What is a Rest Day? The Key To Unlocking Your Progress

One of the hardest things to communicate to our dancers at Dancers Who Lift is how productive a rest day is. 

 

I had an old teacher who used to say,

“There is someone out there working harder and longer than you, and when they meet you they will beat you.”

 

This mentality not only made sense to me but added an immense amount of pressure to my training schedule. 

And while this sentence has some truth in it, what “they” are working harder on could be better defined.

You see, I thought it meant more hours in the studio, more hours spent on nutrition, more hours spent in the gym, more hours spent practicing, more hours auditioning. 

But when someone is training at an elite level, they are incredibly intentional about rest. They take rest days and active recovery days. They have a consistent nighttime routine to help them get quality sleep. These athletes care deeply about rest because they recognize that it directly impacts their performance. 

Now, with dancers, rest is particularly important because, unlike other athletes, we don’t have a “season” in which our training is focused.

No. Auditions happen year-round. Opportunities to perform crop up left and right and remaining ready is a big part of our reality. That’s why being intentional about rest is so important. Because life without rest is not sustainable. It will surely lead to burn-out, illness, or even injury.

Studies have shown that it is integral to an athlete’s success to have a detailed recovery plan that balances, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and physical and psychological rest. 

So let’s talk a bit about the different kinds of rest days and how you listen to your body to determine which kind of rest it needs. 

 

Active Recovery Days

This, we have found, is a dancer’s favorite kind of rest – because, well, it’s not passive. 

Active recovery days are days in which you still move your body, and you might even exercise, but the intensity and intention of the workout are not the same. Workout days have the focus of increasing your heart rate, burning calories, and building muscle. Active rest days have the goal of increasing blood flow, decreasing physical stress, and muscle recovery.

Examples of an active rest day are:

Taking an extra long walk, taking an easy ride on your bike, doing yoga, or a mobility flow. 

Examples of things that might look like active rest days but are not are:

Taking a pilates/core power/SLT class, taking a hot yoga class, or taking a spin/SoulCycle class.

 

Yes, these things might be lower intensity than your other workouts, but they are still, in fact, workouts designed to put your body under physical stress as a means of training. 

Active recovery days are incredibly important for muscle recovery. Studies have shown that engaging in active rest days can decrease recovery time in muscle groups. This means that taking an active rest day between workouts could help you perform better during your next workout!

Not only that but the activities associated with an active rest day (walking, gentle cycling, yoga) are also associated with positive mental health. 

So – to recap, active rest days promote muscle recovery and a positive mental state.

Sound good to you? Same.  

 

 

mindfulness for self-care, mental health support for injury recovery

 

 

 

Then, What Is A Rest Day?

After hearing all those positives about active rest days you might be wondering, why take a rest day? Moving my body every day is good, right?

Well, yes.  We want to get our bodies moving a little bit each day. But every day does not have to be active. 

Like anything, too much of a good thing is still too much. Constantly being active places our bodies in a state of chronic stress. Being in a state of chronic stress increases a hormone called Cortisol, the primary stress hormone. This causes an increase in sugar, also called glucose, in the bloodstream. Cortisol slows functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation- changing immune system responses and suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. 

What does this mean? It means that if your body perceives that it won’t get a break, it will be more susceptible to illness and injury, and will slow down the muscle growth process (it won’t recover well between workouts.)

If you are someone looking to reach a fitness, physique, or training goal, that is bad news. 

The remedy? Take a rest day. 

A rest day is comprised of leisurely movement like a stroll through the park or a stretch session. But mostly, a true rest day consists of restorative activities like reading a book, watching a movie, sharing a meal with loved ones, or being creative in a way that is separate from your profession. 

I can hear it now, 

“BuT, I fEeL LaZY WhEn I dO NoThING.”

 

If you are saying this, then this is an even bigger signal that learning to rest should be a top priority.  Because, if you are constantly worried during your rest day that you’re losing progress by resting, then you aren’t really resting at all. 

Emotional health plays a big role in our physical health. If we are emotionally stressed, eventually that stress will manifest physically in some way. 

Just because you are physically resting does not mean you’re giving your body the rest it needs. To recover, you need to also rest your mind. Release your worry and unplug. 

It may take time to discover what you need in order to fully relax. 

For me, I need my space to be tidy. If my space is a mess, my mind will be too. But if I take a few minutes even just to tidy up the mess a little, I find it much easier to relax.

So, take some time to reflect on what it is you need to do to properly take a rest day and do it. Then, bask in the relief of true and total rest. And do so knowing that you are making progress because of it!

Rest days are integral in muscle recovery and growth. Rest days prevent injury, and burn-out, and promote better sleep. 

