By Michelle Loucadoux and Kristin Deiss
During the holiday season, social engagements pile on top of the stresses of gift-giving and overwhelm over end-of-year obligations. If you add on weeks of Nutcracker rehearsals, exhausting preparations for the upcoming competition season, and the fact that so many of us have been dancing in our living rooms for over a year… this year’s holiday season might not seem so merry and bright. The ever-cheery Sugar Plum Fairy can quickly turn into Sugar Plum Fury.
According to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, nearly one-quarter of Americans feel what they call “extreme stress” during the holidays. And most of those people aren’t breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes for the Waltz of the Flowers. Whether you’re excited, stressed out, lonely, or overwhelmed, paying attention to your mental health during these times is one of the most important things you can do.
Dancers spend hours every day training their bodies, but they don’t pay as much attention to training their minds as well. According to a recent study conducted by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, “It is well documented that professional dancing increases the risk for, or strongly associates to, mental health issues like eating disorders, anxiety, and compulsive-obsessive disorders.” And the stress of the holiday season can sometimes magnify these challenges.
There are many ways to care for your mental health, but here are three easy things to try this season.
Try Some Self-Reflection
Our minds can play tricks on us. And we are not always aware of the way our thoughts impact our feelings and actions. Do you ever feel disappointed after a class and you don’t know why? Do you say you’re having a bad day, but have trouble explaining the reason? Self-reflection can help you sort out these thoughts and feelings.
Unlike our dance technique, the inner workings of our mind are not as obvious to those around us. It’s much harder to see when we are battling negative self-talk than when we are falling out of a pirouette. This is where self-reflection comes in as one of your most valuable tools in caring for your mental wellness. When you take time to write down your thoughts, you can begin to understand what’s going on in your head… and learn from it.
The University of Rochester Medical Center says, “If you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health.” Even short periods of exploring self-reflection through journaling can help you prioritize problems and fears, recognize your triggers, and realize negative habits and self-talk.
Try taking the time this holiday season to sit down after class or rehearsal and jot down your thoughts. Don’t judge them. Just see what comes out. Ask yourself how you felt during class. What were some moments you enjoyed? What were some moments you disliked? What are some of the phrases you remember going through your mind? What would you have changed?
It only takes a few minutes per day, but a self-reflection journal can help you sort your thoughts and take away some of the stress that comes with this time of year.
Expand Your Interests
If you’re reading this, you are probably obsessed with dancing. It’s great to be passionate about what we do, but it’s also important to take some time away from it. Obsessing about everything dance is a lot like only inhaling for a long period of time. Our brains and bodies need rest — they need to exhale every now and then. Exploring other interests can help you do that.
In a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, having a hobby outside your main job is associated with a better attitude and more creativity on the job. Whether dancing is your job or it’s simply your passion, finding a palate cleanser activity will not only make you a more interesting person, it might even give you more perspective when you’re in the dance studio.
Whether you take up knitting, tennis, coding, or you adopt a puppy, diversifying your everyday experience can help take away some of the stressors of the dance world, especially during the holidays. After all, a miffed pirouette pales when you’re petting a puppy or knitting a scarf for a friend.
Get Outside For a Few
It might be chilly, but getting outside, even for a few minutes, is scientifically proven to improve your mood. Unless you’re doing a beach music video shoot, most dancing takes place either in a studio or a theatre. But our bodies need to be outside from time to time to flourish.
Multiple scientific studies show that spending even a small amount of time outside in nature can lower levels of cortisol (your body’s main stress hormone) and can decrease your heart rate. In short, nature can help you relax. With family obligations, finding the perfect gift, and performance stressors weighing on dancers, this time of year is the perfect time to enjoy some fresh air.
Additionally, the small amounts of the vitamin D your body absorbs from exposure to the sun’s rays can boost your immune system and promote healthy bones. (Just don’t get sunburned). This holiday season, try taking a walk outside, shoveling snow in the sunshine, or just sitting by a window for a few minutes. Spending time outside can help you cope with stress and it can contribute to your overall mental wellness.
The holidays can be overwhelming for anyone. And because dancers deal with so much more than your average human, it’s so important that you care for your mental health and wellness during this time. Take a few minutes at this time to care for your mind as well as your body and watch the Sugar Plum Fury slowly turn back into the magical fairy it was always meant to be!
Photo credits: American Ballet Theatre, Princeton Ballet
Danscend On a Mission
Former professional dancers and long-time dance educators Michelle Loucadoux and Kristin Deiss have joined forces and experience to bring mental wellness to the forefront of the minds of the dance community by providing a virtual safe space for education and connection for dancers and dance educators.
Danscend’s mission is to bring mental wellness to the forefront of dance training by providing a space for education, application, and community to dancers, educators, and professionals. It offers virtual courses in mental wellness-related topics for dancers ages 13 and up and provides education and support for dance educators working to change the conversation in their classrooms. For more, see danscend.com