These are stressful times that we are living in right now. Stress is your body’s physical and/or mental response to changes or challenges that are real or perceived. Stress can be good and bad. Good stress (also called eustress) helps us to get out of dangerous situations (the “fight or flight” phenomenon) or motivates us to prepare for a presentation or performance. Bad stress, or chronic stress, can cause loss of sleep, high blood pressure, heart racing, exhaustion, muscle tension, digestive problems, reduced immunity, headaches and/or body pain. Some people may turn to unhealthy behaviours to deal with chronic stress (overeating, drinking, drug use), so it is important to find healthy ways to alleviate the symptoms.1
Exercise appears to prime the body’s ability to deal with the stress response more effectively and efficiently.2 Exercise causes the release of the neurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain to reduce the feelings of pain and stress.3,4,5 Recent evidence seems to suggest that the “high” people feel after exercise may be more related to the release of neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids, which, after binding to cannabinoid receptors in the body, help to regulate pain, mood, sleep, learning and memory, appetite and immune function.6
Many neurotransmitters involved in the stress response regulate mood. Chronic stress has a negative impact on mood and can potentially lead to the development of anxiety and mood disorders like depression. Anxiety differs from acute stress in that the feeling of apprehension or dread is constant and not a reaction to some external cause, and this feeling negatively affects your ability to function in everyday life.63 Imbalances in neurotransmitter levels are also associated with diseases that affect the brain, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and in mental health conditions such as addiction, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.7
Because dance, like other forms of physical activity, causes beneficial physical changes in our brains8, interest in investigating the psychosocial effects of dance has dramatically increased over the last twenty years. Recreational dance has been shown to improve mood and feelings of well-being, and these positive feelings can be more activated (happy, energetic) or deactivated (relaxed, calm).9 These positive effects have been seen across different age groups and populations. Dance interventions in young children and adolescents not only improved physical health characteristics but also improved mood and reduced anxiety.10 University students have experienced significantly lower levels of stress and depression after participating in dance classes.11,12 Many studies have found that dance and dance movement therapy (a type of psychotherapy that uses movement to help individuals achieve emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration) increases mood and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.13,14
So get up and dance to help you break free from the stress in your life!
- Cleveland Clinic. (2021) Stress. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress.
- American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/exercise-fitness/stress
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2021) Endorphins: the brain’s natural pain reliever. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever.
- Queensland Brain Institute. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-physiology/what-are-neurotransmitters
- Lin TW and Kuo YM. (2013). Exercise benefits brain function: the monoamine connection. Brain Sci., 3(1), 39–53. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci3010039
- Watkins BA. (2018). Endocannabinoids, exercise, pain, and a path to health with aging. Molec. Aspects Med., 64:68–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mam.2018.10.001
- Cherry K. (2021) The role of neurotransmitters. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-neurotransmitter-2795394
- Teixeira-Machado L, Arida RM, and de Jesus Mari J. (2019) Dance for neuroplasticity: a descriptive systematic review, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 96: 232-240 ISSN 0149-7634, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.12.010
- Quiroga Murcia C, Kreutz G, Clift S, and Bongard S. (2010) Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being, Arts Health, 2(2): 149-163, DOI: 10.1080/17533010903488582
- Burkhardt J and Brennan C. (2012). The effects of recreational dance interventions on the health and well-being of children and young people: A systematic review. Arts Health, 4:1-14. https://doi.org/10.1080/17533015.2012.665810
- West J, Otte C, Geher K, Johnson J, and Mohr DC. (2004) Effects of hatha yoga and African dance on perceived stress, affect, and salivary cortisol. Annals Behav. Med., 28(2):114-118, https://doi.org/10.1207/s15324796abm2802_6.
- Akandere M and Demir B. (2011) The effect of dance over depression. Collegium Antropologicum, 35:651-6.
- Koch S, Kunz T, Lykou S, and Cruz R. (2014) Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: a meta-analysis. Arts Psychother., 41(1): 46-64. ISSN 0197-4556, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2013.10.004.
- Koch SC, Riege RFF, Tisborn K, Biondo J, Martin L, and Beelmann A. (2019) Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes. A meta-analysis update. Frontiers Psychol.,10. ISSN=1664-1078, DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01806. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01806