoid judging them, viewing them as “lower quality,” “worse,” or “ less desirable” than running. It is 100% up to you to embrace the moment vs make it a negative situation. You can choose to continue to live, grow, and reach goals during this time, or to get caught up in negative chatter and emotionally suffer because of it. This leads to the next tip!

My ability to hike is bouncing back a lot faster than my ability to run. So, I am embracing doing as much hiking as my body will allow right now until I can run more again!

If you can’t change the situation, change your mindset

Sometimes, there is only so much we can do to manage whatever has pulled us out of running! For example, we can treat an injury and be a great patient, but that doesn’t mean we will get better overnight. If we can’t change the situation, then it is time to look inward and change our mindset. Just like in the last tip, this all comes down to whether we want to embrace each moment of our lives and what we ARE able to do or if we want to get caught up in judgements, frustration, anger, resentment, etc. This is a choice.

Tip: If you are having a tough time managing negative chatter, refocus your attention on here and now. Name 3 things you are grateful for in that very specific moment. They can be small things! Continue to focus on the present moment, facts vs judgements, reality vs what your emotions are telling you, and gratitude vs frustration. Being able to do this takes a lot of practice so don't judge your emotions or thoughts if they go back to a "negative" place! Let them come and go like clouds in the sky and then refocus your attention to the here and now.

Get involved in other ways

There are SO MANY WAYS that runners can be involved in running-related events other than running! Volunteer at a race or meet up for breakfast or coffee with your favorite running friends after they are done running. For trail runners, crew your ultra-running friend at their races or do some trail maintenance work. Get involved and stay connected with your favorite running friends, groups, races in ways other than running.

These last two tips can be tough to practice, but are super important!

Practice acceptance

Acceptance means acknowledging and facing your reality without judgment. This does not mean that you LIKE the situation, AGREE with the situation, or are RESIGNING to the situation. We aren’t avoiding the situation or minimizing its impact, which are ineffective ways of coping. By practicing acceptance with difficult situations, we are allowing ourselves to acknowledge that we are facing something very difficult and the impact it is having on our lives. Acceptance allows us to see the situation clearly for what is and then move on to do what we can to deal with it effectively.

For example, if a running accepts that they have an injury and need to take a break from running, they will stop trying to “run through” the injury, which will prolong their injury and make it worse. This does not mean that the running LIKES that they are injured, GIVES UP on running, or doesn’t care about getting better. It means that they accept that they are injured and the most effective thing they can do to resolve it is see their favorite running physical therapist to help them treat it.

Practice self-compassion

This is a time to be kind to yourself. Avoid the “what-ifs,” “shoulds,” and “if-onlys.” This is a time to give yourself some grace. You are doing the best you can with your current situation!

It is also a time to show some self-compassion around your general fitness level and physical appearance. I think this one is incredibly difficult considering that the running culture tends to be very fitness/performance focused and there is a lot of pressure in our general society to look a certain way. Go back to the last point of practicing acceptance and give yourself some grace right now until you can get back to training.

Along with this point, surround yourself with supportive people who will also show you compassion during this tough time. We do better coping with difficult life events if we have support, so embrace and utilize the awesome running community that’s out there!

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