Everyone suffers from stress at some point in their lives, but when stress is long-term or severe it can cause serious problems for our mental health, physical health, and it can put a strain on our relationships. As a way of relieving stress, dancing is quite unique because it brings in a variety of different stress-relieving elements into one package. So let’s take a look at how dancing relieves stress and why, if you’re stressed, picking up your dancing shoes could be the best decision you make!
What is stress?
Stress on its own isn’t necessarily a negative thing. It evolved as a way to get our bodies primed to deal with an imminent threat. So our heart rate increases to get enough oxygen to our limbs to run and fight, our digestive system slows down so that we can put all of our energy into our limbs, our pupils dilate so that we can see better, and all sorts of other clever adaptations that prime our bodies for fight or flight.
Of course, in our ancient past, once the threat had gone, our brain would tell our bodies to get out of flight or fight and go back to normal. But in the modern world, when the threat could be a demanding boss, financial strain, or a difficult relationship, there is no back to normal. So our bodies are left in this heightened state for far longer than they were designed to be, and this is when it can start having negative effects on our bodies and our minds.
Effects of chronic stress:
- muscle tension/pain
- digestive issues
- chest pain, racing heart
- sexual problems
- difficulty concentrating
- having a hard time making decisions
- constant worrying
- too much or too little sleep
- eating too much or too little
- drinking or smoking more
If high levels of stress carry on for too long, it can cause health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety, problems with the immune system, and reproductive issues.
How can dancing help to relieve stress?
Of course, in an ideal world you would be able to just remove all sources of stress from your life, but in the real world that usually isn’t an option. So what can you do to mitigate the effects of stress on your body and mind? If dancing isn’t one of your ideas, then it really should be!
1) Dancing releases feel-good hormones
Dancing is both cardio exercise and strength training. Just like with any other form of exercise, when you dance your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good hormones, similar to opioids, that are released naturally by your body when you exert yourself. Their job is to relieve pain and stress and they really work. So whenever you dance, your body will be releasing hormones specifically designed to lower your stress.
2) Dancing focuses your mind
When you are in a dance class, you will be focused on learning the choreography, perfecting your form, and listening to your instructor. Your mind will be super-focused on the task at hand, which gives it the chance to let go of the sources of stress that are causing you problems. So for the time when you are in dance class, your body is free to come out of fight or flight and given a chance to regulate itself.
3) Dancing to music can be a powerful stress reliever
Music has a powerful effect on us. It is able to elicit strong emotions and can completely alter your mood. The interesting thing about music and stress is that even if the music you are listening to is upbeat and exciting, it can help you to relax (especially if it’s music that you like!). When dancing is combined with music, this effect becomes multiplied. Regardless of the type of dance or the type of music, when stress levels are measured afterward, they go down.
4) Dancing allows you to reach goals
Achieving goals can be an important part of improving your mental wellbeing. In fact, setting goals is a recognized element of many mental health therapies and can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. When you dance regularly, you will naturally be setting yourself small goals (learning to do a specific move, getting the steps to a routine right) and you might even have larger goals (doing well in a competition, putting on a successful show).
5) Dancing is a creative outlet
Dancing can be a creative outlet for many people. It gives you a chance to express yourself, and channel your frustrations and stress in a healthy and positive way. It can also help you to improve your self-confidence and give you extra drive in your day-to-day life. Any creative outlet can help to reduce stress, but the physicality of dance makes it quite unique in that it can allow you to channel your body’s energy into your creativity.
6) Dancing can be social
Making friends and spending time with other people can do wonders for relieving stress and improving your mental health. When you dance in a group with other people, you can feel a genuine connection to them as you move together. It can also help you to make friends with people who have similar interests and passions to you.
7) Dancing can be a form of meditation
Meditation and mindfulness have become very popular in recent years as a way of relieving stress. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting quietly, however. As we know from yoga, incorporating physical movements into your meditative practice can help to bring you to a state of calm. Dancing can have the same effect. When you are in tune with your body and its movements, and you are really there in the moment (and with the music), you are in a form of meditation.
The bottom line
Stress can have a strongly negative effect on our mental and physical health, and our modern lifestyles mean chronic stress is becoming more common. Dancing can be a really effective way of reducing your stress levels and improving your health because it draws together a range of stress-reduction techniques, such as exercise, meditation, focusing your mind, creativity, goal-setting, sociability, and the power of music.
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