 

How Do I Know When to Rest?

Learning to listen to your body and deduce what it needs can take time. 

Generally, if you’re feeling extra sore or tired, that’s a signal that your body might need an active recovery day. Active recovery is perfect for days when you’re feeling sore because the movement will help alleviate the soreness and the rest will give your energy levels a chance to rebalance. 

Now, if you’re feeling exhausted, you “tweaked” something yesterday, or mentally you need a break, take a full rest day. Give your mind something completely new to focus on like a good book or show. Meet up with a friend and laugh. Listen to your favorite song. Bake your favorite recipe or meal prep for the week. Anything to give your mind and body a break from what you’ve been focused on. 

Dedication > Motivation. But only if you are giving yourself time to recover. If you’ve been hitting them and rehearsing and auditioning and learning scenes for an acting class, and, and, and… 

Then your lack of motivation might be your body asking for a much-deserved break. Listen to it and honor it. 

 

So, when was the last time you took a true rest day?

Will you take one this week? You should! We suggest our dancers get at least one true rest day and one or two active rest days each week.

Give it a try this week and let us know how your next workout feels. My guess? You’ll be able to run farther, lift more, and dance longer than if you had skipped your day off. 

 

Want more tips for performing optimally? Give these a read: Eight Ways to Promote Faster Recovery, Overcoming Plateaus and Setbacks, 10 Exercises For Dancers That Will Transform Your Technique

body neutrality vs body positivity

Body Neutrality, Body Positivity, And Your Fitness Journey

Body Neutrality and Body Positivity may have similar purposes, but which mindset you adopt will largely depend upon your goals, your lifestyle, and your perspective. Both perspectives have the goal of bucking toxic beauty standards and tearing down societal conventions of beauty.But they each have a slightly different way of approaching their goal. 

So, today, we’re going to break down these two perspectives and give you some mindset suggestions for navigating your fitness journey. 

 

Body Positivity

If you’re a woman in America you’ve likely been exposed to the body positivity movement. Born out of the work of fat-acceptance activists from the 1960s, the initial body positivity movement was focused entirely on fighting for the equality of opportunities given to all bodies. However, this is not what most people think of when they think of body positivity today. As the movement grew, so too did the way people interpreted it and now, what most people think of when they hear “body positivity” is very different.

At its heart, body positivity is focused on loving your body no matter what as a way to combat the toxic beauty standards that we’ve been taught via TV, social media, and movies. The implication is that if you’re free of this toxic pressure to be [ insert current beauty trend here] then you’ll be free to accept and love how your body presents in the world. 

However, a lot of people find body positivity to be a danger zone adjacent to toxic positivity. This is because, for many people, being 100% happy with how your body looks at all times is unrealistic.

On top of that, it begs the question:

If you’re happy with your body at all times is it still okay to want to make changes? To want to become more muscular, to want to lose fat, to want to gain fat?

At what point does body positivity begin to limit the very freedom it’s fighting for? 

Enter Body Neutrality. 

 

Body Neutrality

Body Neutrality was born in response to the body positivity movement. 

This perspective is focused on neutralizing your thoughts about your body so you are free from the pressure to magically love every aspect of yourself. Body neutrality allows you to take all of the things that previously felt “wrong” to truly be neutral. 

 

Suddenly, instead of feeling guilty for disliking __ part of your body or wishing you could lose some fat, you’re allowed to say,

 “I don’t love this aspect of my body, but because of what I’ve been told, that makes sense that I feel this way and that’s okay.”

Or

“I want to lose weight, and that doesn’t mean anything bad.”

 

Body neutrality also shifts our focus away from only examining what our bodies look like and onto what our bodies can do. 

Anne Poirier, the author of The Body Joyful, defined body neutrality as,

“prioritizing the body’s function and what it can do rather than its appearance.”

Practicing this helps to train body appreciation. And body appreciation has been scientifically shown to help people establish better relationships with their bodies. 

When you practice focusing on what your body does for you, what your body looks like feels less important. 

 

 

mindfulness for self-care, mental health support for injury recovery

 

 

What Body Neutrality And Your Fitness Journey

Your body wants you to win, so when it changes it’s usually in response to the environment it’s in or what is being asked of it. 

When you are no longer holding judgment for how your body looks or for how you feel about your body, you are free to become curious about your body.

For example, 

“I noticed that this month my progress has plateaued, has anything been unique about this month compared to others?” 

OR, 

 “I wonder how I could help my body feel safe enough to continue evolving.” 

 

Now the doors are open for you to explore what specific needs your body has and how you can provide those consistently. 

This also works when you start a new training regimen. 

You might say,

“Wow! I’m noticing my traps are getting quite strong, but I miss how long my neck used to look. I wonder what part of my training has built this part of my upper body so much.”

