It’s a world of compare and contrast for dancers. Dancers could be perfectionistic to a fault, and more often than not, dancers are encouraged to do more, go further and challenge themselves. All these things sound motivational and positive, but there must be a balance. The sun rises and sets. There’s the high tide, and the low tide. Similarly, we can’t always be pushing ourselves without giving ourselves a break. If we do so, it can lead to burnout. You may know that burnout isn’t fun to deal with, and it’s probably an occupational hazard of being a dancer to slip into burnout at least once throughout your dance journey. But that’s okay. We’re here to help you cope with dancer burnout!
What is burnout?
Alright, first things first. We have to understand what is burnout before we find out how to cope with it. Very generally, burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, usually caused by excessive and prolonged stress. How much each person can handle stress can vary greatly, so one person may experience burnout easily, whereas another can be highly resilient. When we’re constantly being compared to others, and working towards a goal of being “perfect”, it’s only normal for us to be susceptible to burnout. But how do you really know when too much is too much? Symptoms and signs of burnout include (but are not limited to):
- A state of constant/unexplained fatigue
- Negative mood/thinking
- Feelings of helplessness
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sleep disturbances/insomnia
- More frequent illnesses and/or injuries
- Feeling demotivated
- Loss of interest in dance
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling more emotional than usual (easily upset, irritated etc.)
- Feelings of stress/tension when dancing
We’re not saying that if you experience one of these symptoms, you have burnout. But if you find yourself having a few of symptoms for some time, or that the symptoms on this list are increasing, then it might be wise to take a step back and monitor yourself. Burnout can lead to depression, and we’re trying to prevent anyone from going down that path. Always dance happy, and take a break if need be!
1. Rest, Relax & Rejuvenate
One of the contributing factors to burnout is actually exhaustion, be it mental or physical. You don’t need us to tell you that dancing/training is both physically and mentally demanding, so you’ve got to know when to take a break, whether it’s having an off day, or learning to make the most of your breaks between rehearsals/classes. Here are a few things you can do to help ease your tension.
- Take a power nap
- Listen to your favourite music
- Roll/massage your muscles
- Elevate your legs – lie down with your feet propped up without shoes
- Snack on your favourite healthy snack that can keep energy levels up – fruit and yogurt, a banana, an apple, some dark chocolate
- Simple aromatherapy – stock up on some essential oils, and place a drop of your selected scent onto your palm, rub both palms together and inhale deeply (my personal favourites are lavender, lemon, and wild orange)
Downtime for a dancer is extremely important, as it allows muscles to relax and actually recover from all the intensive work. On your day off, please do not attempt to engage in more physical activity; you get enough of that, especially if you’re training for an upcoming performance/exam/competition. Instead, consider these activities:
- Do nothing and laze around
- Treat yourself to a spa session
- Engage in your favourite non-physical activities e.g. watching a movie, reading a book, drawing
- Sit down and really enjoy a meal
- Take a stroll through your neighbourhood park to get in touch with nature (this physical activity is alright, but no hiking)
2. Sleep Well
A well-rested body is required for optimum performance, so don’t ever skimp on sleep! I, for one, get headaches and will be extremely grumpy if I don’t get enough sleep, so my performance in dance will also plummet. Sleeping, if you haven’t already known, allows cells to repair themselves, and I imagine our cells will need to do lots of repairing as we use them so much more. Not to mention that getting enough sleep will ensure that we have enough energy, as well as a good mood to start off the day!
3. Eat Well
You are what you eat, and a dancer’s diet is very important to him/her. We’re using up lots of energy when we dance, and we have to learn what works best to keep our energy levels up, and how to maintain a fit physique. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy, but if we consume too much, there’s the issue of putting on unwanted weight as well. Choose complex carbs instead of simple ones, meaning try not to consume too much processed food such as white rice and white bread. Opt for wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats… you get it. Muscle is protein, so get in a good portion of (lean) meat, eggs, and beans to ensure your muscles will be in tip-top condition. Last but not least, fruits and vege, for they’re the best source of vitamins and minerals, not to mention a good source of fibre, to keep your digestive system healthy. Since everyone’s bodies work differently, it’s hard to slap down a meal plan and say “okay, this is it”. Personally, I tried a no rice, no (added) sugar, and no ice diet for a few months last year, and it worked really well for me in maintaining a good physique, and I didn’t feel faint, or abnormally tired even when I was dancing 6 days a week. You could try it out if you want to. Oh, and this should be a no-brainer, but keep yourself hydrated by drinking sufficient water! Proper nutrition will help prime your body to do better, and you could also look for food that are mood boosters for a pick-me-up whenever you need one.
4. Do Something Different
A routine is good, but sometimes when you’ve been doing it for too long, it can make you feel like you’re stuck, or trapped instead. If you feel this way, try to do something different in your routine to break you out of that stupor. For example, you’ve been practicing really really hard and long on nailing a triple pirouette, but you can’t seem to get it. Forget about the pirouette and the variation for a moment. Put on some different music. Start dancing. No need to be classical or adhere to your usual movements. Go crazy. Learn to feel your body move and come alive again. Isn’t that what dance is all about? Alternatively, for a less radical change, switch up your warm-up routine if you have one. Switch up the sequences, or incorporate new moves… anything. Change can be beneficial, and help with feelings of helplessness.
5. Set Goals
Ah, yes. The age-old, supposedly foolproof method of getting what you want, eventually. Set goals. It sounds easy, but there are actually different types of goals, such as short-term and long-term goals. Some goals are also more abstract than others, such as “being the best dancer in my studio” – how does one actually do that? You could have a long-term goal such as get first prize in Competition A in 2020, but also set several short-term, achieveable, tangible goals. Before you can win any competition, what do you have to do? What are your weaknesses? Perhaps it’s about jumps. Why are your jumps not energetic enough? Let’s say you lack core strength, so one of your goals will definitely be to improve core strength. How do you improve core strength? This is where goal-setting comes in: planking for 30 seconds, 5 reps everyday for a week to start off with, and then slowly increasing the duration and/or reps. This is definitely a reachable goal, and also one that can be modified. With goals, at least it will seem more systematic and organised, and you’ll feel less of “why am I not good at everything”, or “how do I even…”
6. Get Inspired Outside of the Studio
The studio feels like a second home, doesn’t it? Your friends and family probably say this about you: if you’re not at home, you’re most likely at the studio. But remember what we said about finding a balance? Spending too much time in the studio without getting out can be detrimental – again, feeling trapped. Once in a while, step outside, and go exploring. Watch life happen, and you might be able to gain a different perspective – on dance, maybe on life itself – and you’ll be able to incorporate that into your dancing. Call it breathing new life into your dance if you will, but no good has ever come out of staying cooped up in the studio 24/7. After all, dance is inspired by life itself!
So there we are with 6 ways to cope with dancer burnout! We get that being a dancer can sometimes be excruciatingly tiring, but we soldier on because of our passion, don’t we? We hope that whoever has been feeling a little down lately can benefit from these pick-me-ups, and we’d love to hear from you if you have other ways to cope as well! What’s your favourite way to de-stress and take a break? Share them with us in the comments below!
Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through dance.