Ep. 149 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep. 149 Transcript

Chelsea: Do you find yourself getting crazy busy during competition season, burning the candle at both ends only to crash hard and probably get sick as soon as it's over? Are you someone who gets really busy but thinks, “It's okay. I'm more productive when I'm busy. Busy is fine.” I think many dance teachers relate. We are passionate and we care about our dancers, so we push ourselves and have really high standards in order to serve. Plus, a lot of things about competition season are fun too, so the schedule is overly demanding.

But if you feel like you're more productive when you're busy, or if you've ever said, “I just have to push through the next two weeks, then I can slow down a bit,” but that never happens, I want to share another way. When you're stressed, your body and your brain enter what psychologists call an alarm response. I want to talk about that alarm response. It's not always a healthy thing. So let's try to change our expectations before stress causes a five-alarm fire in our bodies.

Hi, I'm Dr. Chelsea, and welcome to Passion for Dance, the show for passionate dance teachers and coaches. My mission is to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training. And before I jump into the show, I'm going to be talking about your stress response and taking better care of yourself.

If you're sick of hearing, “Take a bath, relax,” as the best kinds of self-care, I have a new resource for you. And if taking a bath and “just relax” works for you, great. If not, and you may need some new ideas, you can download my quick reference for stress management techniques. It goes beyond the basic self-care tropes that you usually hear, and many of those work, but if you like baths or journaling or going on long walks, great, keep doing them. But again, if you need some new ideas, grab the quick reference to try something different. You can get it at www.chelseapierotti.com/stress or see the link in the show notes right now wherever you're listening.

Okay, so we are going to talk about pushing for our dreams and goals and striving in the dance industry while paying attention to your body's alarm response. If you're a passionate dance teacher, you've probably pushed yourself too hard. I see you, I get it. You care and you love it, but you know, you go too hard sometimes. Well, you don't need to work so hard that you crash, even if your passion is encouraging you to go that far.

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[Motivational Music]

Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!

[Motivational Music]

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Okay, let's talk about the alarm response. When we are stressed or overworked, our brain and body enter an alarm response, which has three stages. The first stage is alarm, then there's a stage of resistance, which leads to a stage of exhaustion. With each stressor in your life, you could trigger an alarm response, which you fight through until you're exhausted, only to trigger alarm response again when the next big stressor happens. The more you go through this cycle of alarm and resistance and pushing through to exhaustion, the higher the risk of lasting negative effects.

As a dance teacher, that alarm response could be triggered by all sorts of things like an injured or sick dancer that means you need to restage a bunch of routines, costume issues, a last-minute snowstorm, changes in competition schedules after you've already worked out your plan. There are plenty of experiences that can trigger an alarm response. However, that alarm response could be triggered by positive things too. Stress isn't always about bad things. We're stressed when things are good.

Stress can certainly come from a sudden life change like a new job, even if you're really excited about it, a new romantic relationship in your life, deciding between two colleges when you get into both your top choices. Stress can be from good things, or it comes from those negative situations too. The point is that no matter where your stress is coming from, if it's over good or bad or all of the above, you can trigger the alarm response in your body.

I think it makes sense we have that kind of alarm reaction to big events in our lives, but what I want to focus on today is actually all the small daily stress of being a dance teacher that adds up and how that can cause an alarm reaction on a regular basis if you're not careful. It doesn't take one big event, but we may experience an alarm response just because of the volume of small daily stressors that we have to deal with. So let's break down the stages so you can see if you've felt them before and understand what it looks like.

Stage One: The Alarm Stage – 4:58

So the first stage is the alarm stage. Think of that like fight or flight. Your body has a physical reaction to stress and overwhelm. So pause for a second and consider what happens to your body when you get stressed? Do you get headaches or short of breath? Stress symptoms look different, but you probably have a typical physical reaction to stress. It could be in your gut, it could be in your head, it could be in tense muscles. For me, I get tired, and my eye starts twitching. I know that's really unique and specific, but that's my initial stress response. I can feel it in my body when it starts.

What's happening in your body, whatever that looks like for you, is the sympathetic nervous system, which controls a lot of bodily functions like your heart, your bladder, your muscles.  That nervous system sends an alarm signal to the brain to release adrenaline, and I'm sure at some point you’ve felt a flood of adrenaline before, for good or bad reasons, and you feel your heart start beating faster. Maybe your hands get shaky, your breathing rate increases, your muscles get tense. That's the physical alarm response.

It's really good when things are life threatening. That's why we have it as humans. When you truly need to run away, we want that adrenaline dump. But the alarm response is not so helpful when we start to have that overly-intense reaction to daily, non-life-threatening situations like costume issues, that terrible parent email, things that are stressful to us, but it's causing this heightened alarm response. When that reaction happens regularly, that's when we have those long-term consequences.

That's why the alarm stage is known as fight or flight. During that alarm stage, your brain sends an emergency signal to other parts of your body and lets those parts know you're in a dangerous situation, you have to get out. As your body gets ready to react, you choose to run away or fight.

Here's a little mini brain lesson for you: when you see or hear something stressful, maybe that parent email hits your inbox, you see your dancers make a big mistake onstage, the costumes come in horribly wrong, that information goes to your amygdala. It's a part of your brain that helps process emotions. So, if the amygdala interprets what you're seeing as threatening or dangerous, it sends a message to your brain's command center telling the rest of your body it's time to fight or run away. So if mismatched costumes show up and your first competition is next weekend, you might perceive that as a threat, so your brain sends a panic signal to your body. That's when you have that release of the stress hormones – your breathing increases, there's that release of blood sugar and fat-supply energy to the body, and it happens so quickly we aren't aware of it until the symptoms show up and we can't process what's happening.

