“The Fear” Or Why does my Brain not want me to Exercise?

Does anyone else get a twist in their stomach before going for a run? I don’t mean nerves about racing, just an ordinary training run? I feel this way a lot, a strange sensation that, despite evidence to the contrary, I am not going to be able to do this run, that some, unnamed, thing will go wrong.

This is despite the fact that my logical, conscious brain is reminding me of how much I enjoy running, how it will be not that hard and how great I will feel great afterwards.

This morning I went for a lovely 8.5k training run with my goal being to maintain a steady pace. I have done it before, many times but still had to persuade myself to get changed and go out the door. What did I think was going to happen? That my legs and lungs had suddenly lost their fitness in the 3 days since my last (successful) run?

Is this the part of my brain that is trying to conserve energy and tell me it would be so much easier to stay at home on the sofa, binge viewing Doctor Who and eating chocolate biscuits?


It might be that my dorsal medial habenula may not be functioning correctly. According to a 2014 study on mice conducted by the Seattle Children’s Hospital, this tiny part of the brain buried deep inside may not function correctly in people experiencing depression and that one of the key indicators was the loss of desire to exercise, or do anything that had previously been found pleasurable. You can read more about it here http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140820164321.htm.


Just an aside, if you do know anyone who has lost the joy they usually find in exercising or anything else in life, this is cited as a key indicator of depression and should not be ignored.

This article on Psych Central psychological trick for exercise motivation sums up how I feel about it nicely and shows I am not on my own. It also offers the helpful suggestion that the cure for the lack of motivation to exercise is to get moving. Apparently, it is a psychological trick called “motion creates emotion”. Easier said than done. It also does not explain why I have to fight this lack of motivation in the first place and my efforts to find an answer have lead nowhere.


Luckily, my logical brain always wins and I run. Some days its easier than others to ignore/shout down The Fear but for others I have a number of things to motivate me:

  • You! Yes you, your blog or the fact you are reading this blog. I read a lot of running blogs just to keep me in the running frame of mind. Sometimes I run so I have something to blog about!
  • The need for natural daylight. This is a powerful one for me. I just need it, crave it if I am shut indoors for a few days and running is the most efficient way of getting it. This may also be linked to my need for Vitamin D.
  • Weight maintenance – not such a powerful motivator these days but it kicks in if I have had a few slobby days.
  • The dread of losing my fitness – by god, it was hard to to build up and I am damned if I am going to have to do all that training again.
  • My training plan – I like a plan and like to tick off those runs. Really like to tick off those runs.
  • Max the dog, looking at me with those eyes. Pleasssssse Mum bring me for a run

At the end of the day, it can just come down to this:



2 thoughts on ““The Fear” Or Why does my Brain not want me to Exercise?

  1. I know exactly how you feel. When I started running again this spring I would worry and dread my runs so much I would make myself sick. Even when I got comfortable running I would still have a wonky stomach and have to hit the bathroom half an hour before my run. Now I’ve overcome the physical symptoms, but there are a lot of times (every day this past week) where I have to trick my mind into wanting to run. I’m still working on getting my Sunday runs in. ): I enjoy running, but only once I actually start doing it, it seems.

    I am also being treated for depression and anxiety, so I think that is a related factor.

    Thanks for writing this post! It’s nice to know I’m not alone.


    1. Hi Sam, I too am under treatment for depression and anxiety but only discovered there may be a connection when I started writing this post. I keep hoping I will be able to stop tricking myself but maybe this is just the way it is for some of us. Glad you found it helpful – what tricks do you use?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s