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3 Great Mental Health Tips I Learned on the Dance Floor

Trauma expert Bessel Van der Kolk says that when we face serious stress, the body keeps the score. In fact, that’s the title of a well-respected book he wrote on the subject.

I take Dr. Van der Kolk’s findings to heart, because I’ve noticed that when I make it to dance class, my mind feels as good as my body does.

Research shows that exercise can be an effective resource in maintaining our mental health. Moving our bodies releases the feel-good brain chemicals that can ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Like all of us, I often experience sad, stressed-out feelings that threaten my stability. They might float up when I think about my father’s lifelong depression, which had a powerful impact on my childhood. Or they might reflect fears about work or the upcoming holidays. But when I allow myself time to sweat it out in dance class — either online or in my neighborhood dance studio — my anxieties have less control over me.

With COVID keeping us indoors so much, finding new ways to release stress will be crucial, especially as we head into the winter months. I’m very lucky to dance in a studio with great ventilation and a maximum class size of five. But even if you don’t have access to a setting that feels safe to you, dance can become part of your home-based fitness program. There are hundreds of online classes and videos out there to choose from. You can even freestyle it, setting a timer and rocking out to your favorite tracks every few hours.

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As added motivation to give it a try, I offer three healthy life insights I’ve learned on the dance floor: principles that are now part of my wellness plan.

1. If you sweat, you win.

You don’t need to be a fancy dancer to benefit! In fact, you don’t even need to have “good rhythm” or know the steps. As long as your heart beats faster and you feel good afterward, you’re on the right track.

2. Like meditation, it works when you think less.

I’ve noticed that I get more out of dance class when I don’t let myself daydream about chores, news headlines or little annoyances. Keeping my mind blank or counting out the rhythms can put me into a blissful state where everyday concerns seem smaller. Another win!

3. Music is good therapy, too, so you’re getting a two-fer.

I’ve found it’s impossible not to feel a little better when I hear certain songs. Drawing on my dance class favorites, I’ve made a playlist of inspiring tracks — and even when I can’t make it to class, just listening to them can stimulate the energy I need to keep going, especially when I’m anxious, fearful or sad.

What does physical activity do for you? I’d love to hear about your workout routines and the way they help you manage your mental health.

 

Getty image by fizkes