 

Boom. Suddenly the world is your oyster. 

Want to grow a peach for the summer? Ask yourself or your coach what part of your training you might adjust to do that. 

Grew that peach and found it hard to find pants that fit right? That’s okay, too!

You’re allowed to take a step back from training that muscle group and focus on other things. 

With body neutrality, any fitness goal is worthwhile as long as you approach it safely. 

 

Put It Into Action

Want to start putting this body neutrality perspective into action? 

Start small.

First, allow yourself to feel how it is you feel about your body. 

Return to those statements of acceptance: 

“I don’t love ___ part of my body, and that’s okay.”

“I want to lose weight, and I’m not bad for wanting that.”

 

Next, consider what your body does for you:

“I love how strong my legs are, it’s why I am such a strong jumper.”

“I love knowing that I can run a mile without thinking twice.”

 

Get curious:

“I’d like to finally be able to do a pull-up, I wonder what I’d have to adjust in my training to make that goal happen.”

“I’ve been lifting weights a long time, I’m curious to see if I could lose a little fat to reveal more of that new muscle tone.” 

 

Lastly, remember that your body does not bear weight on your inherent value as a person, dancer, or professional:

“No matter what, I am kind, and I love that about myself.”

“I’m great at fostering community. I love hosting my friends and making them feel welcome in my home and that has nothing to do with my body.”

 

Body neutrality is a fantastic stepping stone toward rebuilding your relationship with your body. 

And if you want help establishing this perspective, shoot us an email at dancerswholift@gmail.com. We’d love to give you tools to jump-start your body neutrality journey and cheer you on along the way. 

Want to read more on the DWL blog? Here are three articles we think you’ll love: Eight Ways to Promote Faster Recovery, Flipping the Script of Negative Self-Talk, How to Track Macros Like a Pro

 

listening to your body, what your body wants you to know

What Your Body Wants You to Know: The Do’s and Don’ts of Listening to Your Body

Do you ever wonder what your body wants you to know? Like, if it could speak to you what would it say? What if I told you your body is speaking to you all day every day, we just have to learn to listen?

We all had that one modern or contemporary dance teacher who touted the importance of listening to your body. 

You know, the one who was very grounded and spiritual, but also would torture you weekly by weaponizing deep pliés and silent screams? 

The one whose instruction to eat a large, hot, meal after class and soak in a an epsom bath you ignored, and suffered from D.O.M.S. the next day as a result. 

Well, it turns out, that dance teacher knew something that maybe you didn’t. 

They  knew how to listen to their body. They knew what your body wants you to know 

That’s why they recommended a full meal. That’s why they recommended the bath.  Those are techniques they used to quell the cues of muscle exhaustion their body was sending them. 

But here’s where our dance teachers steered us wrong. They told us the prescription, but they didn’t teach us how to diagnose. 

Learning how to listen to your body is immensely important. Not just as a dancer, but as a human being. 

 

Re-Learn What Listening to Your Body Means

When we are babies the only skillset we have is listening to our bodies and responding; it’s instinctual.  

You don’t have to teach a baby to identify when it’s hungry or full. It knows to ask (cry) for food and then stops when it’s had enough. 

Unfortunately, as we age, the pressures of fitting into the expectations of family, friends, or social culture can cause us to tune out certain cues from our bodies. Tuning out these cues consistently overtime makes it more challenging to listen to them. 

Listening to your body requires you to unlearn certain socially imposed expectations such as what productivity looks like, perfectionism, control, self-image, body-image, and the list goes on. 

But if we take a moment to ignore those pressures momentarily and check in with our bodies we can recognize that every signal our body is sending us means something. 

For example, I suffer from chronic headaches. For a long time I chalked it up to exhaustion, stress, or dehydration and would pop a Tylenol and go on with my day. However, when I started to get more curious about the why, I discovered something pretty incredible. 

Whenever I felt a headache coming on, I’d first stretch my neck and thoracic spine. If that didn’t work, I’d up my water intake. If hydrating myself didn’t work I’d think about what I’d eaten that day. 

Over the course of a few months, I realized that my worst headaches occurred on days in which my protein intake was low. These headaches were a way of my body telling me to eat! So simple! 

Once I started honoring that cue, my headaches decreased exponentially! 

That’s what your body wants you to know; that it has your best interest at heart.

Now, this is a pretty extreme example. But seeing how something like this changed my life inspired me to take a look at something that we all have experienced, stress. 

 

 

personal training for dancers

 

 

Balancing Stress and Listening to Your Body

Stress is one of the loudest ways our body speaks to us. But, unfortunately, culturally we are taught to push through. We do this in the name of productivity, performance, success, and more. 

