Notes on dancing the Tango
When feeling down or anxious or angry, we often express our mood with our actions. When "down," we tend to isolate ourselves and become more sedentary. When anxious we tend to avoid or act awkwardly. When angry we might become verbally aggressive, make biting remarks, be sarcastic, or yell.
What does this all have to do with "dancing the Tango?" Well, every beginner is awkward when dancing the Tango. So, we dance by mimicry, by putting cut-outs of the dance steps on the floor, by scripting our actions. By acting in a healthy, active, positive manner, our mood often follows. Clinical research shows that mood follows actions. If we get our actions right, our mood often improves. If we act more gently, we become less angry. If we become more active, our depression may decline. If we act more calm, we become more calm. Also, if we "act right," we tend to feel better about ourselves, and our self-esteem improves because we have done something that is hard and met a big challenge.
We generally know "how" to act. We know exercise is good, too much alcohol is bad, reaching out to friends is good, isolating ourselves is bad, and so on. In other words, we know what "dancing the tango looks like," even if we aren't very good at it. So, instead of acting in response to your mood, act in response to the script of how you should be acting. Exercise, even if you don't feel like it. Get out with friends, even if you want to binge on TV. Speak up at that meeting at work, even if you feel anxious about expressing your opinion. Act kind to loved ones, or your ex-spouse with whom you share child custody, even if you feel angry. Write the script of how you "should" act, what a positive, healthy day or evening or work meeting would look like, and just act out the script.
If this sounds like I am saying this is easy, its not. And that's why I use the Tango metaphor, as dancing the Tango is hard. It takes courage to act in a positive healthy manner when we are not feeling it.
As in all my posts, this advice is never a substitute for professional mental health or medical care. If your depression, anxiety, or anger is overwhelming, won't go away, or hurting yourself or your loved ones, speak to your family physician or clergy, or call a mental health professional directly and make an appointment. Changing actions to change mood is part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and your therapist may use this technique as part of their professional toolbox they have developed with years of training and experience.
Summer is a relaxed season and the shining sun and warm weather tends to warm our worries away. So, if Fall brings new pressures, what can we do to keep our more positive summer mood as Fall and Winter come upon us?
Well, one reason summer is often easier on us stress-wise is that we fill it with activities. When the weather becomes inclement we might curtail our program of fun and meeting up with friends and get stuck behind the T.V. This means that keeping ourselves active can be a potential solution to keeping our stress levels, our depression, and our anxieties at bay.
Chicago has about 50 theaters for plays, comedy and improv, and there are websites for half price tickets. Several museums have tours, programs and free days for visits. Many organizations and Churches, Mosques and Synagogues could use tutors or help serving lunches or dinners. Keep your workout routine on course, or start one. Join a health club and take classes where you'll meet others, as well as get a work-out motivated by a pro. "Meet-Up" is on line and has endless activities. I had one client who found a group for others who wanted to meet up and throw Frisbees with others that had multiple large dogs!! There are groups for almost every interest. Go dance at the Drake Hotel, which is free, except for the price of your drink. Take a walk along the lake, and better yet, invite a friend to walk with you.
Check out the purchase of a special lamp for light therapy. There is good evidence that it works against seasonal affective disorder(SADS) https://www.webmd.com/depression/depression-sad-diagnosis-treatment#1. These are special lamps, but they are available at rather low cost.
By all means, don't increase your alcohol consumption beyond a couple of drinks a day, and less than that may be better yet. Alcohol and most recreational drugs may improve mood for a bit, but than have the opposite impact. They also disturb sleep, which makes us more irritable.
As in all my posts, I emphasize, that if the stress, anger, anxiety, or depression doesn't go away, becomes hard to face, or starts to interfere with your life, or if family conflict rises, talk to your family physician or seek the help of a mental health professional. Many clergy are also well-trained to start the conversation with you and if necessary refer you on to a mental health professional.
Don't let them win
Often, we feel anger or hurt over something someone did to us. This could have been during our childhood, or it could be more recent in a close relationship, or at work. These memories can be the main causes of our anger, depression, or anxiety. They can result in our changing our lives in ways that continue to hurt us and our new relationships. They can be obstacles to new, wonderful opportunities. So, the question is, "Why let them?"
I am not saying it is simple to move on, but it is a must that we do so if we are to enjoy our lives, enjoy new love, sleep well, work productively, and unload the anxiety, anger, and depression we carry. So, here is a thought. If these people hurt you, do you really want them to have that continued power over you? I hope your answer is a resounding and emphatic "No!" and that means you have to set aside what they did and move forward. This does not mean you have to forgive them, and it does not mean you have to forget them or what they did. But it does say, that you need to tell yourself that "I will not be consumed by what they did to me." "I will not let them reach across time and negatively define me."
If you feel a need to continue to think about what they did, schedule a couple hours each week to go over it, and perhaps journal your thoughts. But, keep that time for this review and tell yourself that your other hours of the week are for you, your enjoyment, your loves, your passions, your friends, your hobbies, your work.....your life.
As in all my posts, these are not substitutes for psychotherapy. And I encourage you to seek the help of your family physician or a mental health professional, if your anxiety, depression, or anger are getting in your way or causing you significant hurt. The above exercise is an essential tool from Cognitive, Behavioral, Therapy (CBT) and one your psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker might use. It is an exercise I often use for my patients, and quite honestly for myself.
Dr. Stevan E. Hobfoll
40+ years experience.