Can a good run help with post-natal depression?
Exercise, as studies have consistently shown, will definitely help you feel better
I soon learned that it was far more important for me to run now that I was a mother, and to make time and space for it as a priority. Photograph: iStock
Q: I feel like I’ve got post-natal depression (PND) largely because I am unable to go running. There is nothing wrong with me physically, I’m fit to run, but I just can’t do it (too tired, no time, no help). Would going running again cure me of my PND?
A: You’ve not got PND because you are unable to run; if only it were that simple. Please don’t blame it on just running, as it will only make things worse. You’ll think you’ve failed yourself by not running, and, similarly, by putting it up on a pedestal too high, it will end up being a disappointment (I never thought I’d say that). But even though no one thing is going to cure your PND, exercise, as studies have consistently shown, will definitely help you feel better.
When I ran again after having twin sons (I was also suffering from PND) it really lifted my spirits. I think it was for all the obvious reasons: my panicking was silenced by the happy hormones stimulated by running, my ability to fall into a deeper sleep returned (from the physical exertion and exhaustion) and my appetite came back. Those three things combined to massively improve my quality of life. Plus, just being outdoors without the twins gave me a sense of freedom I didn’t get at any other time of the day or night.
It is not easy to carve out the time, space and strength for anything when you have PND, let alone a run, poleaxed as you may be from the sleeplessness and exhaustion. It took me a good six months after the twins were born till I ran again. And I had built up to it by going for long walks with the buggy every day, which I highly recommend you do too.
There is always time for this, even if it’s going to the shops for nappies and just extending the outing for 10 minutes or so. The more fresh air you can get, the better. The walking will build up your fitness and confidence for all that running you’ll be doing soon. And when you feel run-ready, you’ll find your window.
It was my husband who gently encouraged me to go outside for a run one spring evening after he’d got home from work and the babies were down. It seems silly looking back that I didn’t go sooner, but my breathing and heart beat played tricks on me and I had a million “what ifs” snaking in a queue to stall my every move.
Getting back out
It was my own book that saved me. Not the content, but the fact that it was going to be published and there I was feeling weak and vulnerable and not running with a book coming out that was screaming at everyone else to run. Fear of being a hypocrite and of letting everyone down, and a kind husband got me back outside at first.
It was easier to go again once I’d experienced the sheer relief, and the thrill that it was actually possible to do this – even as a mother. I soon learned that it was far more important for me to run now that I was a mother, and to make time and space for it as a priority.
So, finding something to motivate you out there is always half the battle won. I had to trust my husband that a run would help me, and it did. But you can trust yourself Alie. Use that grain of motivation that’s there in your letter to get you going – the idea that running might be at least part of the solution – which it is. Six years on and I’ve never looked back and I’ve never stopped running. I hope I never will.
Ruth Field is author of Run Fat B!tch Run, Get Your Sh!t Together and Cut the Crap.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!