Running to escape stress may not be good for your mental health

Recreational running offers many benefits for physical and mental healthbut some people can develop exercise dependence, a form of addiction to physical activity that can cause health problems. Surprisingly, signs of exercise dependency are common even in recreational runners. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology investigated whether the concept of escapism can help us understand the relationship between running, well-being, and exercise dependence.

“Escapeism is an everyday phenomenon among humans, but little is known about its motivational underpinnings, how it affects experiences, and psychological outcomes,” said the Dr Frode Stenseng from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, lead author of the article.

Shoelaces are common among athletes

Running to explore or to evade?

Escapism is often defined as ‘an activity, a form of entertainment, etc. that helps you avoid or forget unpleasant or boring things’. In other words, many of our everyday activities can be construed as escapism,” Stenseng said. “The psychological reward of escapism is decreased self-awareness, less rumination, and relief from the most pressing or stressful thoughts and emotions.”

Escapism can act as a distraction from the issues that need to be addressed

Escapism can restore perspective or it can act as a distraction from the issues that need to be addressed. Escapism that is adaptive, seeking positive experiences, is known as self-expansion. Meanwhile, maladaptive escapism—avoiding negative experiences—is called self-suppression. Indeed, running as an exploration or as an evasion.

“These two forms of escapism stem from two different mindsets, to promote a positive mood or prevent a negative mood,” Stenseng said.

Escapist activities used for self-expansion have more positive effects but also more long-term benefits. Self-suppression, by contrast, tends to suppress both positive and negative feelings and leads to avoidance.

The team recruited 227 recreational runners, half men and half women, with widely varying running practices. They were asked to complete questionnaires that investigated three different aspects of the escapism and exercise dependence: an escapism scale measuring preference for self-expansion or self-suppression, an exercise dependency scale, and a life satisfaction scale designed to measure participant satisfaction. subjective well-being.

Self-expansion was positively related to well-being, while self-suppression was negatively related to well-being.

The scientists found that there was very little overlap between runners who favored self-expansion and runners who preferred self-suppressing escape modes. self expansion was positively related to well-being, while the self suppression was negatively related to well-being. Both self-suppression and self-expansion were linked to exercise dependence, but self-suppression was much more closely linked to it.

Neither mode of escapism was related to age, gender, or the amount of time a person spent running, but both affected the relationship between well-being and exercise dependence. Whether or not a person meets the criteria for exercise dependence, preference for self-expansion would still be linked to a more positive sense of their own well-being.

Alvaro Juesas Torres

While exercise dependence corrodes potential well-being gains from exercise, it appears that perceived decreased well-being may be both a cause and a result of exercise dependence: dependence could be driven by decreased well-being as well as promoted.

Similarly, experiencing positive self-expansion could be a psychological motive promoting exercise dependence.

“Further studies using longitudinal research designs are needed to unravel more motivational dynamics and outcomes in escapism,” said Stenseng who added, “But these findings may enlighten people to understand their own motivation and be used for therapeutic reasons to people who struggle with maladaptive engagement in their activity.

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