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Dance vs The Black Dog

Author: Laura Oates: Psychotherapist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist
Date: 4th March 2017
Categories: Well Being

"Winston Churchill called depression his Black Dog - one that sits heavily on you and cannot be tempted away by an exciting ball game. Why am I so sympathetic to people with depression? Because I too have been sat upon by the Black Dog, and it sucks."

Dance vs The Black Dog

I often work with people with depression. I know it can show up as low mood, lack of enjoyment, sleep disturbances, eating problems. Or it might be an inability to concentrate, feelings isolated and wanting to be alone. Ultimately it can give you ideas about ending your life. But words like these do not really convey the feelings of being inside depression. It can feel like you are numb or empty, that you are living behind a thick wall of glass, in a place where no one could ever understand you or reach you even if they wanted. Drowning in blackness. I know that depression can affect your memory - blocking access to memories of happy times - but that doesn’t really tell you much about what it feels like to look back at one's own life and only see the bad.

Winston Churchill called depression his Black Dog - one that sits heavily on you and cannot be tempted away by an exciting ball game. Why am I so sympathetic to people with depression? Because I too have been sat upon by the Black Dog, and it sucks.

Luckily, memory being what it is, those feelings are now behind me and I can recall them more dimly than when I was depressed, but I remember clearly having the same thought again and again (and then again and again) while lying awake at night when everyone else had been asleep for hours. I remember forcing myself to eat and noticing that I could taste nothing, and what was the point of eating anyway? Why not put an end to your own misery - you’d being doing them all a favour, because who would want to be around you when you just cry all day and lie awake all night?

My training and work using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy recognises that all of these feelings are symptoms of the cruel illness called depression, rather than a true reflection of the sufferer themselves. And there is help out there.

Best medical practice is to offer a combination treatment of meds, where appropriate, and CBT. Depression is linked to a low brain chemical, Serotonin, which can be helped by meds. If that goes offline, we still have others that can be recruited, but we need to use other brain chemicals to work harder to help us feel a bit better. If we can gain even ten minutes of feeling better through our won efforts, we can start to believe we can put the genie of depression back into its bottle.

Those chemicals are

  • Dopamine - created when we undertake an accomplishment - however small
  • Endorphins - created when we exercise
  • Oxytocin - a body-chemical released when we do nice things with our bodies, and especially when we are in contact with other humans
  • Another route out is called Mindfulness - being fully in this moment, here and now.

I call these anti-depressant activities. My role is to encourage depressed people to do as many of these as possible to be in control (a bit) of their mood in the fight back from depression.

For me personally, dance ticks all of these boxes. Whilst gyms are starting to recognise the benefits of exercise on depression and are actively promoting the mood benefits of the workouts they offer, dance truly has everything - it is the ultimate anti-depressant activity.

I’ve been dancing Ceroc for over ten years now and I love it. Although I am lucky enough not to have been depressed for a long time, sometimes my work means that I am near a lot of pain, anguish and suffering. And it is impossible not to share feelings with my clients - in fact it is vital to be able to do that in order for me to work effectively. I find however, that within minutes of getting onto the dance floor, I am immediately returned to a good mood.

  1. Dance requires the ultimate in mindfulness - if you are thinking about your boss’ negative comment, or your sibling’s bad qualities, you are going to step on someone’s toe! 
  2. Endorphins and exercise? Yes, you are being active and moving around. 
  3. Dopamine and Mastery? Getting of top of a dance routine, however short, gives you a sense of "I did that - Yay me!" 
  4. Social contact with others? Ceroc is a partner dance and social interaction and contact with others is a great anti-depressant as it boosts oxytocin.

Dance is invigorating, and Ceroc is not only fun but also gives you the opportunity to meet new people and listen to wide range of music. Did I mention music is a mood lifter too?

I will be back – to the dance floor at least.

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