Running to Escape Daily Stress Can Backfire, New Study Shows

Different types of escape can motivate people to participate in running, but using running to escape negative experiences rather than using it to escape positive experiences can lead to exercise addiction.

Recreational running offers many physical and mental health benefits, but some people can develop exercise addiction, a form of addiction to physical activity that can lead to health problems. Surprisingly, signs of exercise addiction are common even among recreational runners. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology investigated whether the concept of escape can help us understand the relationship between running, well-being, and exercise addiction.

“Escapism is an everyday occurrence in humans, but little is known about its motivational underpinnings, how it affects experiences and the resulting psychological outcomes,” said Dr Frode Stenseng of Norwegian University of science and technology, main author of the article.

Running to explore or to escape?

“Escapism is often defined as ‘an activity, form of entertainment, etc. which makes it possible to avoid or forget unpleasant or boring things’. In other words, many of our daily activities can be interpreted as escapism,” Stenseng said. “The psychological reward of escape is reduced self-awareness, less rumination, and relief from the most pressing or stressful thoughts and emotions.”

Escape can restore perspective, or it can act as a distraction from issues that need to be resolved. Adaptive escapism, in search of positive experiences, is called self-expansion. Meanwhile, maladaptive escape, avoiding negative experiences, is called self-suppression. Effectively, running as exploration or as escape.

“These two forms of escapism stem from two different states of mind, to promote a positive mood or prevent a negative mood,” Stenseng said.

Escape activities used for self-expansion have more positive effects but also longer-term benefits. Self-suppression, on the other hand, tends to suppress positive feelings as well as negative feelings and lead to avoidance.

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Self-suppression associated with exercise addiction

The team recruited 227 recreational runners, half men, half women, with a wide variety of running practices. They were asked to complete questionnaires that investigated three different aspects of escape and exercise addiction: an escape scale that measured preference for self-expansion or self-suppression, a dependence on exercise and a life satisfaction scale designed to measure participant satisfaction. subjective well-being.

The scientists found that there was very little overlap between runners who favored self-expansion and runners who preferred self-suppression escape modes. Self-expansion was positively related to well-being, while self-suppression was negatively related to well-being. Both self-suppression and self-expansion were related to exercise addiction, but self-suppression was much more strongly related to it. Neither escape mode was related to age, gender, or the amount of time a person spent running, but both affected the relationship between well-being and exercise addiction. Whether or not a person meets the criteria for exercise addiction, a preference for personal growth would always be linked to a more positive sense of their own well-being.

Although exercise addiction corrodes the potential well-being gains from exercise, it appears that perceived lower well-being may be both a cause and a result of exercise addiction. : addiction could be motivated by a lower well-being while promoting it.
Similarly, the experience of positive self-expansion could be a psychological motive that promotes exercise addiction.

“More studies using longitudinal research designs are needed to further disentangle motivational dynamics and escape outcomes,” Stenseng said. “But these findings can enlighten people in understanding their own motivation and be used therapeutically for individuals who struggle to have maladaptive engagement in their activity.”

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