The Truth about Stress

Dance and Stress Management

The Truth about Stress

By Kristin Deiss

Dancers, like most people, navigate stress all the time.  But how much do you actually know about it?  Read the article below to learn what exactly stress is, how it sometimes benefits us as dancers, and various ways in which you can cope with the negative effects of stress!

Life got you stressed?

If you find yourself experiencing large amounts of stress, you are not alone.  A 2021 study on stress in America, conducted in part by the American Psychological Association, shows that levels of stress have gone up since this same time last year and that 84% of Americans report feeling various emotions associated with stress within the past few weeks of the study being conducted, such as sadness, anger, and anxiety.

That’s a lot of stressed out people trying to navigate their lives on a daily basis.

And, as usual, dancers are no exception.

Dance and Stress

On top of the usual stressors of life, dancers face their own unique stressors due to the demands of their industry and craft, such as fear over injury, anxiety over body image, worry over consistent work, and the pressures to always perform at their best.

It’s no wonder then that studies show “dancers as unhappy, anxious, hypochondriacal and low in self-esteem.”  Additionally, around 38% of the dancers surveyed for the study above reported feelings of depression.  While many factors are at play here, researchers suggest that it is likely a combination of what the industry and profession demands of those who are to become successful in dance along with dancers’ responses to the stressors unique to their lifestyles.

Why is all of this important to know?  Because stress is super common and can wreak havoc on the bodies and minds of dancers if not properly addressed.

So, how should we address it?  How do we best respond to and cope with stress?

First, let’s explore exactly what stress is and how it can affect us.

The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure.”  Most often, stress arises when we feel we don’t have the capacity to meet the demands of whatever our life is throwing at us.  Sometimes, those things are major life changes, and other times they are constants about our life that have us feeling depleted.  And, in a cruel twist of fate, the more stressed we are, the less we are able to cope with the normal demands of life, as stress increases susceptibility to injury, illness, and fatigue.

But, the good news is not all stress is bad.

Wait, what?!

Yup - some of it is actually beneficial! 

There are three types of stress: eustress, neustress, and distress.

Eustress is the good type of stress and comes from any situation that would motivate or inspire someone and as a result would be enjoyable and not perceived as a threat.  For instance, meeting someone you highly admire or falling in love would be examples of eustress.  

Neustress is stress that’s neither good or bad and comes from sensory stimuli or information that is believed to be inconsequential to one’s own state.  Hearing about something happening around the world that has no real bearing on you could be considered a form of neustress.

And lastly, distress is the stress we all most often speak about when we use the term “stress.”  It comes from things that are real or perceived threats and tends to promote negative effects on the body, emotions, and mind.  Distress can either be acute (short in duration but intense) or chronic (less intense but longer in duration) and if not properly addressed, can affect our overall well-being.

That said, stress hormones in some situations and circumstances can actually sometimes help us. When our minds perceive a threat, hormones are released into the body to prepare it to survive that threat, and most often we enter flight or fight mode.  But, sometimes, the threat is just small enough to release optimal levels of those hormones in which studies have shown to “improve physical performance and mental-processing skills like concentration.” When at optimal levels of those hormones, then, we actually become more alert and better prepared to meet the challenge at hand.

How do we properly cope with stress then?  Unfortunately, it’s not a one size fits all solution.  Because the optimal levels of stress-related hormones are different for everyone, to effectively manage and cope with stress, it’s imperative that we understand what our optimal level is and then reduce the continued release of those hormones past those levels by using coping skills and relaxation techniques.  Some of those skills and techniques include: meditating, journaling, spending time in nature, moving your body, engaging in a gratitude practice, starting a social media detox, connecting with others, sticking to a routine, aiming for better sleep, and paying attention to nutrition.  

Try experimenting with these to see what works for you.  And if one method doesn’t work, try another!  While these are just a few, there are tons of options to add to your tool kit to better cope with stress, so get experimenting!

What helps you cope with stress?  Share with the community by letting us know below!

Kristin Deiss is a dancer, educator, yogi, healer, and mom trying to live her best life through helping others improve theirs.  

She holds an MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and is a certified yoga teacher, Reiki Master, and Integrated Energy Practitioner. 

Kristin is currently the Commercial Dance Chair at Hussian College Los Angeles, the co-founder of Danscend- Mental Wellness for Dancers, and writes about overcoming failure on Stir the Sage.  For more resources to support the mental wellness of dancers, be sure to check out Danscend’s offerings as well as follow them on Instagram!

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