Can dancing help fight depression?
The evidence seems promising: dancing can help relieve symptoms of depression. For many people, it is a personal and profound experience that promotes healing.
Depression can make it difficult to do activities you once enjoyed. Engaging in soothing movements while dancing could boost your mood and improve your symptoms in some cases.
Formal symptoms of depression include:
- bad mood in the form of sadness, despair, irritability or anger
- difficulty experiencing joy
- difficulty concentrating
- changes in sleeping and eating habits
- unexplained aches and pains
- fatigue and lack of motivation
- feeling restless or moving and speaking more slowly than usual
- thoughts of self-harm and death
If you’re living with these symptoms, you might not feel ready to do much, but some physical activities might actually help you feel better.
Yes, studies suggest that regular dancing, either solo, in a group, or with a dance therapist, can be associated with the treatment of depression.
A 2021 meta-analysis of 28 studies found that adults reported benefits for symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety after 2.5 hours (or more) of dance intervention per week.
A dance intervention involves:
- organized and structured body movements
- play music
- a therapeutic relationship with a practitioner
Dancing can also improve your cardiovascular health, promote the production of feel-good chemicals in the body, and help you connect with others.
If you enjoy music of any kind, dancing can be a helpful strategy for boosting your mood, releasing energy, feeling relaxed and reducing stress, says Lauren Helper, a licensed clinical social worker in Winchester, Virginia.
She says this dance might look like:
- move around your house to a song you love
- take a dance class
- go out dancing with your partner or friends
“The important part of movement is that it feels good,” Helper says.
Dancing can impact your mental health for many reasons, including:
Increased activity of neurotransmitters
For some, the symptoms of depression are linked to reduced activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. “Research has extensively tested the body’s and brain’s response to movement and shown that it can have a huge impact on overall mental well-being,” says Helper.
Dancing, like other forms of exercise, releases endorphins, which gives you a mood boost during and after your workout. Research shows that even a single exercise session can benefit depression, and dancing can be a great form of exercise.
Other studies suggest that music also helps release dopamine, another possible reason why dancing can feel like a powerful healing intervention.
A small 2021 study of 27 people hospitalized with major depressive disorder found that a combination of medication and a dance program improved patients’ sense of self-efficacy, compared to those who received only drugs. medications.
Increased interest in activities
One of the challenges of depression is that it can reduce your interest in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed. Some research suggests that dancing can help with this.
A small 2021 study of adults over 65 found that line dancing improved their symptoms of depression, increased interest in activities and improved how participants felt about their lives.
Depression is often linked to rumination and intrusive thoughts. Maybe you feel negative about the past or have anxiety about the future.
Research shows that dancing can help bring you into the present moment and into your body, which can temporarily clear your mind of distressing thoughts. Dancing can be a great grounding exercise.
A 2021 study, for example, found that dancing more than once a week is associated with increased attention, reduced distress, and improved quality of life.
Recovery after trauma
Difficulties and traumatic experiences can lead to symptoms of depression in some people.
There is growing evidence to suggest that trauma is stored in the body. Somatic interventions, such as dance, can help people “move” – literally and figuratively – through difficult memories in order to heal.
For example, a 2021 study of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa found that 8 weeks of African circle dance interventions, combined with two psychoeducation classes, improved symptoms of depression.
While dancing is a healthy and helpful coping strategy, it’s not a substitute for therapeutic support and treatment, Helper says.
“If you are suffering from depression, it is also recommended that you seek mental health support from a licensed professional to help you manage your symptoms.”
Untreated depression can lead to more intense and longer lasting symptoms.
According to experts and research, dancing can help relieve symptoms of depression. It can increase neurotransmitter activity in your brain, boost your self-esteem, and enhance your mindfulness, among other benefits.
Although it cannot replace professional support, dancing can be a great addition to your overall treatment plan.