Even when it comes to self-care, be mindful not to try to use running to stifle your anger or more broadly not feel your feelings. Feeling unbridled rage right now is an incredibly valid reaction to many current events in this country, and it’s important to process that anger instead of ignoring it. Studies have shown a strong correlation between anger and anxiety, and unresolved anger can cause physical symptoms like digestion problems, headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
“This might sound a little corny, but you have to develop an intimate relationship with your anger,” Mitch Abrams, Psy.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Rutgers University and author of Anger Management in Sport, tells SELF. “Too many people are scared or ashamed of their anger, which is why they don’t handle it.”
Thanks to endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters that cause the runner’s high, running can lift your mood and help you feel more equipped to confront your anger, even if only for a bit. It may also help you focus on what you can control, which mental health experts say is key for making it through uncertain, anxiety-producing times.
But these positive effects won’t necessarily happen all the time post-run, Petruzzelli warns—and, again, they likely won’t be a magical cure for every terrible thing you may be feeling right now. You’ll probably have to take other steps to try to process negative emotions like anger.
“If we cannot process what is triggering the rage, then it will only fester,” Petruzzelli says. “No amount of running can alleviate that.”
Journaling after running or physical activity—writing out your feelings on paper or digitally—is Petruzzelli’s go-to for athletes dealing with intense emotions. “Try to identify the emotion under the anger,” she says. “Is it stress? A feeling of loss of control? Then ask yourself: ‘What triggered me? What are the options to deal with the problem? What are some effective steps I can take?’” She also advises talking it out with someone like a friend.
Remember, even the best listeners do not take the place of a trained therapist, counselor, or doctor. If you feel tense, nervous, unable to relax, overwhelmed, or regularly notice a pattern of rage for more than a week, Petruzzelli recommends seeking professional help or mental health support. That might sound like a very low bar for seeking support—so many of us have been cycling through those emotions for much longer than a week—but that’s the point. A lot of us could use mental health support at this time in a way that rage runs can’t deliver. More on that in a bit.
Why rage can make you faster
To figure out exactly what caused my incredible rage run, I called Mary Johnson, USATF-certified run coach, and the founder of Lift Run Perform, and asked why I crushed those miles. “That sounds like the product of adrenaline and overall fitness,” she tells SELF.
When your body produces more adrenaline (also known as epinephrine)—a stress hormone made by your adrenal gland—your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, and the air passages in your lungs open up more.
“In times of distress, your sympathetic nervous system flips on, which instantly boosts alertness, heart rate, and gets that blood pumping—you get set at the task at hand,” Johnson says.
Petruzzelli says that the adrenaline we feel from anger is a stress reaction in our brain. “The brain reacts to anger in the same way it reacts to fear or danger,” she says. “Your sympathetic nervous system takes over and sends the distress signals from the brain to the rest of the body. In this moment, the only thing your body is focused on is survival. This is what causes adrenaline to pump through your blood.”