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How Dance Can Help With Grief

Having just finished up National Dance Week April 19 to 28, the power of dance is at the front of our minds. This got us thinking: if dancing allows us to release stress and feel joy, can it make you happy even when you’re grieving? Good question. Turns out, dance can help with grief and can even be a welcome part of the bereavement process. Read on to learn how dance can help you cope with the sadness of losing a loved one in Santa Clara and elsewhere.

After losing a spouse, parent or child after a long illness, probably the last thing you want to do is dance. However, when you’re ready, why not sign up for a dance class with a friend? Whether hip hop, ballroom or tap, learning a new skill while getting physically fit at the same time can release all those bottled-up feelings you may be having so that you can experience a healthy outlet. It doesn’t have to be a formal class. Go dancing at night with friends, take up your friend’s invite to his wedding, or just crank up the radio in your home and dance like nobody’s watching. The point is to let go, relax, and have fun.

Dancing Curbs Depression

Dance is considered to be one of the earliest forms of human communication; plus, it’s an ideal way to exercise, get your mind off your loss, and find others who share common interests, says PsychCentral. There are many kinds of dance classes that are perfect for expressing yourself, from classical ballet to rhythm-driven African dance to aerobics-focused classes like Zumba. Whichever you choose, keep in mind that according to recent studies, regular dance classes can help curb depression, which is something that often takes ahold of us when we lose someone we loved so much.

  • Exercise: Aerobic exercise elevates levels of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure/reward. It also boosts endorphins, which also stave off depression. 
  • Music: Most dance classes and events have music to accompany them. Rhythm gives your brain something to focus on. Certain tempos can even induce trance-like states, with studies showing that music therapy provides short-term relief of depression, particularly after loss.
  • Flow: Dance is a type of moving meditation. When you’re dancing or watching the instructor, you’re distracted from your pain and grief, if only temporarily. This state of consciousness is called flow. You may think of it as “being in the zone.”
  • Interaction: As you grieve, you may think interacting with other humans is the last thing you want to do. However, due to the structured nature of a dance class, you can still experience being in the room with other people without the awkward silences and compulsion for small talk.

How Does Dancing Relieve Stress?

In general, dancing makes us feel free and relieved of our everyday stresses. Same goes for when you’re grieving. Even though it’s the last thing you want to do, consider dancing to improve your body and mind. Afterward, you’ll be glad you did, even if you did just let yourself go for a few minutes. Arthur Murray points out these ways in which dancing relieves stress, particularly after loss.

When your body feels good, so does your mind: This is based on science. Physical activities like exercising and dancing can release neurotransmitters and endorphins which in turn alleviate stress. Neurotransmitters communicate messages throughout the body, while endorphins act as natural painkillers to reduce stress and improve your perception of the world. You’ll sleep better and thus feel more refreshed the next day.

Creative outlet: You’ve just watched your loved one go through a long illness, pass on, and handled all of the funeral arrangements. You may just have started to go back to work and get into a routine. This is when the sadness and loneliness can really creep in. Dancing offers a creative outlet for you to express who you are, connecting you with the person you used to be before all the stress entered your life.

Improved physical health: Dancing can translate to physical effects on your health, from weight loss and increased flexibility to stronger bones and muscle tone. As a total body workout, dancing offers these many physical and mental benefits:

  • Improved condition of heart and lungs
  • Increased muscular strength, endurance, and motor skills
  • Increased aerobic fitness
  • Better weight management
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Better coordination and agility
  • Improved balance and spatial awareness
  • Improved mental functioning
  • Improved psychological well being
  • Greater self-confidence
  • Increased social skills

Stress is a silent killer. Do yourself a favor: make dancing a part of the grieving process. You may feel guilty at first for having fun. However, that will quickly give way to an experience that can guide you through this tough time.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We have many bereavement services to help you get through the grieving process, from support groups and workshops to memorials and counseling. Contact us today to learn more.