How running can become your next coping mechanism

This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of CONNECT.

Monica Hand (Ehime) 


Dealing with the daily challenges that come with moving or living in a foreign country can weigh heavily on the mind and body. While I have always enjoyed going to a gym, my relationship with outdoor running changed dramatically after I moved to Japan. The first few months or so, I was overthinking, having trouble sleeping, and feeling insecure. Then, my friend suggested I go for a run since the weather was nice. 


Turns out, after a long day of being confused in most conversations or feeling a tad foolish in the classroom, a good 30 minutes or so outside sweating is just what I needed to quiet my mind and feel refreshed. Of course, this shouldn’t have been a surprise considering all the research behind running and exercise, but I had never considered running would be my “thing” while living abroad.  


So, how did I make the ever-dreaded run my best friend? It wasn’t always easy, and it was often pretty awful. But I made a list of four tricks I picked up for when I need to convince myself to get out and enjoy the run. 


1. Start with Small Goals


Every time I went on a run, especially on days I’d rather have been in bed, I’d give myself the goal of 10 minutes. In these 10 minutes, I was not allowed to stop or change my pace dramatically. And when that ten minutes was over, I realized it wasn’t that bad, or at least that it could have been worse. Then, once I got used to running those 10 minutes, I started following it up with another 10. 


Your small goal can be anything! Running to a specific landmark on your course without stopping, running to the end of your favorite song, anything! And if at first it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try something new. 


2. Strategically Incentivize 


Another trick I use when I am questioning this sadistic practice is promising myself a little treat of some kind. Sometimes it’s an actual treat like some snack from the convenience store, but more often than not it is that the next day will be a rest day without exercise.

Maybe that sounds counter-intuitive, but it works for me and my usual lethargy. Remember, this list isn’t about how to get into the best shape of your life; it’s just about how to convince yourself to go run and improve your mental health. 


Whatever your prize is, make sure you remind yourself how much you deserve it. Even if the run didn’t go smoothly, it is important to recognize the effort you are putting into yourself. 


3. Find the Time


By this I don’t mean you need to be clearing your schedule for a run. What I mean is that you have to find a time that works with your schedule. I tried the early-morning run, midday run, evening run, and everything in between. Some just did not work for me. As much as I wish I could be a morning runner, I have a much better time in the late evening. 


Everyone works differently, and everyone’s schedules are cluttered. Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t go for an hour-long run every day. If you can fit a 20-minute block of outdoor time, then go for it. Finding the time to run shouldn’t be a thing to add to your stressful to-do list. 


4. Switch Up Your Routes


For a long time, I was stuck in a rut of just going around the same few blocks near my apartment. While this is a handy route when I am short for time, I have started going farther away for my outdoor runs to change things up and make it feel more like I am exploring. 


For me, I have three or four solid courses of varying length that I choose from based on time and desired workout. One course I somewhat lovingly call “The StairMaster” because I have it going up and down a lot of the staircases for crossing intersections. This is a great one when I don’t want to deal with a leg day at the gym or just need an extra kick in the butt (literally). 


But I also have routes I do when I feel lazy and just want something quick or when I need an extra serotonin boost and want a nicer view. Don’t underestimate the power of a nice view, because even if you just walk the route, the view can help lift you out of a funk. A scenic run can be a great incentive. 


Though these tricks may not be what makes running click for you, I hope it helps as you run through the challenges. Don’t be afraid to try new tricks, and always remember there is no bad run. 


Feature image photo credit: lucas Favre on Unsplash


Monica is a second-year ALT based on the rural and lush Shikoku island. She loves rocky shore lines, salty popcorn, and a juicy plot twist.