Call it January blues, the increasingly fractured and uncertain world that we live in, the cost of living crisis, omnipresent trauma, or more immediate personal issues, most of us are faced with low mood at some point in our lives.
If this goes on over a long period of time, it can become clinical depression in which even getting out of bed in the morning and preparing for the day can be a challenge. There can be a persistent feeling of hopelessness, and anxiety can often accompany low mood or depression.
Ancient Greece and Prehistory
It’s interesting to know that in ancient Greece, Apollo was the god of music and dance as well as healing! So it’s not a modern idea that dance should be associated with improved mood and wellness.
Neither were the Greeks in a minority in making this connection. Many ancient mythologies – Egyptian, Jewish, Hindu – had gods and goddess that bridged dance, healing and health. And of course in many cultures since that time, dance has played a key role in healing rituals. In fact it is a modern, Western idea to define music, dance and singing as ‘art’. For most of human history these arts were at the centre of social life, not separated from it.
Whilst dancing might not be an answer for full-blown, pervasive depression, it has been shown in clinical trials to support mood improvement. Why is this? you may ask.
Firstly, dance is form of exercise and benefits from the many advantages of being physically active. Gone are the days when we thought that what goes on in our bodies is separate from the activity of our minds and mood. When we activate our physical body we feel happier, more confident, we produce more blood flow and hormones that affect mood. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
Feel good hormones
Studies show that dancing increases endorphins, the pain suppressing hormones. It boosts serotonin, the hormone related to happiness and wellbeing, and dopamine, the pleasure and reward system in the brain that helps keeps us motivated. That’s a lot going on physiologically! People who dance regularly will know all this intuitively, or through a felt sense whereas those who haven’t danced a lot might take a second look knowing there is science to back it up.
The social side
We are social creatures. We are born into groups, and our evolutionary history supports this understanding. Sometimes when we feel low, we want to hide away from others. Again dance is a great antidote to this. It is inherently social and has the advantage of words not necessarily being exchanged. The contact with others, through our felt sense, brings us out of isolation, and promotes feelings of connection and belonging; spending time with others reduces stress levels and promotes positive feelings.
An Oxford University study in 2014 demonstrated that when we dance together in synchrony, the boundary between ‘self’ and ‘other’ dissolve, and ‘coactivation’ occurs in the brain. Most of the time our brains operate in a way where we differentiate between ‘self’ and ‘other’. Not so in the dance space when we move in synchrony. The implications of this for loneliness and isolation (and mood) are immense.
Once we get over our self-consciousness, dancing, especially to music we enjoy, is fun. We get to play and be a bit less serious than we are at other times in life. The feeling of being comfortable in your own skin as you dance increases confidence and moving can be an enjoyable mode of self-exploration and self-expression.
Yet to be convinced? If your mood is a little low, let me recommend the super-friendly and inclusive community of dancers at Flomotion. You might just feel a whole lot better.