Learning to be comfortably in the moment instead of trying to control my thoughts in order to avoid feelings other than “happiness” has literally changed everything for me. One of the areas I can really see and feel the difference is with my athletic activities: swimming and running.
Before the anxiety started last summer, I’d been swimming regularly with the Masters Swim group at the YMCA in my neighborhood. It was so fun to be coached and learn how to improve my strokes! I’d gradually gained speed and had moved up from the “slow lane” to the next lane over. Suddenly, it wasn’t as much fun as I felt pressure to keep up with the faster swimmers. I started having to bail out of more challenging sets and would agonize about the workout (which was printed on a whiteboard) in anticipation of not being able to keep up the pace. For some reason, a set of repeating 100s was much more intimidating to me than an equal distance of repeating 50s. I was completely over thinking and trying to control how I’d feel during future laps or sets.
Being in the moment makes is so much easier for me to tackle swimming workouts because I’m no longer looking forward and being anxious about an upcoming set. I just swim each lap as it comes. It reminds me of that phrase “staying within yourself.” It’s athletic performance psychology 101.
Similarly with running, if I began a run and didn’t feel strong, I’d start thinking, “I’ll never be able to make it 5 miles!” or whatever distance I’d planned to run. Being “in my head” while running was so normal to me that I’d often run the 5 mile loop around Lake Miramar and realize I’d barely looked out at the water, even once! Now, I enjoy longer runs because I look around, take in the scenery, feel the wind, and am more in touch with my body and my surroundings.
Another change related to running is my choice of music. Previously I’d select a Pandora station that would ensure upbeat songs to motivate me and consciously avoided songs that were too emotional. Green Day, Pink, and AC/DC were my go-to stations. In the last several months, I’ve really enjoyed putting Pandora on Shuffle and just listening to whatever song it plays. It’s fun to be surprised! Plus, I’m now okay with a song that’s slow paced, melancholy, or downright depressing playing while I run. Not being afraid of how a song will impact both my running performance and my emotional state is very freeing. During a run last week, I listened to everything from Bruce Springsteen (which will always remind me of Dennis!) and Sara Barellies to the Rent Soundtrack, Clay Walker, and Eartha Kitt. Then, in the last mile and a half, “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky came on – it couldn’t have been more perfect timing!
Running is actually a great metaphor for emotions. While on a long run, there will be stretches where I feel kind of rotten and wonder how I’ll make it, and then I’ll begin to feel better and stronger. I’ll typically enjoy several moments where I think, “Man, I could run forever!” That cycle may repeat itself once or twice, depending on the run. Emotions are really similar. They’re always changing. This has been such a revelation because I used to feel and act like whatever emotion I currently had would last forever. Being able to push through the crummy feeling during a run is like practice for enduring emotional distress. This experiences also teaches that I shouldn’t become too attached to the euphoric feelings that arise. I can (and should!) enjoy feeling good but running isn’t only worthwhile if it feels good. Whatever the feeling, if I just keep running (or living) my feelings will inevitably change again and again.