Words & Interview: Ruaidhri Marshall
Mental health in recent years has rightly so become less stigmatized and talked about more frequently. With mental health illnesses affecting 1 in 4 people at some point during their lives, it should be a subject which we all consider. Starting up this publication with my colleagues early this year, I’ve always wanted to promote positivity and make this a platform to inspire people. For me, happiness is happiness when its juxtaposed to sadness. Going through a hard-grueling run causes me to really appreciate myself afterwards.
In this article, I interview mental health and running advocate, Jessica Mary Robson, an incredibly inspiring individual who has set up a community focusing on spreading the benefits of running for mental health. Having battled with mental health issues herself, she gives us an encouraging outlook on how to overcome nerves whilst running, her Run Talk Run group and how social media can be both a help and a hinderance.
I’d like to know your story, tell us why you decided to set up your blog and why you feel so passionate about advocating mental health and running?
I think a big part of why I decided to start sharing my experiences of mental health and running stems primarily from my ongoing battle with ‘the black dog’. I was a shy child with a lot of social anxiety, and it appears I have carried a lot of that into adulthood too. I’ve been going through phases of bulimia and depression since the age of 15, and it has only been in the last year that I’ve really noticed that my periods of “good mental health” coincide very much with the periods where I’ve been running consistently.
Running has done so much for me and has become a vice of sorts, a kind of lifeline, and something to hold onto when my brain wants to take me to a dark place. If I can encourage, inspire or help just one person to use running as part of their mental health maintenance then the blog will have been worthwhile in my eyes.
I’m a real big admirer of the community you set up, Run Talk Run, could you tell us how it came to be, and why its such a positive part of people’s lives?
Ah, thank you! To backtrack a little, I actually really struggled with “talking therapy” – not to say that I don’t think it is effective for most people, but it just didn’t work for me. I found it a really intimidating experience and instead of fully opening up, I clammed up instead. When I was out running with my mum, however, I found that I could share everything that I was going through. I realised how important it was that we have those “safe spaces” available to us to open up, that are more accessible AND less intimidating than formal therapy. That’s why I set up Run Talk Run – to provide that safe space to be present with people who “get it”. I think the biggest positive aspect of Run Talk Run is that it is scheduled self-care.
I don’t think enough people pay attention to their mental health, but almost through offering the run as a means to talk about our shit, it makes it seem easier to put in the diary for a lot of people. The RTR community has become a hub of people supporting each other and seeing each other through our not-so-good days, and that’s benefitted myself as much as everyone else in the group!
Staying healthy and particularly, running, seems to be such an enlightening way to keep a positive mindset, why do you think this is the case?
Of course, there are well-known and discussed immediate benefits to running for our mental health – the endorphins and “runners high” etc, but I actually think it benefits our mental health from a more long-term perspective. I say this because running, generally speaking, can be pretty damn uncomfortable and if you’ve been suffering with your mental health you’ll know how uncomfortable that is.
Running consistently means we build on our resilience to that discomfort. It teaches us to sit with the discomfort and acknowledge it, but not let it win, to see the run through. It builds on our self-efficacy – our belief in ourselves that we can complete a task - and that really does so much for our confidence and our motivation to see recovery through as well.
Social media can be both a help and a hinderance, could you discuss your blog post 'How to improve your relationship of social media' and how sights like Instagram can affect people in so many ways?
I completely agree. I think we underestimate just how much social media affects our mental health. I know that I, personally, was an active participant in the “comparison spiral” whereby I was comparing my body image, social life and income to others on social media who appeared to have it all. It’s been discussed a lot recently, but I really do feel it’s important to take every post you see with a pinch of salt – people only show you what they want to show you.
I’m not too sure who said it, but “this too shall pass” remains to be my favourite quote. It’s a reminder in the dark times that the heaviness will not last forever, and it is a reminder in the good times too to be really present in that moment and soak it up, appreciate it. It has also been a very powerful mantra during panic attacks.
What advice could you give someone who wants to begin running, from overcoming nerves to nutrition tips?
The most powerful tip I had in overcoming nerves (which I still use all the time) is to pretend that my nerves are actually “excitement”. Being excited and being nervous share a lot of the same physiological responses – sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, anticipation of the future events – and if we tell ourselves that we are excited instead of nervous, it immediately transforms the experience into something positive instead of negative. E.g. instead of “I’m nervous because I don’t think I’m strong enough to run” tell yourself “I am excited to do something that is going to make my mind and body stronger” or instead of “I am nervous of people seeing me running”, think “I am excited to build on my confidence by putting myself out there”.
How is running in London, in such an urbanised part of the country differ from country trails?
What I love about running in London is that you are never too far from a bushy, hilly, muddy park – you’ve just gotta look a bit harder for the trails! I personally like mixing it up between “the streets” and quieter spots like Richmond Park.
I find that the main difference for me is when I am running in central London, in an urban area, it helps me take myself outside of my head and thoughts as there is just so much to look at and take in at once. I quite like that distraction and escape. Running somewhere greener, and quieter is ideal if I need to really think something through and stay inside my head.
Would you recommend any self-help books or podcasts for people who are looking to improve their lives through running?
Absolutely! William Pullen – Run for your Life is amazing at teaching us how to run mindfully, and Your Pace or Mine by Lisa Jackson is a wonderful reminder that we needn’t be great to start, and that there is actually great joy to be had in “running slow”.
I’d like to sign off on finding out what’s your most favoured single piece of advice you could personally give someone who is battling with mental health issues?
This may sound a little bit blunt but just start being honest about what it is you are thinking and feeling. At first with yourself, through journaling perhaps, if telling someone else is too scary. Trust me, it won’t be an easy process – that is why I actually suggest you start small. Then work your way up – tell a friend, then perhaps tell a GP. But it all begins with yourself.
Until you can identify your feelings and be honest with yourself about where you are at, you will have a hard time finding a way to recover that works well for you. Remember that although it is scary, you’re not alone in feeling this overwhelmed by your brain. Many of us experience or have experienced it in the past. There IS a way out.
To keep up to date with Jessica's blog check out: https://runtalkrun.com/
Follow Jessica on Instagram: @jessmaryrobson
If you are suffering from mental health issues, there is always a helping hand not far away.