And while we do need to push through fatigue or stress to get to our goals, regularly pushing past the cues our bodies give us to slow down can lead to physical, mental, and emotional problems.

Let’s talk about babies one more time. Have you ever been with a baby who is over-tired? 

It’s a challenging experience that leaves you wondering,

 “If they are so exhausted, why don’t they just fall asleep?”

The short answer? Stress. 

You see, when a baby isn’t getting enough sleep, their tiny bodies go into stress mode – dumping stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin into their system. 

Have you ever tried to take a nap during an adrenaline rush? Yeah, not happening. 

Now, imagine how limited and exhausted you are when your body has been living in stress mode. 

Not good. 

That’s what your body wants you to know: “I’m exhausted to the point to stress.”

 

How do we listen to our bodies to prevent a stress or exhaustion overdose?

This is a fantastic question! I am so glad you asked!

The first thing you have to to do is learn to slow down and check in with your body throughout the day. 

Take two or three minutes to close your eyes and simply notice things. 

Start by taking a deep breath and do an emotional scan: “How am I feeling?”

Do you feel fatigued? Do you feel energized? Do you feel sad? Content? Numb?

Then take a scan of your body. Just sit quietly and notice things. 

What is your breath like? Do any specific aches and pains jump out at you? Are you hungry? Thirsty?

Finally, take a stock of what you feel like your body wants. 

Do you feel like you need to sit down? Are you in the mood to move? Do you feel like you’re one deep breath away from a nap?

Once you’ve checked in you have the power to decide what you need most. 

But I encourage you to practice listening to what your body is asking for. 

So much of being a dancer is focused on pushing through pain signals, hunger cues, and controlling your emotions. But that’s often when we see injuries, eating disorders, and mental struggles arise. 

But when you practice listening to your body for awhile, you might find that your performances are better, your workouts are progressing faster, and you feel more in line with yourself. 

And yes, that might mean that you skip a workout to foam roll, stretch, and take a mental health walk. It might mean that instead of staying home and isolating you call a friend and have dinner out. It might mean going to bed early instead of signing up on that audition list at 12:01 AM. 

But in the long run the choices that you make to honor your bodies needs will always pay off in dividends. 

Don’t believe me?

 

Give it a try for yourself. Find out what your body wants you to know.

We were born with all of the instincts to not only survive but to thrive as living beings. Stop silencing those instincts. 

Your body wants you to win. That’s what your body wants you to know.

Trust it.   

Did you like this blog? Check out: 7 Helpful Journal Prompts for Dancers, Are Foods Good And Bad? Building a Healthy Relationship with Food, Gym Myths and Misconceptions: The Dancer Editio

injury recovery tips for dancers

Injury Recovery 101: The Do’s and Don’ts for Getting Back on Stage Faster

Sustaining an injury as a dancer can be brutal, both physically and mentally. However, as professional athletes, injuries are going to happen. And while injury recovery looks different for every injury and every dancer, there are a few actions you can take to help your body and mind along the process. 

Because whether you sustained an acute injury like an ACL or Achilles tear, or suffered as a stress fracture slowly developed over time, being pro-active about your recovery will get you back on stage faster. 

Now, this list is by no means a comprehensive guide for healing. Only your doctors and physical therapists and give you that.  However, this list of “Dos and Don’ts” will help you thrive throughout your injury recovery journey within the plan your doctor and PTs have put in place for you. 

So, do you want to know what you can do to speed up and support yourself while recovering from an injury?

To the list!

 

 

mindfulness for self-care, mental health support for injury recovery

 

 

  • DON’T Keep Going

The first and hardest lesson dancers need to learn about being injured is to stop dancing when the injury arises. Whether you hear a pop or you’ve “tweaked” something that’s bugging you, just stop. 

Dancers struggle with this because we were taught to “just keep going.” Although we are athletes, we were trained with the “show must go on mindset.” But by “keeping going” we are putting ourselves at risk for even greater injury. 

So whether you are bleeding through your pointe shoes, or dancing on a “tweaked” knee, just stop.  

I promise, you will thank yourself for preventing further injury to whatever is hurting.

**If you read this and said “Yeah, but I’ve always been fine, I know my body” this bullet point was specifically written for you.**

 

  • Go to the Doctor – Get a Good P.T.

Once you’ve stopped, go see a doctor or physical therapist. There they can asses the injury and create an action plan for your injury recovery. The faster you find out what’s wrong, the faster you can start healing. 

As far as finding a good physical therapist, read reviews or ask a friend for a referral.  You want to make sure you are working with someone who understands your needs as an athlete and dancer. 

 

If you know what’s going on, and don’t need to see a doctor, follow the proper rest protocols. 

