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This article was originally featured in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
The 23rd of March marked a year - a whole year - since a less tousled Boris announced that the UK was entering its first lockdown. A year on, the situation certainly feels a lot brighter, with restrictions gradually being lifted.
But even so, we’ve spent a lot of this past year indoors, and we’ve been unable to go to concerts, gigs, or clubs. I’ve never been a big fan of clubbing, but even so, it was still a good outlet to move around and let off steam.
There’s always been something freeing about dancing or grooving or bopping or whatever the latest term for it might be. If you’ve spent the majority of the week sat at a desk, then going out and dancing shifts you into a completely different headspace, where you’re allowed to just let loose and release any tension.
For the past year, we haven’t really been able to do this. Combine this with a natural sprinkling of worry and general anxiety that comes from being in a global pandemic, and it creates the ideal breeding ground for stress and balled-up nervous energy that doesn’t have anywhere to go.
Numerous studies show that dancing has a positive impact on mental health, and this is put down to a variety of reasons. For one, even though it might not be hugely vigorous, dancing is still a form of exercise, which leads to a welcome release of serotonin - the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
Secondly, it’s a way of just expressing how we’re feeling. We know how cathartic listening to music can be, and dancing is believed to have a similar effect.
The explanation I find most interesting, though, is linked to the very reason why we have the capacity to feel anxious in the first place. Anxiety is a fight-or-flight response, because the mind believes it’s in a frightening situation, and tells the body to quicken the heart rate and get some adrenaline pumping, so that we’re ready to either fight the danger, or run away from it as fast as possible.
However, we often have this fight-or-flight response activated in us when the situation isn’t in reality dangerous, but our anxiety builds unstoppably regardless. So think about the kind of message it sends to the mind if we just start dancing and moving around in a silly way.
If a lion is about to eat you or if you’re about to head into a deadly battle, realistically, the last thing you’re going to do is start dancing (I mean, unless it’s a deadly dance battle, of course).
So when your mind’s activated the fight-or-flight response, but you start dancing, this tells your mind that actually, there isn’t any danger. It helps release the tension from the moment, because you’re acting in such a liberatingly silly and childlike way, that it lets the mind know that there couldn’t possibly be any real danger.
Of course, anxiety is a tenacious beast, and I’m not by any means suggesting that dancing is some kind of magic cure-all, or that it will work in all situations.
But personally, just by moving around and knowingly looking foolish, I can’t help but take myself a little less seriously. That in itself goes a long way towards making me see that, whatever it was I was worrying about, perhaps it wasn’t necessarily as serious or as big a deal as I thought it was.
You don’t have to be a ‘good’ dancer to try this out. My dancing usually consists of sporadic and unexplainable hand movements; a light, half-hearted bouncing on the spot, as if I’m trying to jump, but keep deciding against it at the last minute; and a gentle sway. But not a ‘cool-guy-at-the-back-of-the-disco’ kind of sway, more of a ‘drunk-person-outside-a-pub- trying-to-stay-upright’ kind of sway. Yeah, you know the one.
Also, I’m not suggesting that the next time you feel nervous about a work presentation, you start pirouetting and leaping across the boardroom like you’re in The Office meets Swan Lake.
It’s less about the quality of dancing, or even what you do when you dance, and more about the fact that you’re moving freely and carelessly.
If you’re reading this and you’re in your house, as an experiment, put your favourite tunes on, get up, and do the silliest, jokiest dance move you can think of. A personal favourite is anything from Drake’s hilarious 'Hotline Bling’ video. Don’t worry about looking silly, because part of the fun is how ridiculous it feels dancing on your own in your room.
And notice how afterwards, the moment just feels a little less serious, and a little more relaxed. At the very least, you’re doing your friends a favour by getting in some much-needed practice ahead of your first post-lockdown club night…!
So the next time you’re holding onto nervous energy, take a leaf out of Taylor’s book and ‘shake it off’ by adding some rhythm to those lockdown blues.
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