It's perhaps during the menopausal years that we come to appreciate one of the true gifts of running; a smoother ride through the hormonal chaos towards the finish line!

You’re coming down the stairs and miss your footing. There’s a bolt of panic, your heart leaps into your mouth and you cry out. An intense feeling of dread washes over you as your brain figures out what could have happened, what a total disaster it could have been. Hold that feeling.

That’s how anxiety feels.

When you stumble, your heart rate and breathing gradually return to normal once your brain acknowledges that the danger has passed. With anxiety it just doesn’t go away. It’s a constant and unrelenting dread, a thumping heart and rapid breathing.

Until I was in my late forties I’d have said that anxiety was the knot of worry experienced in the hours before an exam, at news of a family members misfortune or when facing difficult life experiences. It was normal, rational. It put you on high alert ready to respond and raise your game if needed.

And then menopause hit. And I mean ‘hit’. If you’re not there yet, don’t be fooled. Menopause is not delivered in a gentle, slow drip feed. It slams into you like a freight train.

For me the biggest symptoms have been dryness (so LOTS of itching and chafing), crushing fatigue and-the one that really floored me-anxiety. Twenty four hours a day I walked around with a vice-like tightness in my chest, a thumping heart and a conviction that there was a hand clamped around my throat. It went on for so long I accepted it as my new norm. One day I was in the mall and had a panic attack. Everything began to spin and getting any air into my lungs felt impossible. I sat down, knowing I had to control the panic. I remembered something one of my daughters had said:

“Mum, if you ever feel panicked, focus on something you can see, something you can hear and something you can smell”. 

The first thing I was aware of was the waft of donuts from the Krispy Creme stall nearby... then I focused on listening and could hear a sales lady nearby giving a talk about vitamins. I concentrated hard on her every word. She must have thought I was going to buy the lot! I sat and watched a baby eating...anything to take the focus off me. Slowly, my breathing and heart rate returned to normal...

I left the mall exhausted and called the doctor. Twenty minutes later I was in her office. She was appalled when she asked if I ever experienced chest and throat tightness and I said “All the time. Why? Doesn’t everyone..?”

And this is when I learned that anxiety and panic attacks are very common during the menopause. I thought I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about the menopause yet I HAD NO IDEA!!

The good news is that as I’ve learnt more about anxiety, I’ve also learnt how to manage it.

Running is my therapy. It’s my calming device. When I run my brain somehow grabs holds of the mental chaos constantly spooling within, gives it a good shake and everything – all those insurmountable problems - suddenly seem less catastrophic. It’s not that my worries go away, but I just know I’ll handle it all. The knot of anxiety loosens.

Here’s how it works for me.

With my chest in a vice-like grip and heart thumping, I lace up my trainers and head for the door. At the very first opportunity, I break into a gentle jog (no time for a warm up for me – I’m too desperate). For the first 10 minutes I force myself to notice everything around me; the trees, the flowers, the sights.

Rather than let my ragged gasps for breath consume my thoughts, I’m forced to control my breathing and now it’s completely natural that my heart is pumping faster and I realise it’s not such a terrifying sensation after all.

Within 15 minutes, I can feel my muscle tension evaporating – it’s hits me like an actual physical release – whomp! I visualise a flame burning in my body and burning off excess adrenaline and other stress hormones that drive anxiety. Relief floods in – and it is a flood - so much so that I’ve been known to cry.

Now I’m ready to mull over my worries. Are you surprised? Maybe you thought the whole point of my run was to forget about them? No. The true therapeutic effect for me comes from confronting the emotions I’ve been frantically burying and facing my fears head on.

There are recognised ways to manage catastrophic thinking and my tendency to think this way is so ingrained that I can only manage it when I’m out running.

I ask myself:

What is the worry?

I make a mental list of things I can I do about it - Sometimes, so many solutions will flood my mind that I have to wrestle my phone from my waist bag and quickly make a couple of one word reminders or speak into the audio app so I won’t forget.

I choose one

I’ll do that

Often my realisation is that there’s nothing I can do about my worry and that’s when my solution will be to learn to let things be.

For every worry under the sun, there is a remedy or there is none. If there is one, hurry and find it. If there be none, then never mind it. - LeGrand Richards

My worries never go away but when I’m running somehow I’m able to process them differently. Running allows me to take a step back and loosens the grip. I’ll start my run weighed down with all these negative thoughts roaring in my head, and after a mile or two, they’re merely squeaking like mice.

Some days are harder than others, but I’ve accepted my anxiety. It no longer controls me. Running hits the reset button.

written by
portrait

Karen Guttridge

Small business owner from Ringwood

Age group: 60-64

My Disciplines
10 KM Strength training Ultra marathon Ultra trail run

More blogs