For example, if you sprain your ankle during petite allegro, stop. Once you’ve stopped, rest it, ice it, add compression, and elevate it!

 

  • Eat well

Nutrition is a huge factor in injury recovery. Eating a diet full of nutrients, plenty of protein, and fiber promotes healing. 

Don’t make the common mistake of underfueling your recovery. Now is not the time to “cut” to prevent weight gain. You’re body needs all the fuel it can get to heal whatever is broken. Instead, ensure you’e getting plenty of protein, antioxidants and vitamins through a healthy and balanced diet.

Besides, healing burns calories!

In fact, depending on the type of injury, you might need to adjust your macro split. Studies have shown that during injury recovery, about 55% of total calories should be delivered as complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. 

Eating for recovery also means watching your alcohol intake. Alcohol has been shown to exacerbate muscle loss during immobilization. So, during injury recovery,  consider cutting out alcohol or at the very least, consume mindfully. 

 

  • Incorporate Resistance Training (Based on Doctor Clearance)

Whether you’re early on in your injury recovery journey or late in the game, incorporating resistance training will be critical to rebuilding and recovering. 

Resistance training can be used to both strengthen the injury itself and strengthen any imbalances around the injury that might’ve led to the initial injury or could contribute to re-injury.  It’s critical to your injury recovery that you follow whatever physical therapy exercises you’ve been given between sessions. 

 

That’s why I recommend finding and excellent physical therapist or personal trainer (or both)! 

In fact, did you know our very own Amber Tacy started her personal training journey by working in a physical therapy office? It’s true!

It’s one of the reasons Dancers Who Lift is so passionate about providing training that aides in injury prevention and takes personal interest in their dancers to create plans built around their individual needs. Want to learn more about that? Read about Amber’s journey to creating The Embodied Artist Academy here

 

  • Work with a Mental Health Professional:

As humans who are passionate about moving our bodies (and might even do so for work) being unable to do so can impact our mental health immensely. 

Between the lack of physical activity (known to release happy endorphins) and the temporary detachment from your performance community, injuries can leave dancers feeling low mentally. 

 Add on to the the possibility that the injury may have happened while dancing, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for anxiety and stress. 

 

Working with a mental health professional throughout your injury recovery can help you navigate these feelings and get you ready to dance even faster. 

Even after athletes have fully healed, hesitance to return to sport is common. From the fear of re-injury to the mental hurdle of trusting your body again, it’s normal to need help getting over these mental barriers. 

 

So, if you’re finding yourself facing a long recovery, get yourself professional external support so that when you’re body is ready, your mind will be also. 

 

  • Be Patient:

Dancers are famous for pushing through injuries.

And I’ll be honest, a lot of that is not our fault. Unlike professional athletes who are praised for “making a comeback,” dancers are taught that we are replaceable. And often, dancers are taught that to be injured makes you “injury prone,” “damaged goods,” or even “unreliable.” 

However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Research shows that most athletes actually report feeling stronger, more dedicated, and more physically focused after experiencing a long season of injury recovery. 

 

And while no dancer wants to be in the audience very long, returning to dance before you’re body is ready can lead to re-injury.  

The reality is, injury recovery takes time and rushing back to dance before your body is ready can make that recovery time even longer. 

Can you imagine spending months in injury recovery, working to strengthen, build confidence, and gain clearance to dance again only to re-injur yourself and have to start all over again?

It’s highly possible. Depending on the type of injury, it can make you seven times more likely. That’s why it is so incredibly important that you listen to your doctors and physical therapists before you start dancing gain. 

This is not meant to scare you. This is a reminder that one class, audition or show, is not worth sacrificing your body. Ever. 

 

  • Feel Everything: Healing is HARD

Injury recovery is incredibly challenging mentally, emotionally, and physically. Take the time to feel all of the emotions. 

Whether you’re feeling angry, sad, frustrated, exhausted, or even depressed, all emotions are valid and need processing in order for you to get back on that stage feeling confident and strong. 

 

Just remember, this isn’t forever. 

A good way to process those feelings is to keep a journal. It’s a habit that’s scientifically proven to increase mental health and we’ve seen the benefits of this in our coaches and athletes first-hand! New to journaling? Try these journal prompts to get you started. 

 

  • Remember, In general, all is not lost:

In the midst of not ignoring your feelings, remember that all is not lost. All of the hard work you put in before your injury does not just disappear. All of the networking did and audition successes you had are not suddenly for nothing. 

 

You will dance again. Casting directors will welcome you back. And you might even be stronger than before. 

