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SEL Spotlight

How Dance Relieves Stress … Scientifically Speaking!

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WEBINAR: Explore the topic of dance as a tool for stress relief in our live webinar with Tamara Fyke of Love In A Big World. 

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 crisis has bombarded people around the globe with new kinds of stress that most of us were entirely unprepared for.  Dance, as it turns out, can be an extraordinarily powerful antidote, with scientific evidence to back it up. 

As we collectively scramble to cope with school closures, social isolation, fear for the health and well-being of loved ones, financial uncertainty, and so much more, we see constant reminders to practice self-care.

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Some common themes run through the recommendations around taking care of yourself in these stressful times, including:

  • Exercise!
  • Play music
  • Be creative
  • Stay connected to the people, places & things you love

These common themes are not coincidental. There is science to support why these recommended forms of self-care really do relieve stress. 

Movement Boosts Endorphins

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a group of hormones that interact with receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain.

Endorphins are known as natural analgesics and can trigger positive feelings in the body. Even those most resistant to exercise are likely to feel some sense of improved mood after a period of movement. Over time, regular exercise can lead to a positive and energizing outlook on life.

Regular exercise has been proven to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Mitigate anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep

Music Reduces Cortisol

While movement can boost hormones that make you feel better, music can also have a profound effect on both mind and body.

A number of studies have found that listening to music can lower your body’s level of cortisol, a hormone that contributes to feelings of stress and anxiety. Of course, there are many genres of music and different kinds of music have different benefits. Here are some examples:

  • Faster music can help with alertness and concentration
  • Upbeat music can boost the mood and result in a sense of optimism and positive outlook
  • Slower tempos can help to quiet the mind and relax muscles

Creative Expression Boosts Immunity

Many studies show that the act of creating has profound  health benefits. Whether it be through writing, arts and crafts, playing an instrument, or movement, very few things in life bring the satisfaction that comes from making something. 

In fact, being creative is shown to increase your CD4+ lymphocyte count, the key to your immune system. That’s right – being creative can actually help you fight off disease and infection! Creative activities are also shown to reduce dementia,  improve mental health, and make you smarter. 

Social Connection Improves Heart Health

Social isolation stresses the entire cardiovascular system, while social connection, intimacy, and love help the heart and blood vessels thrive.

Many researchers have linked isolation with heart problems. Here are a few examples excerpted from Harvard Health Publishing:

  • Heart attack survivors scoring high on tests of social isolation and stress were four times more likely to die during the three years after their attacks than those with active social networks and little stress.
  • Older people with little or no emotional support who were hospitalized with heart failure had triple the risk of having a heart attack or dying in the next year as those with good support. The impact of loneliness was stronger in women than men.
  • In a survey of 229 Chicagoans, blood pressure averaged 30 points higher among lonely people than among those who weren’t lonely.

Movement + Music + Creativity + Connection = DANCE!

So let’s review. Music reduces cortisol, movement increases endorphins, being creative boosts immunity, and social connection improves heart health. If all of this is true, then it only stands to reason that CREATING MOVEMENT TO MUSIC (sometimes with others) has the potential to be a MIRACLE CURE FOR STRESS!

Taking all of the scientific evidence into account, dance emerges as an extraordinarily effective stress reducer because it combines movement, music, and creative self-expression. On top of that, it often is also a form of communication and basis for human connection. Dance has existed in every culture throughout history, and science proves that it’s likely to keep us healthy in body, mind and spirit as we continue to evolve.

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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