Then, once the danger is over, ideally, your body recovers quickly, and we return to normal. The challenge for most of us in the dance world is either the stressor doesn't go away so our body can't recover, or there's small thing after small thing after small thing so our body never has a chance to relax and reset.

So when stressors are still present and our alarm stage doesn't have a chance to right itself and have our body calm down again, we enter the resistance stage.

Stage Two: The Resistance Stage – 8:13

In stage two for resistance, your body tries to recover if that stressor is no longer present. That's the ideal. But if the thing that's causing all the stress continues for a long time, or the next thing shows up right away, your body can't recover, you stay in fight or flight mode for a lot longer than you should.

So stress hormones keep flooding your brain, your body can't fully calm down and recover, and that long-term resistance starts to impact your immune system, your sleep, even your reproductive system. That's when we notice all those fun, lovely stress symptoms like negative emotions of fear, sadness, worry. We get more irritable. We experience changes in appetite and energy. We may have stomach problems, headaches, sleeplessness, and trouble making decisions.

That's why I wanted to talk about this today, because we are passionate about teaching and being successful in the dance industry, but that doesn't mean we have to live in a state of resistance where we are fighting that buildup of stress so much that our brains and bodies never return to a state of calm. Because if we can't regulate the stress, then we enter that next stage of exhaustion, which I think we're all familiar with.

Stage Three: The Exhaustion Stage – 9:22

Stage three is exhaustion – prolonged stress and we just can't handle it anymore. Your body can no longer cope with stress, and you crash. Usually that results in fatigue, a lack of motivation, burnout, and often physically getting sick. I don't know if you've noticed that, do you usually get sick right after nationals or as soon as spring recital is over? That's your body in exhaustion phase.

But I know so many of us just accept that as normal. We push ourselves so hard and then resist the stress and cope by ignoring it, knowing we'll crash when it's over. But it doesn't have to be this continuous cycle of alarm, resistance, exhaustion, alarm, resistance, exhaustion.

Because, again, the more we go through that response cycle, the more likely we are to have long-term negative consequences.

Example of One Cycle Through The Alarm Response – 10:10

So here's an example of one cycle through the alarm response. See if you can relate.

You have trembling hands and butterflies as your team competes onstage. Again, maybe you're excited and this is good stress, but your body's having that alarm reaction.

Then you have resistance. The competition is over, but you're having a hard time turning your attention to anything else. You're rethinking things. You're worrying about the next one. You're second guessing yourself. You can't shift gears away from it. So that stressor doesn't end.

And then exhaustion starts, where the competition is over but you're still anxious and worried, so you have trouble sleeping, and you wonder how you'll ever get through all of comp season.

The more you go through that cycle, the harder it is to recover, and the long-lasting effects take shape.

How to Stop The Alarm Cycle – 10:56

So what do you do if you know you're going through that alarm cycle all too often?

First, notice the alarm response as it's happening. (Like I said, my eye starts twitching.) What is your stress signal? And practice a better response to stress there. Simple techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, guided imagery, exercise can all make a difference. If you know your physical stress signals, you can notice them happening as a part of the initial buildup before it gets really bad, and you can work to reduce the stress response then and there.

Other good ideas are limiting exposure to triggers, if you can help it. If you can, make sure you have support around you from friends and family and fellow dance educators who get it. Support systems also really help us regulate the stress response because then maybe the whole thing doesn't feel so threatening because you have that village around you.

The goal is to actively work to reduce stress before it's that five-alarm fire in your brain. If your body is able to recover and not just resist, resist, resist until exhaustion, you'll recover faster. So you won't eliminate stress in your life. I'm not that naïve. I can't eliminate it either, but you can work to recover from stressful moments more quickly so that you never complete that alarm response.

During comp season, we tend to assume, “It's fine. It'll be okay in a few weeks,” but we all know that lasts for months. You know, “I just need to push through until this event is over.” But then you've been in an alarm state for weeks or months, and you get sick, you withdraw, or you may feel burnt out. That's what we're trying to avoid. So recognize that stress response early and actively try to recover before you just resist, resist, resist, and crash.

I hope understanding the alarm response gives you insight into yourself, your brain, your body, and how you can take better care of yourself. A slow and steady work pace with time to take care of yourself is so much better than a feast-or-famine work schedule that most of us operate under. I did for years. I get it. I'm also a teacher. I know there are natural cycles of our schedules where sometimes we're just busier and it's not in your control. If you can't control your schedule, you can control your body and work to relax and stop the alarm signals in your brain before they get out of hand.

And for more ideas on dealing with stress that goes beyond taking a bath and journal, I have simple resources to give you some new ideas. You can get those at www.chelseapierotti.com/stress, and the link is in the show notes below wherever you're listening right now.

If you're feeling stressed this competition season, remember you can help reduce that negative impact by calming your stress response in that initial alarm stage rather than just existing as this ball of stress until you crash in exhaustion. I want better for you, you deserve better, and I hope this helps. We need passionate educators like you. So take care of yourself so that you can keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!

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[Motivational Outro Music]

Thank you for listening to Passion for Dance! You can find all episode resources at www.chelseapierotti.com/podcast, and be sure to follow me on Instagram for more high-performance tips at @dr.chelsea.pierotti. This podcast is for passionate dance teachers and coaches who are ready to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers. I'm Dr. Chelsea and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world.

[Motivational Outro Music]

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