“You’re an overachiever.”
“You are too much of a perfectionist.”
“You need to learn how to relax.”
For as long as I can remember, people in all different areas of my life have uttered those phrases to me, often repeatedly. From a young age, I had a desire and a motivation to succeed, sometimes to a fault. I constantly look for better and more efficient ways to do things, and all someone needs to say to me is, “There is no way you can do that” for me to respond with, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”
This inner voice telling me to keep going is not without its perks. In my undergraduate career, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA while managing a full-time job, two internships, and holding office positions in four different groups on campus. In my Masters Degree program, I also graduated with a 4.0 while balancing a full-time job, full time course load, full time internship, buying a house, and getting married. All great things, right? Well, not always. The honest truth is, I didn’t really know how to slow down or how to relax. We live in a society that rewards hard work, success, and being able to achieve more. However, this can have an extremely negative impact on your health and your life. I was not exempt from that. I pushed myself so much that my body’s gauge for stress became skewed. Whereas most individual’s body’s start giving them physical cues that they are too stressed, I pushed through mine so much that my body just stopped doing it until I would hit breaking points. Even so, it was almost impossible for me to stop. Checking things off a list feels embarrassingly rewarding, and accomplishing things would in some odd way relax me. However, the physical toll was starting to show, and something needed to give.
Enter running. I firmly believe running saved my life. For 10 years I played soccer and ran all the time. I loved it. When I went to college, my busy schedule left little time for it, so I stopped playing and consequently stopped running as well. After finishing school in December 2015, I decided my New Year’s Resolution would be to take better care of myself, and running made the cut. I started out slowly, running outside one mile three days a week. Over the next year, I slowly increased the distance and days to where I am now running five miles four days a week.
I honestly have never felt better. When I run, my mind stops. My thoughts, anxieties, to-do lists, and everything turn off. After the second or third mile, my heart rate steadies and my breathing stays slow and even, and all I can hear is the music playing in my ears. After I’m done, I stretch and do my cool down walk, and can actually sit and read a book or watch a show and just relax. This may sound easy to some, but for me, it is a huge accomplishment.
In the past 12 months, I’ve noticed so many positive changes. I have more energy, I’m sleeping better, I’m less anxious and irritable, and I just feel better. At the beginning of the month, I ran my first 10k with my mom, and this past weekend I ran my first 5k with my husband. Those accomplishments felt so great because they represented so much more than running 6.2 and 3.1 miles. They represented my journey to focusing more on my health and enjoying life.
This past year has been full of transitions that at another point in my life may have caused me so much more stress and sent my overachieving mind into overdrive. However, I look back at how I’ve grown and handled these moments, and I’m so thankful I found a way to slow down. Although I love to see that I’m running more days a week and farther distances, this one thing in my life is not competitive. It’s not about how much better I can get or how much farther I can run. It’s all about slowing down, taking everything in, and looking forward to the next time my feet can hit the pavement.
With the first month of this new year almost behind us, it seems like the perfect opportunity for anyone to take a step back, re-evaluate where you are in life, and make changes. The changes don’t have to be drastic; they can be small changes that happen slowly over time. You might not realize it right away, but when you look back at who you used to be and where you are now, you’ll be amazed at what a difference those small changes can make.