Running Anxiety. Thanks Social Media.

This is going to be a blog post of negativity. I thought about not posting it and trying to post something more positive instead. But it is important to be honest and put this out there.

This is a topic I have been pondering for a very long time.  People say that running is great for managing anxiety. It is true for me, running is great for managing anxiety, and I notice a change in my sense of wellbeing if I can’t or don’t run. But running can also be the cause of anxiety, particularly when it come to social media.  A quick Google Scholar search brings back a lot of articles exploring the links between social media and mental health conditions so it wouldn’t surprise me if I eventually found some research touching upon the negative impact of social media relating to exercise.

Running social media definitely gives me anxiety.  Partly feelings of inadequacy and partly fear of missing out. I’m not actually sure which gets me down more. Comparing my performance, commitment to those I see online or comparing my lack of running friends and fun adventures to those I see online.  I’ve always been the person who gets sad because I feel I am rubbish at friendships, so it is probably that aspect of it that I find the most difficult.

Running social media can be a wonderful, motivating and helpful community. Running magazines and websites are full of brilliant, inspiring stories about how social media has made a positive impact for many people. But the constant stream of Strava uploads, Instagram stories and Twitter hashtags is something I find very overwhelming.

Strava goes beyond helpful competitive spirit and makes me feel the need to always be running faster to gain kudos, to get more cups and crowns.  Twitter has become an overwhleming stream of non-stop showing off. #ukrunchat used to be nice place for a little chat about running but that hashtag gets a scary amount of tweets that it is impossible to keep up or connect with anyone. Instagram is the cliquey place for the cool kids as well as a breeding ground for the wannabe motivational coaches. Don’t look at all the Instagram hashtags unless you want to feel miserable about your own life.

I started to ask myself why I wasn’t committed enough to run everyday or get up at 5am to stick to the training plan. I started to ask myself if I was a dedicated enough runner when I wasn’t earning medals at the same rate as all the #medalmonday tweeters. Everyone else is running faster, doing more sessions, eating better than me. Am I doing it wrong? Am I a real runner?

All of the above is a good example of the impact running social media has when I let the negative thoughts seep into my mind. It’s not a positive experience for me. It is more often a negative one.

I’m all for sharing achievements whether it be completing a race or dragging yourself out for a run when you really don’t want to go. I’m guilty of spamming Instagram with photographs of the views from my run or a photo of a pair of trainers. But I don’t do it every time I go out for a run or to the gym.  Personally I really don’t want to watch another Instagram Story or Twitter post where someone shares a shaky video of the pavement as they go for a run. It is too much. Too overwhelming. It leads to those feelings of inadequacy. The little voice in your head telling you aren’t good enough because you aren’t doing what they are doing.

So I’m going to try my best to not get sucked into all the hashtags, Strava uploads and Instagram stories. I’m going to try to be positive and enjoy the moment that I’m in rather than worry about not being good enough. Step back from the social media circus and focus on the interactions that make me happy. Surround myself with the good, interesting people that I want to connect with. Spend less time looking at influencer posts. Filter out the endless product promotion, discount codes and people trying to sell me things that I don’t need.

If the buzz of running social media works for you then great, keep going. But if it doesn’t then remember you can always step back from it. That said, I don’t think I’m ready to go Strava free just yet…

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