This article gives a practical example of the addiction to running and delves into the causes, solutions, consequences, and therapies related to not being able to stop running.
Alex has a problem: he is addicted to running. “Whether my family likes it or not, I have to go running,” he says. “It’s part of who I am”. What used to be careers three days a week have become 10 sessions every seven days. When something comes up that prevents him from exercising, Alex is irritable and he feels overwhelmed with guilt. He went from practicing sports as a healthy activity to abusing his own physique. His body is shattered and, although he is mentally and physically exhausted, he does not stop running.
The benefits that physical and mental health brings to a light pace are indisputable. However, runners may fall into the error of making a healthy habit harmful. This is precisely what happens to long distance runners, who by increasing the hardness of their training reduce their competitive level. That is, they risk transforming the perseverance of “I want to run” into an insane pressure and excess expressed in the terms “I have to run”.
This is how the change
Suppose you start running because you want to get in shape and put on the right weight. He tries and likes it, so he continues to go out on the streets. A month later, he realizes that his clothes fit much better, his friends comment on how good he looks lately and his fellow passengers praise his technical progress and speed. It is not for less since it has improved his mark. It is reaching the goals it had set, exceeds the others and, if that were not enough, running produces a rush.
Even so, it is not enough for you. Running five kilometers does not produce the same euphoric effect, so it increases the circuit to 10 kilometers. He no longer has time to eat and chat with his classmates for having doubled the load of exercise, but it does not matter. Everyone around you keeps telling you how good it looks, and you are getting faster and feel the glory. That is when the snowball gets bigger and it is suggested that if you can with 10 kilometers, why not prepare a half marathon?
The situation involves a danger: your confidence is beginning to depend on running. It is something that defines you. And, if he does not run, who are you? If you reduce the requirement of your workouts or forget them, everything you are living and experiencing will disappear. People admire him for going out for a run, and his self-worth is also based on that. Therefore, he has no choice but to keep running to maintain his perception of himself. It makes sense to you: the more you run, the better you feel, the more socially accepted you have, and the more you increase your self-esteem. He ends up forging an unquestionable conviction: “If I do not keep running, I will become a nobody”.
The research that has been carried out indicates that people who clearly identify with an athlete profile (among which runners are included) and those whose physique generates anxiety are more likely to create dependence on exercise. Our work as sports and exercise psychologists usually allows us to meet people consumed by their athletic identity who have come to the conclusion that their success as athletes reflects their personal worth. That is, if I am successful as an athlete, I am valuable. If I do not have it, I’m useless. I have to succeed because my self-esteem is in the wire.
The runners do not have assured success, so they place themselves in situations in which they start with a disadvantage. The study that we have developed shows that people whose self-esteem depends on the success or their achievements are prone to enjoy a reduced psychological well-being.
Propositions that begin with “I have to …” and “would not be worth anything if I did not …” are considered illogical in some psychological therapies, especially in rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), which is used frequently in sport and exercise. The evidence that we have shows that people who have this lack of logic are more likely to develop different types of dependencies, such as alcoholism, Internet addiction and exercise addiction. In addition, although these beliefs away from common sense may seem motivational, they entail considerable physical and emotional exhaustion.
Our work with athletes (especially long-distance athletes ) who have undergone TREC demonstrates that by encouraging the application of logic in their objectives a healthier motivation and an increase in resilience are achieved. In this way, athletes are able to achieve the goals they set for themselves and reduce the level of anxiety in their relationship habits.
This process implies the need to understand the illogical beliefs deeply rooted in some people to make such convictions disappear while helping patients to develop rational alternatives. So, “I have to …” and “it would not be worth anything if I did not …” become “I want, but I do not have to …” and “if I did not, I would be disappointed, but I would not feel that I’m not worth anything”.
Our work with elite athletes shows that when facing obstacles, such as injuries, logical beliefs generate useful actions and emotions to achieve their objectives.
At this point, if you think you are at risk of developing a detrimental relationship with running, remember that running is just a choice. Not reaching a goal or missing a training session can make you feel bad, but it’s not that bad either. Also be clear that your achievements as a runner do not define you: you are more than that, so separate your self-esteem from your actions. Being a good runner does not make him a better person, in the same way, that being a bad runner does not influence his human quality.
This article was originally published in The Conversation.