One study raised a beautiful point. During recovery athletes have an opportunity to improve and grow in ways they might not when healthy. I’ll leave this quote for you because it is *chef’s kiss.* 

“While a successful injury rehabilitation process is crucial, it is important to consider how we can harness that time to not only help the athlete return to their pre-injury baseline ability but also leverage it as an experience of personal growth to aid in even further wellness and development. In fact, researchers have suggested that after enduring the challenge of a long rehabilitation period, many athletes report being more dedicated, focused, and mentally and physically stronger than they were pre-injury.” -National Library of Medicine. 

 

Helping You Amidst Your Injury Recovery

Whatever your injury, I hope this list provides you with the information to create a game plan for your injury recovery journey. 

And remember, while this list focuses on how to aide your recovery and get you back on your feet faster, take your injury recovery one day at a time. Not every day will be a slam dunk, and that’s okay. 

The important thing is that you remember that taking the time to rest and heal is as important as showing up to class. 

If you’re needing some help remembering that, know that you have a community right here at Dancers Who Lift ready to support you.

Joining Body Mechanics gains you access to our entire community filled with hundreds of dancers who are going through the same worries, struggles, and reaching for similar goals. 

If that feels a little too official right now, that’s okay too. Reach out to us at dancerswholift@gmail.com. We love connecting with and getting to know dancers and fitness lovers alike. 

Most of all, good luck in your recovery. Keep going, you’ve got this. 

Practicing Emotional Self-Care: Common Mistakes High-Performance Humans Make

Self-care is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. Practicing emotional self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. 

That’s why lists of self-care products from at-home spa accessories to essential oil diffusers have people convinced that if they just “treat themselves” their emotional well-being will increase. And, while a relaxing bubble bath complete with face and hair mask, can do wonders for your emotional state, it’s not the only thing you should be doing to regulate your emotions. 

The National Institute of Health defines self-care as the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance in order to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being.

Based on this definition, to fully engage in self-care will require you to do things that might not be as appealing as that bath. That’s right, the age-old “dedication is greater than motivation’ mantra applies to your emotional self-care as well as your physical fitness. 

Unfortunately, a lot of high-performance people have no idea that they are missing out on so many opportunities for emotional self-care. 

How many times have you said,

“I’m sorry I’ve been M.I.A.. When I get busy I forget to reach out.”

Or what about,

“I just turned the TV on to zone out and mindlessly scroll.”

How about this one,

“I just got so busy I forgot to eat.”

Listen, we’ve all been there. But these are all elements of emotional self-care that often go unprioritized even though using a wide array of emotional self-care practices can result in greater resilience and lower levels of distress. 

Now, at this point, you might be asking “Okay, so there’s self-care and emotional self-care…what’s the difference?”

In short, there really isn’t one. You see the way to care for ourselves directly impacts our emotions. That’s why it’s so important to practice all kinds of emotional self-care–not just the ones that feel luxurious. 

So what are the most common mistakes when it comes to emotional self-care?

I thought you’d never ask.

 

Not Exercising Regularly:

Okay, Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Of course, the fitness website is pitching that exercise is emotional self-care.” 

However, the fact is the National Institute of Health emphasizes that regular exercise has a positive impact on mental health and encourages mental health professionals to recommend a regular exercise routine to their clients. 

You see when people get stressed, depressed, or overwhelmed, hitting the gym is usually the first thing that gets removed from the “to-do” list to alleviate their schedule. Unfortunately, working out or even going for a walk would likely do wonders for alleviating the emotions they are experiencing. 

So next time you’re not feeling it, try the ten-minute rule. Do some form of exercise for ten minutes. If after that you’ve had enough, fine, go take a rest. But most of the time, getting started is the hardest part and once you’ve gotten moving, you’ll want to finish your workout. 

Not feeling like you have enough time to work out? Check out this 16-minute workout designed for someone on a time crunch!

 

Being Unintentional or Inconsistent About Food:

One of the biggest mistakes high-performance people make is being unintentional and inconsistent with how they fuel their bodies. Food is incredibly important to your emotional well-being. So it should go without saying that being intentional about how you fuel your body is a big part of emotional self-care. 

Why is food so linked to our mood? Let’s talk about Serotonin. 

Did you know that about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract? And the production of serotonin and other neurons are impacted by the “good” bacteria in your gut biome? That’s why what you eat is so important for regulating mood in addition to energy.

Furthermore, studies have shown that diets high in sugar are correlated with a greater risk of depression and other mood disorders, while other studies show a diet high in vegetables, fruits, grains, seafood, and lean meats can significantly decrease symptoms of depression.

So, how can we be more intentional about our food?  

First, don’t give yourself an opportunity to crash. Everyone has busy days, but ensuring that you can have breaks for meals or pack healthy snacks to consistently keep your brain fueled will make a huge impact on your emotions throughout the day. Not to mention, it’s another way of practicing emotional self-care by showing up for yourself.  

