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How To Cope With Stress Using Movement

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I normally talk about social dancing but this time I wanted to branch out a little bit and cover the benefits of dance and movement in general, since there is a lot of fear and anxiety in Europe right now due to the political decisions that were made. So let’s get to it.

It’s pretty difficult to navigate negative emotions if you’ve never been taught how to, however it’s crucial. Negative emotions can get stuck in your body and cause tension, pain and illness if you don’t process them.

Since emotions are physical (they are chemical reactions), it makes sense to also cope with them physically. It is widely known that working out is a great stress-reliever, as well as dancing.

I have been following some therapists on social media who talk about emotional regulation using movement and they have suggested some very simple and quick things that can help your body deal with stress, that I would like to share. 

So here are 10 easy ways to help yourself shake off the negative emotions without having to go to a gym or dance class.

1. Hold Your Head Upside Down

From an occupational therapist Katie Crosby I learned that having your head upside down is good for regulating your emotions, because you are resetting your body’s balance center. You might want to take stretching poses like “downward dog”, “child’s pose” or “pike” and just be in that position for a few seconds and relax your neck. You might also try a fun forward roll over your bed.

2. Swing Back and Forth

Swinging back and forth is what our body instinctually does to self-soothe in stressful situations. It is also well known that you can soothe babies and get them to sleep by rocking them. Therefore you might consider trying something like that. Swinging chair or hammock are good options, maybe you even have an outdoor swing somewhere close to your home. Bouncing up and down on an exercise ball also does the trick.

3. Push or Pull Something Heavy

Pushing and pulling heavy objects are helpful for sensory release and have a calming effect. Rearrange furniture, drag your partner around on the floor, play tug of war etc.

4. Crash Into Something

Crashing into things is fun and regulating. Throw yourself into your soft sofa or bed, maybe find a big soft pile of snow.

5. Hug Someone

Ask someone you love to hug you tightly. Full-body hugs that last for more than 30 seconds are extremely helpful and soothing. If no-one trusted is around, go on the floor and roll yourself into a blanket like a burrito or cover yourself with a heavy blanket. Weighted blankets are often used in therapy to calm people down, mimicking a hug. This is because it helps activate parasympathetic response and lowers the heart rate.

6. Spin Around

Another exercise to reset your body’s balance centre is spinning. Stand up and start slowly spinning, letting your arms fly freely on your sides. If you have an office chair with wheels, you can try sitting there and spinning around with it slowly. Don’t make yourself sick though.

7. Dance Like Nobody Is Watching

Us dancers tend to think we need to do perfect steps and coordinated movements when we dance, but this is irrelevant for stress-release. Just shake it out. 

Put on a type of song you need depending on the occasion: something happy, silly, angry, nostalgic or sad. Forget all the steps and rules you have learned in dance studio and just move to the music.

8. Breathe Consciously

The quickest way you can help yourself when you feel anxiety rising, is to breathe it out. Depending on what you need, you might take a deep breath in and out, or multiple sharp quick breaths. Listen to your body and breathe however you feel is helpful for you. You can also add visualisations of breathing out the tension and worry.

9. Do Cardio Exercises

Perform cardio exercises like jumping jacks, burpees, squat jumps, high knees or speed skaters. A few days ago I did some kickboxing towards an imaginary boxing bag and this definitely helped. For the purpose of stress-release you might only need a few minutes of active movement to feel better. Remember that in order to not hurt your body, don’t overdo it – any actual workout needs a proper warmup.

10. Walk Until Your Pace Slows Down

Sometimes you may feel like the negative emotions suffocate or overwhelm you and you need to get out of the house. In this case a brisk walk can help. Start by walking fast and when your pace has inadvertently slowed down, you know you have walked the tension out.

Adults tend to be too much in their heads and over-emphasize the importance of thinking. However we cannot forget about our physical body, especially because trauma and emotions get stored in the body, if not processed properly. Any rigorous physical activity can help shake off tension and your imagination is the limit – cleaning the house, pillow-fights, roughhousing, anything. The most important is to try and find the ones that help you personally. 

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