Do you run to escape everyday stresses? It can backfire, according to new study

Do you run to escape everyday stresses? It can backfire, according to new study


Running can be an emotional outlet for many of us, but now, a study warns that relying on it too heavily to de-stress may actually be detrimental to our health.

The research, published in Frontiers in Psychology investigated the relationship between running, wellbeing, and exercise dependence.

The latter is a form of addiction to physical activity, which can cause health issues. What’s really concerning is that the tell-tale signs of this dependence are common in recreational runners.

In a nutshell, the study found that using running to escape from negative experiences may result in becoming exercise-dependent. However, some forms of escapism are positive.

So, how can you tell whether you’re hitting the pavement for the right reasons?

The two different forms of escapism that motivate runners

To put it bluntly, you either run as exploration or evasion. The study noted these as types of positive or negative escapism.

Escapism is essentially providing yourself with an outlet to distract yourself.
Maladaptive escapism is where the individual avoids negative experiences. This is also called self-suppression.

But escapism can also be adaptive, which involves seeking out positive experiences. This is referred to as self-expansion.

‘These two forms of escapism are stemming from two different mindsets, to promote a positive mood, or prevent a negative mood,’ the study authors said.

The paper added: ‘Escapism may either be nourishing for one’s subjective wellbeing, or a threat to it, depending on which motivational mindset the escapism behaviour reflects.’

Self-suppression leading to exercise dependence

The study recruited 227 recreational runners, with a nearly even split of men and women, with different running habits.

They filled out an escapism scale to determine their leaning towards self-expansion or self-suppression, an exercise dependence scale, and a satisfaction with life scale designed to get an idea of their general wellbeing.

The study found barely any overlap between runners who ran for self-expansion and runners who ran for self-suppression modes of escapism.

Unsurprisingly, those who ran for self-suppression had a much stronger correlation with exercise dependence, while self-expansion runners had a positive relation to wellbeing.

A persons chosen escapism mode wasn’t linked to their age, gender, or amount of time they spent running, but both impacted wellbeing and exercise dependence.

Whether or not a person was considered exercise dependent, a preference for self-expansion was still linked to a more positive sense of their own wellbeing.

A lower wellbeing was found to be both a cause and an outcome of exercise dependency.

So, the next time you’re running to indulge in some escapism, ask yourself if it’s a positive, enriching day dream – or if you’re really just running away from your problems.

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