Dr. Valerie Taylor not only is a former marathon clinic instructor at the Burlington Running Room, but she’s the Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital and her programs are the recipients of funds raised at the Run for Women, which Shopper’s Drug Mart puts on every spring around the country. Given the high level of emotions following last night’s shocking American election, we spoke with Dr. Taylor regarding healthy solutions for anxiety, fear and depression.
iRun: Even in Canada, many people are waking up this morning with dismay and angst and perhaps even depression. How can running help with these emotions?
Dr. Taylor: Running is a great tool for stress management. It’s a healthy way to decrease frustration—to simply remove yourself from a lot of social media and TV news feeds that we’re all addicted to right now.
iRun: Is running outdoors particularly helpful?
Dr. Taylor: There’s nothing better than sunshine for helping to prevent somebody from developing seasonal affection disorder. Also, exercise can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, associated with depression. Running can produce a natural high, and, given the current mood, give us something else to focus on.
iRun: As runners, do you think we’re better equipped to handle life’s twists and turns?
Dr. Taylor: Most stress management programs involve some sort of regularly structured exercise. Anybody who can incorporate that and make it part of their weekly routine has an advantage. It’s one more tool to deal with stressful situation. The more the better.
iRun: Is there anything to the notion that the worse you feel, the harder you should exercise?
Dr. Taylor: Everything in moderation. There is too much exercise and unsafe exercise and we all need to gauge what the right fit is for us. 30 or 40 minutes of good cardio three or four times a week can be very effective in treating mild to moderate depression.
iRun: If you’re freaking out, should you not just go run sprints?
Dr. Taylor: I don’t think that’s going to help.
iRun: But it can’t hurt, right?
iRun: It’s a better way to vent frustrations than an over consumption of alcohol or getting into a confrontation on social media, but is racing around your block going to prevent some acute thing? No, you need to do this regularly and make a pattern of it, and then you’ll be less likely to stressed.
iRun: Specifically, can you explain how running helps govern strong emotions?
Dr. Taylor: We know from a mood perspective that any type of exercise that’s cardiovascular in nature has been shown to actually cause a release of the same type of neurotransmitters that anti-depression medication releases, specifically serotonin.
iRun: You work at Women’s College Hospital and receive charitable funds from Run for Women. How does mental health differ between the sexes?
Dr. Taylor: In terms of depression, we know it’s much more common in women than it is in men, especially once you hit your late teens. Two in every four women are going to experience problems with depression and anxiety. A lot of people join running groups in order to find ways to help manage some of their stresses and depression and anxiety. It’s a not a cure all, but it’s one more tool. And the more tools we have, the better equipped we are too process many some of these things.
iRun: As an astute student of gender and mental health, what do you make of some of the comments the new president of the United States has made on the campaign trail?
Dr. Taylor: I have no comment about the US election.
iRun: How influential can a single person be over the mental health of an entire world’s population?
Dr. Taylor: If you look at numbers, more people in the US are happy with the result than not happy because they elected him. We need to go with that and we need to be prepared to face an interesting world in the next few weeks. Only time will tell how it’s going to play out and we just have to roll with it.
iRun: Roll with it?
Dr. Taylor: I am willing to say that I woke up this morning feeling happy that I am a Canadian.
iRun: A program that I know the Run for Women are working on involves helping girls around the country at the high school level. How does mental health effect teenagers, and specifically teenaged girls?
Dr. Taylor: That’s when we start to see higher rates of depression and many young girls are vulnerable and it’s a good time to develop healthy coping strategies, so we’re not using food or drugs as a comfort tool. Running gives people a nice peer group and helps them feel supported and have someone to talk to about issues like bullying. It can also be a healthy way to manage stress, and it helps give people a sense of accomplishment.
iRun: How so?
Dr. Taylor: In adolescence, life can feel out of control. I’ll go run a couple of kilometres and you feel like you accomplished something. You set the parameters, it wasn’t something being done to you.
iRun: Like watching election results role in. Do you anticipate a spike around the world in running clubs?
Dr. Taylor: Absolutely. I think even in Canada, probably more so here, we don’t really understand what’s going to happen and what this means for us. I think a lot of people, regardless of who was elected, feel a lot of uncertainty about what in the world is happening in the U.S. right now and people are trying to manage their anxiety the best way they know how. So absolutely.
iRun: Lastly, I know it’s only 10 in the morning, but is alcohol ever a good remedy to a shocking, unprecedented turn of events?
Dr. Taylor: Everything in moderation.