New study shows using running to escape everyday stress can backfire

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

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

“Escapism is an everyday phenomenon among humans, but little is known about its motivational underpinnings, how it affects experiences and psychological outcomes,” said Frode Stenseng of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, lead author of the study.

Run to explore or escape?

“Escapism is often defined as ‘an activity, a form of entertainment, etc. that helps you to avoid or forget unpleasant or annoying things’. In other words, many of our everyday activities can be interpreted as escapism,” said Stenseng. “The psychological payoff of escapism is reduced self-consciousness, less rumination, and an alleviation of more urgent or stressful thoughts and emotions.”

Escapism can restore perspective, or it can act as a distraction from problems that need to be resolved. Escapism that is adaptive, seeking out positive experiences, is referred to as self-expansion. Meanwhile, maladaptive escapism, avoiding negative experiences, is called self-suppression. Effectively, running as exploitation or as evasion.

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

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

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Self-suppression associated with exercise dependence

The team recruited 227 recreational runners, half male and half female, with widely varying running backgrounds. They were asked to complete questionnaires that investigated three different aspects of escapism and exercise dependence: an escapism scale that measured preference for self-expansion or self-suppression, an exercise dependence scale, and a life satisfaction scale designed to measure participants’ 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 modes of escapism. Self-expansion was positively related to well-being, while self-suppression was negatively related to well-being. Self-suppression and self-expansion were both linked to exercise dependence, but self-suppression was much more strongly linked to it. None of the modes of escapism were linked to age, gender or the amount of time a person spent running, but both affected the relationship between well-being and exercise addiction. Regardless of whether or not a person meets the criteria for exercise dependence, a preference for self-expansion would still be linked to a more positive sense of one’s own well-being.

Although exercise dependence erodes potential wellness gains from exercise, it appears that perceived lower wellness may be both a cause and a result of exercise dependence: dependence may be driven by lower wellness as well. how to promote it.
Likewise, experiencing positive self-expansion may be a psychological motive that promotes exercise dependence.

“Further studies using longitudinal research designs are needed to further unravel the motivational dynamics and outcomes of escapism,” said Stenseng. “But these findings could enlighten people in understanding their own motivation and be used for therapeutic reasons for individuals struggling with a maladaptive involvement in their activities.”

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