8 ways to crush competition stress

No one could call competition season relaxing. Weekends on the road, busloads of excited kids and heaps of glittery costumes can all add up to a high-piled plate of stress. If you feel ready to cut and run, it’s time to stop and set out a plan for success. With some preparation, it is possible to turn this season from completely insane to just mildly nuts.

Delegate, delegate, delegate!

As a dance teacher, you wear a number of hats: program director, choreographer, rehearsal leader, etc. The list could go on and on—but only if you let it. The number one way to de-stress is to assign elements of your “to-do” list to people who are able and willing to help. Do you really need to check that your dancers have remembered all parts of their costumes? No, a responsible senior dancer can do that for you. Is it necessary that you be in charge of giving out competition passes? Again, no, an assistant teacher can take care of that task. Should you have to enforce lights-out curfew every night at the hotel? No way, that’s what parent supervisors are for! Lighten your load as much as possible and realize that you just can’t do everything all by yourself.

Eat your fruits and veggies.

Eating right will help you maintain the energy you need to stay on top of your hectic schedule. “As tempting as it is for the sake of convenience, low-nutrient, processed foods will zap your energy and cause undue stress on your body as it attempts to break down and process what you’ve just fed it,” says registered dietician Alexis Williams. Instead, she recommends eating healthy foods that are high in nutrients. “Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over processed, junky fast food,” says Williams, a private practice counselor and the registered dietician at the Children and Youth Obesity Clinic at Chedoke Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. She recommends packing healthy snacks, such as fruits or cut-up veggies and bringing your own lunch/dinner to practice and competitions whenever possible to keep your body healthy and mind alert.

Exercise.

Whether you head to the gym for a weight workout or just outside for a quick walk, exercise will help to clear your mind of the mental clutter you’ve been carrying around all day. Because stress causes your muscles to tighten, stretching will also increase blood flow, helping to remove the effects of stress from your body.

Get your sleep.

Not only is it important to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, it’s important to develop good sleeping habits so that you get good-quality sleep. This includes refraining from vigorous exercise before heading to bed (no, you don’t need to do each and every routine full-out with your dancers until your studio doors close at 11 pm!), getting up and going to bed at the same time every day and using your bed only for sleeping. Other ways to boost the quality of your sleep include staying away from caffeine, alcohol and nicotine four to six hours before bed, having a light snack before bed (i.e. don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t go with a full stomach either) and keeping your room temperature low.

Indulge yourself.

Reducing stress can be as simple as taking time to treat yourself—going for a massage, for example. But it doesn’t have to be a spa activity—go to see a movie, treat yourself to a quiet dinner out or buy your favorite magazine and read it cover to cover over a hot latte. Whatever it is, make sure you do it completely for yourself and, most importantly, don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for spending time away from dancing. You might be a dance instructor, a mom or a dad, a husband or a wife, an employee or a boss, but you are also your own person. You owe it to yourself to designate a few minutes a day just for you, without thinking about the dance studio.

The same goes for establishing personal boundaries for hotel stays at competitions. For example, designate that after a certain time, say 9 pm, dancers and assistant instructors are not to disturb you unless it’s an emergency. If you don’t have enough supervisors or assistant teachers, rotate each night so that you get at least one quiet evening to yourself. You may also want to consider getting a room far enough down the hall that you won’t be kept awake by excited dancers.

Manage your time.

Competition season stress doesn’t replace regular everyday stress—it just adds to it. With this in mind, start organizing and delegating tasks ahead of time to avoid as much stress-inducing pre-competition scramble as possible. Do your paperwork (completing forms, submitting payment, etc.) and designate time-consuming organizational jobs (such as booking the transportation and planning room assignments) well in advance of the season. (Reread point number one about delegating!) Remember, a well-planned competition season is a successful one.

Review your expectations.

Unrealistic expectations can be a huge contributor to stress. Go to a competition with the intention of going on a well-deserved, fun adventure and think of placing well as the icing on the cake. Keep in mind your team’s experience and skill level when establishing your expectations for their competition performance. Show them that you can be realistic as well as cool and collected under pressure—your dancers will reflect your mentality at the event.

Keep your sense of humor intact.

Pointe shoes gone missing? Leotard on backwards? Front row missed a beat? Hey, it happens even to the best of us! Remember that while you can’t control things that happen, you can control how you react to what happens. The best way to stay relaxed during competition season is to allow yourself to laugh when things get ridiculously crazy. In dancing, a little bit of humor goes a long, long way toward holding stress at bay!

Photo ©istockphoto.com/Lise Gagne

Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

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