Dancing Your Way Out of Depression

by Ektha Aggarwal, Clinical social worker (LCSW) and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services

 The content provided here is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek your physician’s advice or other qualified health providers with any questions regarding a medical condition.

The most addictive form of communication is the one that ALMOST works. 

We ALMOST feel connected during that text messaging exchange. 

We ALMOST feel satiated when we gape at the gourmet meals posted on Instagram. 

We ALMOST feel romantically hopeful when Sima Auntie sets up dates on Netflix’s Indian Matchmaker.  

We ALMOST feel like we are immersed in Bali’s paradise when we see a waterfall crashing on the screen. 

We ALMOST feel belonged to a community when we scroll through Facebook posts and click “Going” to events.

Communication that ALMOST works to help us feel connected has been linked to the leading cause of mental health in the world—Depression. Depression is a mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness, loss of interest, sleep and appetite changes, and affects how you feel, think, and behave. 

What has caused so many people to move into depression physically? Could it be the increased use of technology? 

With the introduction of smartphones and a steep 92% youth ownership of these phones by 2015, the nation entered into a mental health epidemic with the rise of depression, suicide rates, and youth seeking mental health counseling. The increase in depression was in tandem with the use of smartphones. 

The smartphones ALMOST helped people feel connected; however, it left many socially isolated. What is supposed to connect us and open up communication is pulling us away from genuine connections into depression’s physical and emotional states of depression. Although recent evidence suggests a correlation between social media and depression, we are learning that technology is not the issue—it’s the symptom to the cause.

According to Aaron Alexander, author of The Align Method: 5 Movement Principles for a Stronger Body, Shaper Mind, and Stress-Proof Life, there is a direct correlation between our physical health and our psychological well being. 

Depression not only manifests in our emotional or mental space, but we can physically move into it.  

When a person feels sad, their shoulders roll forward, head shifts forward, and the spine collapses forward. Ironically, if we look around our environment, we are fixed into this position when we look into our phones, sit on public transportation, and melt into the couch to stream shows. When we are stressed, we often bury ourselves in our cell phones, which increases our depression. The structural mode in us moves our bodies into depression with the collapsed position. 

We try to find fulfillment in endlessly streaming through our Instagram feeds, Facebook posts and digital platforms. We try to manage the high standards of independence and perfection put on by Western society. We try to showcase any of our accomplishments and activities without taking a moment to enjoy in the present moment. And with the pandemic and social isolation, this has only increased.

There is an unspoken requirement to align with the fast and competitive rhythms of life. There is an unspoken pressure to connect and build larger social networks exponentially. There is an implicit expectation to hustle and build a brand out of our “authentic” identity. We are formed and printed in our environments. The failure to meet these requirements, pressures and expectations leave people feeling marginalized, socially stigmatized, and depressed. 

When scrolling through your old social media profile feeds and seeing a picture of yourself from last year, makes sense of disconnection settle in? Do you feel like you cannot relate to the person you once were? Does the “joy” you see in yourself feel foreign?

Depression is more than just having the “blues.” It is not a weakness that you can “snap out” of. Symptoms of depression can vary from mild to severe and may include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration
  • Loss of interest or pleasure normal activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

If we want to shift the quality of our lives and move out of depression, we need to begin by changing how we move through our lives. 

This starts with aligning our mind and body through movement. One of the many types of movement that transcends culture and time is dance. Dance is the earliest form of communication and genuine connection that involves motor, cognitive, visuospatial, social, and emotional engagement. In many shamanic societies, when a person visited a medicine man for depression, they were prescribed to dance for two weeks. Dance allows for introspection and expression, increasing the feel-good hormone serotonin and reducing feelings of depression. The physical posture and body positions in dance transform our mental state. We release trauma, repressed memories, and energy through movement. Our body moves out of depression and into a state of confidence and creativity through the extension of our body. According to Professor Adrianna Mendrek, “new ways of moving and dancing may produce new ways of feeling and perceiving the world.” There are many different dance forms, such as Ballet, Bollywood, Capoeira, Hip Hop, Swing, Tango, etc. What’s your favorite style of dance?  

Dance, similar to somatic therapy, enhances the reciprocal interaction between the mind and the body. This helps regulate and release emotions through movement and body postures. Finnish-based research concluded that dance provides people diagnosed with depression to interact socially and form genuine connections, which improved moods and reduced depression symptoms. Social connections lead to an approximately 50% increased chance of longevity, boost the immune system, and lower depression rates. A social community is built and formed through dance and movement. 

Dance helps us move out of a state of depression by elevating our spine and structural mode, developing new neural connections that enhance social interactions, and communicating through movement and self-expression. Movement allows us to move out of a physical state of depression and take control of our bodies. Taking control of our body will enable us to manage our emotional and mental space. There’s a powerful connection between our mind and body. Changing the mind has time after time has proven to change our body. The same can be said for changing our body; it has tremendous benefits in positively changing our mind. 

So be free and ignite the spark that gets you moving. Embody the child in you. Feel your spirit soar. 

Be like a jellyfish–and expand every part of you till you move into a space that makes you feel better. 

Dance until your heart smiles. Dance until you feel ALIVE!

Ektha Aggarwal is an experienced licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services based in Los Angeles, CA. Ektha specializes in working with South Asian communities and people of color to break the stigma around mental health to instill immigrant and cultural resilience. To learn more about Shakti Therapy and Healing services, please visit www.shaktitherapyhealing.com or email Ektha at info@shaktitherapyhealing.com.

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