HOW DANCING CAN HELP YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

(This blog post has been written by our student contributor, Tash Gillezeau!)

When it comes to exercise, we’re all well-versed in the physical benefits of jumping around and shaking your booty. But as awareness grows of the importance of the ‘mental’ component of health, it’s important to recognise how regular exercise can be key in making not just our bodies feel better, but our minds too. 

Anecdotally, I know that if I’m having a really crappy day mentally, if I go to a pole class, I’ll leave feeling better than I arrived. As someone who has been experiencing anxiety for the past year, exercise is instrumental for me not in ‘curing’ my symptoms, but certainly as one factor elevating my overall mood and happiness.

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@teyanataylor

I want to distinguish between mental health and mental illness. Good mental health is about being able to work and study to your full potential, cope with day-to-day stresses, be involved in your community, and live your life in a free and satisfying way.

A mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions which affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. 1 in 5 Aussies will be affected by a mental illness in any given year, including things like depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and eating disorders, so we’re actually talking about something pretty common here.

I’m a Sydney Pole student, writer and someone who has experienced one mental illness – not a healthcare practitioner. When I say dancing is good for your mental health, I am not saying in all cases, or that dance is in any way a replacement for seeking treatment for a mental illness. It’s irresponsible and stigmatising to suggest to someone experiencing a mental illness that they should “just go for a run!”. It doesn’t work like that! In the same way you can’t just exercise your way to curing a physical illness, a cheeky one off jog ain’t gonna be the answer to a mental illness either.

Having laid out that lengthy disclaimer for you, there is actually some really decent science on the positive impacts of creativity and exercising on boosting mental health. Dancing combines both of these elements. More reasons to dance? Hells yeah.

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@mimielashiry

#1 Dancing Gets Your Out of Your Head and into Your Body

Dancing requires an immediacy of presence that can pull you out of your negative thoughts. Actually having to focus on just nailing that move or choreography helps you enter ~the zone~ – a magical, meditative place where your internal dialogue is momentarily suspended and your mind is clear.

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#2 Join a Community: Dancing in a Studio Is Better Than Dancing At Home

One study comparing the positive mental health outcomes of participants who dance in a studio versus doing the same exercises at home by themselves found that the people who danced at home alone didn’t see the same benefits.

Whilst researchers aren’t quite sure why this is the case, researcher Amelia Hall thinks that maybe there’s a social element to dancing in a studio playing a role. I like to think that an aspect of ‘togetherness’ and support is part of the spirit of Sydney Pole, and having that designated space for dance is definitely something I really value (even though I defs still do dance in my room alone!).

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#3 Studies Show a Link Between Increased Mental Health Concerns and Lower Levels of Physical Activity

A recent study of 10,000 Australian women aged 18 to 80 found that more than 40% of respondents said they’d been previously diagnosed with anxiety disorder or depression by a doctor or psychologist, putting rates of anxiety and depression at a ‘concerning’ all time high.

Researcher Dr Helen Brown noted that it was interesting that 60 per cent of women nationwide also weren’t getting enough regular exercise, considering that physical activity is a great way to deal with anxiety.

There were some really understandable and relatable barriers as to why women aren’t getting enough regular exercise, the main one cited being “lack of time”.

Another top factor was that women who perceived themselves as overweight were four times more likely to feel held back from physical activity because of feeling embarrassed about their appearance when exercising, compared to women who identified as “being about the right weight”.

Given we know regular exercise is good for our mental health, exercise must feel accessible to all so that everyone can access the benefits. Dance studios should aim to create welcoming environments to help make this possible.

In my personal opinion, Sydney Pole is an especially inclusive and judgment free space for all people and body types, not just those who ‘look’ like the typical, narrow image of a dancer. I’ve also written before on the importance of how we speak to one another in a blog called “4 so-called compliments that actually reinforce size-shaming” in creating a positive studio vibe.

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#4 Creative Pursuits Can Help Process Trauma


Creative Arts therapist Melissa Walker argues that art therapy and other creative pursuits can be an invaluable or effective complement to traditional talk therapy for relinquishing trauma.

I am not suggesting that any one thing is going to be the answer to processing something as complex as trauma.

I merely want to point out that there is research to suggest that creative pursuits like dance, be it just expressing yourself in a freestyle manner or choreographing your own routines, may have a therapeutic role to play alongside talking it out.

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A lot of mainstream fitness and exercise content centres around “getting shredded” and “summer bods”, but I think a much more holistic way of looking at why we should dance ought to consider the role it can play in boosting our mental health.

Being healthy is so, so much more than how you look. In fact, if your mental health isn’t in a good place, how you look is kinda irrelevant. I hope that dance can play a positive role in your life too, and if you have an experience you want to share, we’d love to hear from you.

Disclaimer: For some mental illnesses, like anorexia, it may be recommended that you not do any exercise during recovery. If you are experiencing a mental illness, please seek advice about exercise from a qualified health care practitioner.
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