For as long as Allison Henson can remember, she’s been painfully shy. The 25-year-old Toledo, Ohio, resident says she has always been anxious, finding social situations to be difficult. She just thought she was weird and awkward.
But Henson always felt comfortable when she was out running. It makes sense: Henson’s parents met while running in college. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” she says. Henson began running with her father at the age of 12. She says it was a struggle at first, “huffing and puffing our way through 6 a.m. runs.” By seventh grade, Henson joined the cross-country team. One of the best parts was competing against the boys and beating them, she says with a chuckle.
Underneath it all, Henson’s anxiety continued to buzz in the background. It’s a jittery energy that she can’t quite dissipate. She’s jumpy. Her leg constantly bounces up and down. “Looking back, I see things that were very obviously anxiety but I didn’t know it then—panic attacks that I didn’t know were panic attacks, being super scared and nervous,” she says. Right before leaving for college, Henson parked herself under her mom’s desk at home and declared that she wasn’t leaving.
Henson says her anxiety heightened during her college years. But she also started noticing something curious. On the days that she didn’t run, she felt more restless and uneasy. On the days that she ran, she felt more relaxed. Soon, she realized that running was not only time to be alone with her thoughts and breath, it was a way to channel her anxiety.
Two years ago, Henson was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. “Being able to run, I get to run out that energy, that part of my anxiety. It calms me down. I feel so much more collected,” she says. Henson says that her mind is constantly moving when she’s anxious. But after a run, she says she can get her thoughts together. “I can think about one thing and be focused.”
Running has helped Henson create bridges during social situations, too. After graduating from college, Henson joined a chapter of Oiselle’s Volée team.
“I’m not outgoing, so I have a difficult time meeting people. It takes a lot for me to make myself go to the meetups,” she says. “Running is something I can do while I make an effort socially. I can relax a bit because running is so comforting to me. I’m not just thinking about the social anxiety of being in a social situation.” As a result, she’s developed some good friendships within her running group.
Currently, Henson works as a dietitian at a long-term care facility. With the rapid spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the nation, Henson says it’s an incredibly stressful time at work. With everything on lockdown and no visitors allowed, it’s been difficult for residents who don’t understand why family members can’t come to visit.
Henson has found herself leaning into her running more. Since the pandemic began, she’s noticed that her mileage has increased, ramping up from 20 to 30 miles a week to 30 to 40 miles a week. “Running definitely helps to manage the stress and anxiety of everything going on,” she says.