Coping With Burnout

Burnout is understood to be a universal, innate, and prevalent human condition. Nonetheless, the stressful panorama of the competitive dance world puts dancers at a higher risk of burnout than the general population. Traits of competitive anxiety and burnout are significantly high among ballet dancers. It has become an occupational hazard. The clinical condition of burnout could be attributed to several factors. It could be due to intensive training, insufficient rest time, mental strain, physical enervation etc. Professional ballet dancers, with their perfectionist personality, are vulnerable to burnout because their natural adaptive mechanisms are overwhelmed with physical and emotional overexertion. The dangerous obsession of ballet dancers to achieve peak physical aesthetics and technical perfection has a debilitating impact on their health. The cultural norm in conventional ballet training is long training hours and uncompromising technical excellence. Such rigidity in conformity can lay disproportionate stress on dancers. This exertion inadvertently manifests itself into long-term fatigue.

The signs:

Burnout syndrome is a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Dancers that are most susceptible to performance burnout are the ones who are natural overachievers, with a dire tendency to push their own physical and emotional boundaries without contemplation for sufficient body recovery. Factors that contribute to burnout can be distinctively individual and personal. Auxiliary stressors that further escalate symptoms are things like maladaptive nutrition, taxing performance schedules, and injuries. Understanding the complexities of burnout can help dancers to cope with it. While symptoms may vary, the ones most commonly displayed by sufferers are:

  • A state of constant fatigue
  • Negative mood and rational
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Insomnia
  • Prone to frequent illness and injuries
  • Feelings of demotivation
  • Loss of interest in dance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heightened emotional state
  • Feelings of stress/tension when dancing

Experiencing one or a few symptoms is not an indication of burnout but the progressive severity of multiple symptoms is. Burnout can lead to depression and even derail professional careers. It’s important to comprehend that our bodies have limitations and there is only so much it can take without breaking. The body needs time to heal and recover from all the physical activities it undergoes in the pretext of training, rehearsals, and practice. When physiological stress overspills, it palpably impacts psychological health. Then it turns into a vicious cycle of physical and emotional exhaustion that can destroy artistic fervent and willingness to persevere.

The remedy:

  • The 3 R’s– Rest, relax, and rejuvenate. You deserve it. Being a ballerina is extremely stressful and demanding, so taking some downtime can help you relax. A day off from training or rehearsal might be just the thing you need to feel like yourself again. Indulge in activities that help you unwind like reading a book, listening to music, getting a massage, going for a walk or hike, taking a relaxing bath, or cooking dinner. Rest is a crucial recovery strategy to overcome anxiety and mental stress. Well-rested dancers are more likely to perform better and prevent injuries to their bodies.
  • Sleep– A healthy dose of sleep has a lot of positive pay-offs. Our body rebuilds itself while we sleep. It enhances muscle recovery through protein synthesis and growth hormone release. A goodnight sleep of 8-9 hours will help to reduce fatigue, improve cognisance, and heal muscle strain. When you sleep well, you wake up refreshed and start your day in a good mood.
  • Nutrition- Nutrition plays an important role in your dance performance as well as recovery. A balanced diet will help you keep your energy levels up and maintain a healthy physique. A dancer’s diet must include complex carbohydrates to fuel their extensive training as well as vitamins A, C, and E to improve immune function. Protein is essential for muscle building and hence should be consumed judiciously. Hydration levels must be maintained at all times to ensure that our bodies function optimally. Proper nutrition and good hydration will prime your body to become more resilient and also improve your mood swings.
  • Exercise- Supplementing your regular training with a different form of exercises such as yoga, pilates or swimming will help your physical and mental conditioning and aid in stress release.
  • Avoid training during injuries- Dancers are imbibed with a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. But there is no upside to working through pain, illness, or injury. Doing so can aggravate your fatigue. You must allow yourself time to recover. Periods of reduced physical activity have shown to lower risks of infectious diseases and contribute to better performance. So definitely set time aside if you are injured or ill.
  • Set achievable goals- We all have goals in our lives but the reason we end up being disappointed is that our goals are sometimes unachievable. You must set realistic, tangible life goals, both short and long term. If you want to master a new technique, understand that it will take you multiple practice sessions to achieve perfection. You must allow yourself the time to fulfil your goals. Don’t stress yourself if certain things take longer than usual. 

In conclusion,

Burnout can be draining and it affects both physical and mental well being. It’s important to raise awareness in the dance community about burnout syndrome because it can happen to anyone. People dealing with burnout face daily challenges and it can become burdensome to maintain even the bare minimum workload. Being a professional ballet dancer is a privilege and comes with enormous pressure and intense scrutiny. The right coping strategies can help you deal with burnout and put the focus back on enjoying the beautiful art of ballet.