How to overcome anxiety about running outside

How to overcome anxiety about running outside

Some people have no problem getting out there and embracing the great outdoors for their runs. But for others, the prospect of running outside can be very anxiety provoking.

We know that anxiety prepares our mind and body for performance, and that a certain amount is useful in order for us to reach our peak, but sometimes we can interpret it in ways which are unhelpful to us and end up increasing our anxiety.

For example, if we have a fearful interpretation of the feelings of anxiety (such as the thoughts or the sensations) then this creates more negative thoughts, which further increases tension and affects the nervous system. A tense nervous system culminates in having an effect on our performance, which can then lead to us starting to question our self and our training… See a vicious cycle developing here?

Do you experience anxiety related to running outside? What are the triggers for this and what can you do to reduce this anxiety so that you feel more at ease and able to get the most from your run?

Identify what the feelings are about

Firstly, consider what is activating the anxiety about running outside? These are some possible triggers, but you may have others:

  • Safety; especially with the darker mornings and night’s drawing in
  • Performance anxiety or anxiety about being judged
  • Fear of injury
  • Fixating so much on the run that it becomes associated with being a struggle, so then thinking about running becomes negative.
  • What else might be playing a part in your anxiety in this situation?

What can we do to begin overcoming these anxieties?

Safety concerns:

Are they realistic or being blown up due to an underlying phobia or worry about not being in control? If they are realistic then keep in mind all the practical tips that we know about enhancing our safety e.g. run with a light or a buddy, tell someone where you are going and how long you will be and use a familiar route.

Take some time to look beneath the surface of the automatic thoughts:

Once you have taken practical safety precautions, check in with any other thoughts that are stopping you and take a moment to assess how helpful (or unhelpful) they are. Are they related to a more general fear about being outside or not feeling in control in some way? Or a phobia? It can be useful to consider what is really underneath the thoughts that are holding you back and then you can start to work on them and access support around this if you need it.

Managing the worry:

If you are overwhelmed with worries a lot of the time, it can help to allocate yourself a ‘worry time’ which is a manageable time slot where you can focus on what you feel you need to with the worrying thoughts, but keep it contained during to that time. It is not easy to begin with, but the more you practice, the better you will be at re-directing your attention elsewhere if worry tries to creep in outside of its allocated appointment time!

Dealing with performance anxiety:

Performance anxiety can be really debilitating and stop you from achieving your goals. Take time to explore with yourself about what is going on, what is the fear about? Usually performance anxiety is about being judged in some way. What are you concerned that people might say or think? What if they did? What would this mean? Realistically how long will that person be thinking about you running? Many people will actually be wishing that they were the ones who were brave enough to be starting out just like you!


Distraction can be a great way to distract yourself from thoughts about what other people are thinking. Music is one way to do this; once you get your running tracks on, you will find that you become so absorbed in your run that you won’t even be thinking about anyone else! If you are not a music runner then you could focus your attention on the landmark of the run.

Remembering your motivator:

If you feel like the anxiety is too much and is stopping you from running, try to first calm your nervous system by doing some deep breathing so that you can clear your mind a little and tune in to your why’s… Why you want to do this? How does it feel once you have done your run? Remember the benefits of being outside and getting out in nature & fresh air. Studies show that running outdoors can actually help shift anxiety so taking action will help you to break the cycle!

The benefits of pushing outside our comfort zone:

Hold on to the knowledge that doing something we fear helps us grow and evolve. It gives us momentum in other areas of life and helps our self-confidence.

Dr Joanna Astill

This article was written by Dr Joanna Astill, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Owner of Breakthrough Psychology Services and Co-owner of Stressed Out to Feeling Fabulous

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