Next, be intentional about what it is you’re eating. I get it, popping into Starbies and grabbing a croissant and a latte might be quick, easy, and affordable, but it might also have you experiencing a large sugar spike and crash later in your day.

 Instead, pop into a deli and grab a turkey sandwich. It’ll still be affordable and (if necessary) you can eat it on the go.  But you’ll have the added benefit of a lean protein to keep you fueled until your next meal.

 

Failing to Prioritize Relaxation:

This next one is the most common among high-performance people because productivity is such a huge part of our culture. But the practice of embracing intention relaxation is an important part of emotional self-care. Yes, this is the category where you get to bring out those spa kits we talked about earlier if you enjoy relaxing that way. 

The most important part of this relaxation is that it is intentional. There is a big difference between sitting down in a comfy blanket to watch your favorite movie with a loved one and turning on Gilmore Girls for the gazillionth time to play in the background while you doom scroll. 

How did I know? Let’s just say I have a tab at Luke’s Diner as well. And listen, having a “comfort show” is not a bad thing. But it can be when it becomes a way to numb or dissociate. So while this can be a way to zone out, or have “company” while you clean, it’s not an intentional form of relaxation.

One of the best rules of thumb for restful emotional self-care is to do something that requires you to be present during your rest. Instead, drawing a bubble bath while you listen to music, download a mindfulness app and go through a meditation, or take time to journal with a cup of warm tea. 

 

Having Poor Sleep Hygiene:

It’s no secret that shutting down at the end of the day can be a challenge, especially for performers who are working high-energy jobs late into the evenings. But getting quality sleep at night is directly linked to improving your mental health. A great way to improve your sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene

So, what are some examples of good sleep hygiene? 

Good sleep hygiene looks like having a fairly consistent routine that prepares your body’s nervous system for sleep by helping it wind down. This can look like doing a skincare routine, putting on comfy pajamas, having a sleepy time tea, and turning off screens thirty minutes before bed. It can also look like ensuring your bedroom is a relaxing space to be in, whether that is putting your folded laundry away and out of sight or investing in quality bedding that keeps you comfortable all night. 

My favorite sleepy-time routine? In the winter I make a “bedtime hot coco” complete with 10 grams of protein, zinc, and magnesium to help my muscles relax. It tastes just like the real thing and makes for a perfect bedside sipper while I read my book. 

In the summer I opt for a mock-tail made of 100% Tart Cherry juice, pomegranate juice, a squeeze of lemon, and topped with sparkling water. The Tart Cherry juice is a known sleep aid and the perfect sweet and sour to replace a nightcap. 

 

 

mindfulness for self-care

 

 

 

Forgetting to Practice Gratitude:

It’s so easy to go through our busy days, go to the gym, cook dinner, go through our routines, and go to bed without considering what we’re grateful for that day. That’s a shame because studies have shown that practicing gratitude is correlated with experiencing fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Practicing gratitude as a form of self-care can look like keeping a gratitude journal

 

Neglect Their Goals or Compromising Priorities:

Imagine, for a moment, that your best friend promised to meet you somewhere important and they no-showed you. You likely wouldn’t be pleased and might think twice before relying on them again. When you break the commitments you make with yourself, you’re teaching yourself that you are unreliable. Conversely, when you say “I promised myself ___, and now I am following through on that promise” you’re teaching yourself that you can be relied upon. 

Setting goals and showing up for yourself daily is an excellent way to practice emotional self-care. Goals give us something to focus on and work toward that is outside of our circumstances. They give us a sense of ownership over our lives and choosing to not give up on our goals is an important way of showing up for ourselves and increasing healthy self-reliance. 

A good example of this is choosing your goals over the expectations of others. For example, visiting relatives can sometimes be stressful when working toward a fitness goal. Whether it’s choosing not to have seconds, going to bed early, or taking an hour to yourself to get some exercise, it’s often challenging for people to understand why we won’t compromise “just for this trip.”  

And sometimes, compromise is important. But allowing yourself to be the only one who chooses when to compromise is an important practice of self-care. 

 

Isolating Themselves: 

Does this sound familiar? 

“I’m so sorry I forgot to text you back! I’ve just been so swamped!”

How about, “I’m sorry I haven’t called you back. It’s been a tough season and I just haven’t felt like talking to people.”

We all have seasons like this. And we do need to listen to our bodies and set boundaries for is privy to what information. 

However, it’s important to make sure we aren’t isolating ourselves from the people who can offer us encouragement or support when we’re struggling. Isolation can be a slippery slope away from community and accountability. 

