Contrary to popular belief and the media, once Thanksgiving and the holiday season roll around the great majority of Americans feel stressed, anxious and/or depressed. We’re “supposed to” be full of good cheer, love for our fellow people and feel inspired for a new year of positive experiences. Instead, whether we’re taking part in family functions or spending time by ourselves, so many of us feel isolated, disappointed and very lonely - even in a crowded room.
But here’s the good news.
You can interrupt the downward spiral and get back into a more satisfying space for yourself.
I learned how to do this early in my 20’s when life decisions about work, family, friends and love relationships were so overwhelming and daunting. I vacillated between intense anxiety and the blues.
My psych professor gave me an invaluable lesson. Anxiety and depression are far less likely to take over when we’re doing something that gets our systems working – walk, run, go to the gym and work out, use a punching bag to let off some steam . . . and, the one that’s the most fun, DANCE!
Many studies have shown that dance decreases depression, improves mood, and reenforces positive feelings about one’s self. It’s also a way to spend time with other people without a major commitment.
But how am I going to encourage you to dance when you can barely stand the thought of hanging out with people while you’re feeling crummy?
Here are some more benefits of dance that might convince you and they apply regardless of how young or old you are.
Dance improves balance and flexibility. Makes sense. When we do cardiovascular exercise and stretch, we get those benefits — boosting cardiovascular health and bone strength (because it's weight-bearing exercise). But there’s evidence it does much more.
Dancing combines physical advantages with emotional benefits. The more you dance, the healthier and more fit you get. Perhaps more important is that we dance with other people. We connect. We touch. We’re communicating non-verbally. You don’t have to talk and it’s actually preferable not to. We dance in sync with our partner which is good practice for getting along.
Dance provides both intellectual and social stimulation which have been shown to reduce the risk of illnesses and increase quality of life both physically and mentally. People who dance regularly into their 60’s 70’s and 80’s are more fit, limber, mentally sharp, problem solvers and able to relate to others. They have more friends who make life more interesting and enjoyable.
Marian Chace, the founder of dance therapy, first introduced it to psychiatric patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC in the 1940s. She taught a class called "Dance for Communication" to World War II vets, offering them a way to convey feelings that – especially for psychologically traumatized patients — can be difficult to verbalize. By fostering a body/mind connection, Dance has psychological benefits, particularly in encouraging safe emotional connections. Today, dance is used in treatments for everything from eating disorders to autism to depression. It’s even proven to be successful in treating Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia.
There are inexpensive group dance classes all over. You might be lucky and find free lessons in your community. My dance partner and I teach beginner Tango for free at the Episcopalian church in our town.
AND, you’ve heard about the positive effects of singing in the shower? What about turning on some music and dancing in the kitchen, or the living room, any place where you have enough room to try out some steps and move to the sounds. One of my favorite scenes in the Christmas movie, Love Actually, is when the prime minister gets up from his table full of unopened mail and starts dancing down the long stairs in his mansion. Made me smile.
Try it. You’ll get your energy up and brighten the moment. Take this remedy in small and large doses. It works, it’s safe and has no negative side effects.