Running. Is. Not. Therapy.

If there’s one phrase that drives me crazier than any other (oh jk, it’s so hard to narrow them down, but for the purposes of this blog…), it’s this one:

Running Is (Not) Therapy

Can you achieve mental clarity on a run? Sure.

Can you distract yourself from your problems for a bit? Which also, by the way, is totally valid. Yes.

Can you gain confidence by pushing yourself to do things you never thought you could? Totally.

But running is not the same as sitting down and talking through your problems (including when those problems are created by your brain, not your real life) and finding solutions.

I’ve gotten laid off twice. Both of those summers, I was training for marathons. Running didn’t help me find a job (OK, maybe totally indirectly but that’s really more the blog than running); running didn’t help with my feelings of professional inadequacy and doom that I’d never find a job.

I was training for a marathon during my first serious bout with anxiety. Running didn’t solve what was making me feel anxious and overwhelmed (and honestly, probably, at the time was contributing to some of the anxiety.)

Running won’t cure my mom’s cancer, but if it would, I would run for as long as I could.

Running won’t find me a boyfriend (or will it???) or get me a raise at work

But running sure as hell will give me a rush of endorphins, or at the least, make me feel not quite as bad.

Running gives me the power of knowing that if I run first thing in the morning, no matter what else happens that day, I ran. I did something for myself that I enjoy and I didn’t have to wait all day for the highlight of my day.

Running gives me a healthy way to be social, killing two birds with one stone.

As someone who’s dealt with mental health issues and believes fiercely in talking about it and shattering the stigma, I just fear that “running is therapy” or “running is cheaper than therapy” sends a message that therapy is not OK. Someone who might be on the fence and hear someone else boast that they don’t need it could feel that they’re weak if they need/want therapy, and it’s the opposite of that, since it takes strengths to admit to your faults and problems.


Some mental health resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (it’s important to note they also have online chat)

NYC Well Offers free, short-term counseling/peer support and assistance in finding other mental health services (also includes text/online chat)

Psychology Today Find a Therapist You can search by insurance, issues, modality of therapy (I’ve personally always done CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy because it’s very solutions-oriented, and, New Yorker here.)

Here’s amazing crowd-sourced Google Doc of therapists in NYC/Chicago/SF

And of course, you can always check through your health insurance, or many employers have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to help you find/access the services.

13 comments on “Running. Is. Not. Therapy.

  1. Allie

    I was literally just writing a post that included how I need a hell of a lot more than a run as my “therapy!” Obviously I could not agree with you more and although running definitely helps with my anxiety, I could not get through some of the related issues by running alone!
    Love this 🙂

  2. Hilary

    I think you posted a similar sentiment a while ago that I really liked that “running is therapeutic but it’s not therapy”. Thanks for your candidness on this topic, it’s really helpful.

  3. Maeve

    Thank you for this post! I also struggle with anxiety and exercise helps, but it is not the whole answer. As a long time reader, I am always rooting for you (and your mom!!)

  4. Tracy

    This is so important. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for sharing this.

    It’s so important to break the stigma behind Mental Health.

  5. Lauren

    I really appreciate this post. I feel that in the past I’ve said that running is like therapy-in the sense that sometimes it’s a way for me to think through things, deal with emotions or thoughts. It is important to not perpetuate the stigma of mental health OR send a message that people don’t need/won’t benefit from actual therapy. Unfortunately running doesn’t solve everything. Kudos.

  6. Aimee

    I know what you mean. The problems are always there unless you deal with them. The running does not make them go away, but sometimes I am able to get a clear head and see a different perspective or come up with a way to address them when I was afraid to (which is much of the time when the problems seem too big to handle). Thanks for this post. It reminds me that I need to get back out there to be good to myself and I know that will help what I’m dealing with right now.

  7. Shirisha Shilajit

    I started running every morning 6 months ago.
    I really hate to do it before, because the process was difficult for me.
    But now every my morning starts with running, it braces me up.

  8. Michael Anderson

    Thanks for highlighting this on Twitter today, it is a great and important post. My wife has occasionally been in therapy since the 80s, and both my kids deal with different types/degrees of anxiety & depression and their therapy is a critical tool.

    I am fortunate that I haven’t dealt with depression or anxiety, and that for me running works great to clear my head, think through work problems, and keep me healthy. But it is no replacement for actual therapy or anything else.


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