If you are feeling like you want to limit your extroversion, that’s okay! But I encourage you to find a therapist or trusted friend you can speak to when things feel especially bleak. 

Practicing emotional self-care can be a rewarding practice of discipline on top of being incredibly beneficial for your recovery as an athlete. 

So which one of these practices will you try today?

Want some guidance about where might be the best place to start? Reach out to us here and ask about Body Mechanics, our personal training program designed to give you the tools to do it on your own. 

deliberate cold exposure, ice bath, cryotherapy

Keeping Things Cool: The Benefits of Deliberate Cold Exposure for Dancers

 

From cryotherapy to ice baths, cold plunges to cold showers, it seems like deliberate cold exposure is THE new miracle tool for athletes. But is forcing yourself to withstand cold temperatures really worth the discipline?

History tells us that the benefits of deliberate cold exposure date as far back as 2500 BC as Edwin Smith Papyrus noted the use of cold exposure for therapeutic purposes. And the ancient Greeks utilized cold water as a means of relaxation and even socialization. 

 

Okay, okay, but history also believed blood-letting was a good idea, does deliberate cold exposure stand the test of time?

In short, yes!

Deliberate cold exposure increases your metabolic rate and spikes plasma concentrations which in turn affects the immune system. And if a boosted metabolism and immune system aren’t enough to convince you, deliberate cold exposure decreases cortisol levels resulting in less stress and anxiety while increases in norepinephrine aides in pain relief. 

Studies have shown that regular cold exposure positively impacts mental status and physical composition. This is likely because of the increased metabolic rate as well as an increase in Brown Adipose Tissue or BAT activity.

What’s BAT?

It’s a type of body fat that regulates your body temperature in cold conditions. It activates right before you start to shiver! Its primary purpose is to produce heat to help maintain body temperature and it achieves that by burning calories. 

 

But wait, there’s more!

Athletes who utilize deliberate cold exposure after intense exercise experience less muscle soreness. On top of that, deliberate cold exposure aids in muscle recovery, making your performance during your next workout even better. 

However, make sure you limit the length of time you subject yourself to these cold temps! Too long in the cold and the benefits of deliberate cold exposure for muscle recovery begin to reverse by limiting muscle hypertrophy.

 

 

mindfulness to examine boundaries

 

 

So what are the ways you can implement this optimally into your routine? 

Before we get into the many options of deliberate cold exposure remember, like your choice of gym location, whatever you’ll be able to do consistently is going to have the greatest impact. 

You can start to enjoy the benefits of cold exposure from temperatures lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. 

As for the length of time, you need to ease into this practice. Submerging yourself in cold water can pose a risk of “cold shock” which is an increase in heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. This shock can put you at risk of drowning (if you gasp underwater) or even cardiac arrest. This risk is highest for the first 30 seconds, which is why you should never jump into a cold plunge or submerge your head right off the bat. Instead, ease yourself into the water. 

To reap the benefits of deliberate cold exposure you’ll need to remain in the cold water for at least one minute, this will decrease your skin temperature and you’ll start to feel the benefits of that norepinephrine release.

If you choose to stay in the water longer (3min-15min) you’ll start to reach the point where superficial muscle tissue temperatures will decrease. This is the point where you start to increase your metabolic rate and reap the muscle recovery benefits. 

Do not remain in the cold longer than 20 minutes! Once you reach the 30-minute mark your deep muscle tissue begins to cool and your body begins to enter a hypothermic state–not good. 

No matter how long you stay in the cold, studies have shown that people who use intentional breathing techniques while engaging in deliberate cold exposure yield the largest positive results. 

 

But What If I Don’t Have a Cold Plunge at my Gym?

There are a lot of ways to incorporate deliberate cold exposure into your life. 

The simplest way is to practice a hot-to-cold shower. This won’t yield the muscle recovery results, but it will yield some of the mental health benefits that those ancient Greeks loved!

Another option is to simply fill your bathtub will cool water- remember, water only needs to be 55 degrees or lower to be beneficial. If you practice this continually and want to up the intensity, add ice to your bathtub! (Similar to how you might give your  feet an ice bath after a long day in LaDucas!)

 

The next two options do require you to leave your home. 

The first is to visit a cryotherapy facility. In these facilities, you enter into a pod that exposes your body to cold air which yields similar benefits to water submersion. However, this can be a pricier option with sessions costing up to $32.

If you are lucky enough to live in a summery place, finding an outdoor pool you can use in the off-season can even work! Here’s a video of Amber shivering her way through one of her first deliberate cold exposure practices in a pool like this!

The point is, that any integration of deliberate cold exposure into your life will be beneficial to your mental and physical health. So what do you think? Will you brave the cold?