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A Better You | Letting the Sun Shine

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Banish negativity with mental and physical strategies

By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT

Waking up tired and sluggish? Do you feel apathetic, indifferent, and numb at the studio? Have long days turned into long years, your attitude become “Been there, done that” as you anticipate every irritation that can happen in a day? Are you counting the days until vacation even though the dance year just started?

Wait a minute—what’s happening? You got into this profession because of passion and love—where did all that good stuff go? If these feelings persist or interfere with work performance or relationships, you could be dealing with clinical depression, so make sure you see a doctor. But if what you’re suffering from is a case of boredom and the blahs—no fun, but not nearly as serious—then help is on the way. Here are some mental and physical strategies that you can use to remove the negativity and restore the sunshine to your days.

Risk leads to reward
I recently attended a celebration of LEAP, or Liberal Education for Arts Professionals, which I participated in during its formative years in the ’90s. This degree program at Saint Mary’s College of California, in Moraga, assists dancers as they transition from a performing career to the next stage of life. Listening to ballet, modern, and musical theater dancers describe how they moved on to new careers was nothing less than inspiring.

Owners of dance studios have taken similar leaps—opening a studio is no small risk, period, and nobody said it was going to be easy. Programs like LEAP give encouragement to dancers who are making major life or career changes by pointing out that so many of the things that helped them become dancers—creativity, a killer work ethic, determination—will also help them thrive as entrepreneurs or business owners. With that in mind, celebrate your own bravery and give yourself a break.

Make decisions with confidence
Making decisions while juggling finances and staff, plus the never-ending work of attracting and retaining students, can seem monumental. All decisions involve consequences, and anxiety about finding the “right” choice can lead to procrastination, second-guessing, or self-doubt—all of which sap enthusiasm. An advisory council is always helpful in providing due diligence or for brainstorming. (But remember that seeking too many people’s advice can muddy your decision making, not clarify it.) Once a decision is made, commit to it. Give yourself permission to enjoy the consequences, even if they lead to more decisions and perhaps an alteration of the original plan. It’s all part of the adventure.

Practice effective detachment
It’s important to offer a kind ear to people in your work life who are struggling with problems or complaints. But absorbing their negative emotions will only compromise your day and interfere with your ability to maintain enthusiasm and emotional consistency. Detachment is one way to give respect to others while limiting your involvement. A simple “I’m sorry you’re going through this” can often suffice.

But beware. Detachment is not indifference. Let the person know you are listening by repeating some of his phrases or thoughts.

Often, people who are wrapped up in their own problems cannot see things in perspective. Discussing the problem in a neutral location—for example, at a coffee shop—can lead to fresh, new ideas. Resist the urge to dive into the problem with them. Bite your tongue. Sit on your hands. Count to 20. Let the person work it out. Both of you will be happier, I promise.

Gossip-fests can be enticing, so if you’re tempted to jump into one with a parent or co-worker, find something good to say, deflect the conversation in another direction, or have courage and end it politely. Even passive participation, such as listening to a group’s gossip, is no good for your own peace of mind.

Delegate
If you’re not good at delegating, learn. Sure, you can do all the tasks required, but do you want to or need to? Give staff, volunteers, parents—and yes, even students—a chance to participate. Figure out what you can let go, and don’t feel guilty if you’re not working on something every minute. Use that free time to schedule some balance into your days. In the end you’ll come out ahead by not scaring away clientele with cranky, irritable behavior caused by overwork.

Clear your mind with exercise
Daily restoration involves healthy eating, seven or eight hours of sleep, drinking about six cups of pure water, and cross-training. Try to develop a structured regimen that makes use of non-dance-related movements (to avoid overuse of muscles), such as Pilates, yoga, stretching, and light weightlifting. All provide solid conditioning, and the variety of cross-training will energize you and keep you feeling great.

Detachment is one way to give respect to others while also limiting your involvement. A simple “I’m sorry you’re going through this” can often suffice.

A 2009 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that outdoor activities such as gardening, team sports, walking or jogging, biking, and golf can provide a sense of freedom from work burdens. It’s a fact that pleasurable activity can help you move toward a positive attitude adjustment.

Smiling works
When looking to lift your mood, don’t forget your friends. A 2009 study conducted by the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, found that women in particular get a mood boost from positive interpersonal influences.

One more reminder: smile! Putting on a happy face does have a positive effect, according to a Department of Psychology study at the University of Missouri. People who frequently smile report that they find higher satisfaction and meaning in life, and their happy attitude rubs off on friends, family, and co-workers.

Battle bitterness with rest
Feeling trapped in an unrelenting schedule can lead to cynicism—suddenly, your valued clientele seems like a pitchfork-wielding mob of angry villagers. You may think you are hiding your bitterness, but people will hear it in your speech and see it in your body language, and it’s guaranteed to drive away the people you love and want around you. (It’s surprising how transparent we are.) It’s important to get enough rest and restoration so you can return to reality and recognize those challenging clients as part of your thriving business, not an uncontrollable mob.

Stimulate your mind
To keep yourself fired up, ramp up your professional development. When I started my private practice as the sole practitioner, I found that taking workshops and classes helped me expand my own thinking. I could see how my expertise and talents differed from others’, and I became open to other points of view. At conferences, I learned about new technology and the changing nature of my field. Look for conferences and workshops that will help you round out your training and exposure. If you’re tired of workshops, offer to present a workshop or class at a conference yourself. It’s amazing what you can come up with when a deadline is looming.

Don’t underestimate the importance of getting away from it all, for a lengthy vacation or only for an hour. When our workload is very high—and we all know how long the days are in the performing arts—it’s more difficult to relax during non-work hours. Be sure to schedule some quick, fun getaways in advance, such as a facial, massage or spa visit, or private Pilates session. If a spare hour unexpectedly pops up, go window shopping, read a book or magazine, or relax with a Sudoku puzzle. There are endless creative ways to recharge your mind and reset your coping gears.

Conquering burnout
Think losing the love of dance can’t happen to you? Negativity creeps up slowly, like a fog. We’ve all heard stories of executives who left high-powered careers or made other extreme lifestyle changes because job pressures ate away at their happiness. Dance is a passion. Entrepreneurship requires hyperdrive productivity. Don’t let either one consume you. With a little perspective, balance, and foresight, you can leap ahead, stay in the field you love, increase the positive and reduce the negative, and maybe even earn a lifetime achievement award.

I have faith in you.

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