The Psychological Argument
Other writers have noted that the withdrawal symptoms described by runners who are forced to stop running for a period of time are mainly of a psychological, rather than a physical, nature. The psychological withdrawal symptoms that they describe include guilt, irritability, anxiety, tension, resdessness, and depression. These writers also note that runners, possibly like myself, tend to lay too much emphasis on the mental benefits of running; the writers suggest that this may indicate that such addicted runners use their running to cope with major underlying psychological problems. Altshul (1981b) suggested that if jogging is indeed able to mask anxiety and depression, as these runners testify, albeit for relatively short periods, then it follows that many people with these psychological abnormalities will use running as an effective and cheap home remedy.
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Like Sacks, Altshul (1981b) also noted that compulsive running frequently starts in response to a major emotional upheaval.
My impression is that if a lean, athletic man is consciously or unconsciously contemplating divorce, there is at least a 75% chance that he is or will be a compulsive runner. Thus, I would claim not that running causes divorce, but rather that divorce, among other forms of human misery, causes running, (p. 52)
A number of abnormal psychological states possibly present in addicted runners are described next.
Primary Affective Disorder. Apparent evidence for the postulate that running might attract persons more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression comes from a study by New York physician Dr. Edward Colt and his colleagues (1981). In a group of 61 runners who were participating primarily in a study of physiology, not psychology, the researchers found a high incidence of primary affective
Disorder. Persons with this condition suffer from more anxiety and depression than is normal and frequently require psychiatric assistance, including psychotherapy. Among the group were some elite athletes who showed this disorder. Colt et al. (1981) concluded that these data indeed suggest that running may be particularly rewarding to those runners with affective disorders. The authors also noted that some runners said that they became “revved up” after very intensive training sessions and that these workouts were frequently followed by insomnia. These symptoms, which I have certainly experienced, are said to indicate hypo-mania. One question that Colt suggested needs to be answered is this: What happens to competitive athletes when they retire from competition? Do they become depressed? If so, he asks, could this explain those suicides that occur among retired athletes?
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