Managing Madness

I tell anyone who will listen that my last two New Year’s resolutions have been quitting running.

I started forty years ago as a new teenager. Since then, I’ve run to manage, process, and think about my experiences as well as the world and myself later as an ungrad, then grad student, newlywed, parent, and now empty-nester confronting retirement choices.

I’ve been quitting for at last a decade, and have more or less reduced the number of running days to three, which my wife agrees disqualifies me as a runner. Still, I’m drawn to its efficient effects even as I’m well aware of its costs to not only my knees, back, ankles, and feet but also my inner pace, which is even harder for someone who is ADHD-adjacent.

So I was surprised, and relieved, to learn that running might be less effective, and could even be counterproductive, as a mental health strategy.

Researchers report that their meta-analysis of 154 other studies, which amounted to a 10,186 subject sample size, challenges common anger-management recommendations. Such strategies, such as running or punching a bag, seem to increase physiological arousal, which has a “profound impact on anger and aggression,” while others that decrease such arousal, such as deep breathing or meditation, are more effective for individuals and groups across different settings.

Their explanation about running at least based upon my experience seems less plausible. These researchers specifically suggest that the repetition of running could “induce feelings of monotony and frustration,” which rather than alleviating anger might exacerbate it. Regardless, their conclusion seems right.

I also learned from this report that venting, or expressing anger, is similarly ineffective, and could also increase aggression. This strategy, which could prove harder to unlearn, might very well be my next New Year’s resolution assuming of course that this year is the one I finally quit running.


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