Proactive Practices For Mental Health Care in College

April 13, 2022

Every dancer knows the importance of the warm-up. They’ll get the blood flowing with a quick jog around the room, loosen up their joints with a few hip swings, and maybe throw in an ab exercise or two to engage their core. Preparing the body for the physical demands of class or rehearsals helps prevent injury and improve performance.

Few dancers, however, apply the same strategy to their mental well-being, says Dr. Lucie Clements, a dance psychologist in the UK. “But if we think about our psychological well-being ahead of the pressure that we’re putting on it, we can also prevent those difficult experiences from arising.” Taking proactive measures to care for your mental health is especially important during the college years, when young adults are often going through a slew of transitions. Dance Magazine spoke with a few experts to find out how you can nurture your emotional well-being amidst the daily grind of being a dance major.

Daily Mental Health Practices

• Do a morning body scan. Dancers often push their bodies so hard they never take a moment to stop and listen to them, says Erica Hornthal, a dance/movement therapist. “If we’re not paying attention to how the mind is showing up through the body, it’s very easy for us to reach those breaking points and then question how we got here,” Hornthal says. Before getting out of bed, take an inventory of how you’re feeling from head to toe—including your mental state. Then, let your answers inform how hard you push yourself during the day.

Incorporate non-movement recuperation tools. Your mind needs time to rest and repair itself the same way that tired muscles do. Find activities that aren’t movement-based that bring you joy, such as watercolor painting, reading or even sitting at your favorite café and people-watching. Not only does this give your body a break, but it builds up your identity outside of dance.

• Keep a daily journal. It’s so easy to focus on the things that go wrong during class—falling out of your turns, getting the same correction over and over again—so Clements suggests keeping a journal of all the things that went right during the day. Spend 10 to 15 minutes writing down the moments when you were proud of yourself. This helps keep our minds focused on the good.

Strive for excellence, not perfection. Abandon the impossible standard of perfection. Instead, aim for excellence in your dancing, Clements says. Creating this margin for error relieves some of the mental pressure.

Courtesy Getty Images.

Rethink “Productivity”

Dancers can be quick to neglect rest and mental self-care because it doesn’t feel “productive.” But Hornthal reminds us that when our minds are clear and calm, our dancing reaps the benefits. “All these things that we think aren’t productive because they don’t have to do with dance or bettering our craft are actually a way for us to decompress, to unwind, to unplug and recuperate,” she says. “If we don’t, then we don’t even see the red flags that could lead us to those crises.”

Breaking Point

Although mental crises can take many different forms, some common warning signs include having a hard time managing your mood, withdrawing from activities that used to bring you joy, and changes in your relationship with dance. If you find yourself struggling, here are three steps Hornthal suggests to get your mind back on track:

  1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings without judgment. Resist the urge to beat yourself up about the way you feel.
  2. Tap into your network. Reach out to a trusted mentor or friend to share what’s going on. “Healing and help is best managed in community,” Hornthal says.
  3. Seek out help. It’s never a bad idea to connect with a licensed mental health professional. Most universities have on-campus counseling resources available, and a Google search can provide off-campus options.