6 Ways to Have a Stress-Free Run

Woman running on wooden path
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Running can be the perfect distraction and an incredible release during stressful times. And the endorphins your body secrets during running can give your mood a natural boost. But simply going for a run may not be enough to relieve your frustrations. If the setting is off or you're not in the right frame of mind, it could make you feel even more stressed. Here are some ways to make sure your run is a stress-busting one:

1. Choose the right route. You can’t beat the convenience of heading out your door to start your run, but finding a tranquil route may take a bit more effort. Rather than dodging cars and having to stop at red lights, look for a car-free running path or trail with relaxing sights, scents, and sounds. (Hint: You usually can’t go wrong with running near a body of water.) Running on a car-free path will also give you the benefit of avoiding drivers yelling obnoxious or harassing comments as they pass you.

2. Avoid unnecessary tension. When we’re stressed, we tend to hold that stress in our hands and shoulders. I see lots of runners clenching their fists in a determined way, which can lead to tension in the rest of your arm and up to your shoulders and neck. This unnecessary tension can throw off your running form and lead to pain in your shoulders, neck, and lower back. 

Rather than clenching your fists, keep your hands in a loose fist, almost like you’re holding a potato chip and don’t want to break it. This will help keep your entire upper body relaxed and also allow you to breathe much more efficiently.

3. Breathe properly. If your breathing is too shallow, you’re not going to feel relaxed, and you may get an annoying side stitch. To get the maximum amount of oxygen, breathe in through your mouth and nose, and out through your mouth. Focus on taking deep belly breaths. You should feel your abdomen expanding, rather than your upper chest. If you feel like your breathing is getting too shallow or out of control, slow your pace.

4. Don't run with annoying people. Running with others who have annoying habits – such as complaining, bragging incessantly, dominating the conversation, or running with loose change – can make an otherwise tranquil run a stressful experience. Although I do enjoy the camaraderie of running with a group, I often find my most peaceful and stress-relieving runs are the ones I do alone.

5. Don't try to break any records. If you head out for a run with really high expectations for how far or fast you should run and you fall short, you may feel more stressed-out at the end than when you started. Try not to turn every run into a gold medal performance. During one or two runs a week, don’t worry about your pace or distance. Just take it easy, let your mind wander, and relax.

6. Smile.  Smiling activates your endorphins, and it's really tough to feel stressed when you're smiling. If you feel strange just smiling at nothing, save your happy face for when you see someone along your route. Being a friendly runner or encountering one can usually snap me out of any foul mood I may be in.

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