Dance Health

When doing more means moving less

mental health for dancers

The need to get things done and to cross off the proverbial to-do list is strong in so many of us. As dancers, especially, the need for perfection and excellence often goes hand in hand with those tasks, which can make it harder to accomplish them on time or put added anxiety and stress around getting those tasks done. How we interact and set goals has undoubtedly undergone a massive overhaul as we continue to operate in the times of COVID. Or perhaps it hasn’t and you find yourself overwhelmed, burned out and struggling to keep up. What happens when you feel like you cannot push yourself anymore? You do the opposite…move less to do more.  

You might be confused, as my articles are often about how we can implement movement to enhance our mental health. That being said, it’s not always about moving more but instead moving better. It becomes moving with intention and learning to listen to what our body and mind truly need. When there is resistance and fatigue that is a sign to slow down, maybe even pause. Problem is when all we want to do is get things done, pausing is often the last thing we want to do. It can bring up judgment and guilt. It can make us feel lazy, unmotivated and perpetuate fear of getting even more behind than we already feel we are.  

Many dancers have learned to override the internal sensations that urge them to stop and take a break for self-care or rest. This is when injury is at an all time high. So what can we do when we desperately need a break but feel the emotional toll this takes is worse than just pushing through? Consider these five tips.

#1. Slow down.

While that sounds easier said than done, here is one way to try it. Find ways to slow down the movement you are already doing. That way, you are not going cold turkey and doing the exact opposite of what your body and mind feel is necessary to survive. For my movers, that may mean focusing more on adagio, trying restorative yoga or taking jaunts around your neighborhood. If the idea of not moving makes your pulse race, then finding ways to move in a slower manner can be a good place to start. This can even look like eating slower, talking at a slower pace and pausing for moments of reflection throughout the day.  

#2. Find moments of stillness.

This doesn’t mean you go from moving all day to sleeping on the couch. Keep in mind there is even movement in stillness. Your heart is beating, your lungs are expanding and contracting, and blood is flowing through your body. This doesn’t entail freezing in place or perfecting your #mannequinchallenge. It means bringing awareness to the micro-movements and subtle changes in movement that are happening involuntarily.  

#3. Reconnect to your breath.

Breathing, when done in a certain way, can signal the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “rest and digest” reflex. One way to accomplish this is a 4-7-8 method of breathing. Breathe in for 4 counts, pause for 7 counts, and exhale for 8. This may need to be adjusted, which is totally fine as long as your exhale is longer than your inhale. This is what stimulates the vagus nerve, which is vital for regulation.  

#4. Create opportunities to just be.

What does this mean? It is important to not make everything in your day about accomplishing a task or achieving a goal. Just existing in your skin, taking up space and acknowledging how you are feeling, while difficult, can be so powerful. Give yourself permission to just be and not do.

#5. Do things you want, not just things you need.

When was the last time you asked yourself what you wanted? This might feel indulgent or selfish, but it is okay to give in to your wants sometimes. Keep in mind that we are focusing on healthy decisions. Curling up with a good book, socializing with a friend, eating a delicious meal are just some ways to focus on impromptu actions rather than sticking to goals or always staying on task. 

If the thought of slowing down or moving less creates more anxiety, know you are not alone. Remember, though, there are resources and individuals available to help you reclaim your time and energy. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It doesn’t mean you are weak. Self-care is necessary, and during these challenging times, we should all be committed to taking care of ourselves so we can get back to moving with others.  

Erica Hornthal.

By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, Dance/Movement Therapist.

Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist based in Chicago, IL. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in Psychology from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. Erica is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, the premier dance therapy and counseling practice in Chicago, IL. As a body-centered psychotherapist, Erica assists clients of all ages and abilities in harnessing the power of the mind-body connection to create greater awareness and understanding of emotional and mental health. For more, visit

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