At the root of all addiction is stress: about a failed relationship, favorite team not performing well, stress about losing an intense Catan tournament in your board gaming group - whatever the reason for your mental stress is, however legitimate or childish it might sound, it is going to be a part of your life until you decide to do something about it. Some people prefer talking about it; some prefer bottling away feelings and immersing themselves in other facets of life like their jobs, religion, travel, or the oldest trick in the book - literally looking for the solution to the problem at the bottom of the bottle. Others have a more conventional way of dealing with pain, like channeling it into some kind of physical activity.
As a child, I always had a liking for sports but never excelled in any particular one. I had a knack of picking up sports quickly—whether it was cricket, football, athletics, swimming, or tennis— but would eventually get bored of them and then try something new. Seven years ago, I decided to start running; I haven't stopped since (figuratively). I realized sooner rather than later that doing something productive seemed to be a better idea in the long term rather than bottling up feelings inside. After shedding a few pounds and achieving a few medals along the way, I find myself at a rather precarious point in my life - I am addicted to running.
Now to destress after a particularly long week at work, I would rather go for a run than go to the local watering hole and drink my problems away. What was once a simple stressbuster or a way to blow off some steam has now become an integral part of my life; an added bonus is that this physical activity is particularly healthy! Moreover, endurance running has several health benefits. Specifically, it has shown positive impact not only the psychological health but also changes in the neurological wirings of the brain. There are some studies which show the relationship between interval running and improved cognitive functioning among young adults. Running has become a lifestyle for not only me, but also for many other Indians. Though there are no authentic research studies available, but India Running - a platform that records registrations for running events - has statistics which mentions that running events have gone up to 700 in 2016 compared to 385 in 2015.
Besides what the studies have mentioned, sport in general teaches you dedication and discipline. When played with enough dedication, any sport will bring out the competitor in you. So, if I lose a game of football with my friends, I am visibly livid for the rest of the week – till the next game so that I can make it right. It is what drives you to be better the next time you take the field. There is obviously a fine line between playing fair and being over competitive and it helps to not lose sight of the fact that you derive a certain sense of happiness and pleasure by playing sports. If you become addicted to something that you resent then you may start behaving counterproductively. To enhance the runs and not allow the emotions to take control over you, psychologists have suggested some techniques and rituals that can be helpful for endurance runners. Maintaining a log book for recording runs as well as our thoughts about the runs is helpful in the long “run.” Besides this it is good to practice some form of relaxation and race visualisation before any important running event.
Sure everybody would love a day of lazing around the house watching their favourite TV series with a few beers but runners like me prefer the runner’s high, with endorphins surging through our system. What really scares me is the possibility of getting a career-threatening injury whilst playing another sport which could seriously jeopardize my participation in future marathons.
Sports, in particular running, has helped me channelize my emotions in a positive way, got out the athlete in me, and has also developed discipline in my lifestyle. Many talk about meditation to release anger, but for me running is my meditation and my medication!
Gautam Swaminathan is an endurance runner, having participated in several marathons over the last few years. Varadayini Chitale is a sports psychologist and professor based in Pune.