Express Yourself—It’s The Ultimate “Stress Management”

Let’s take a trip back to 1989 and MTV’s Music Video Awards! Madonna said, sung really, everything I’m about to say in her hit song Express Yourself. Two simple words. Very powerful stuff. How many of us go through life inhibited, restricted, restrained from being our full selves? How many of us hold back? I know I have. Truthfully, I still do. But I’m getting freer by the day. Literally, by the day. It’s awesome.

Here’s a good litmus test for you. Is there something you’d love to do, that you do in your mind all the time, but you just can’t bring yourself to do in your real life? For me, for years it was dancing. Going back to middle school, through fraternity formals in college, and friends’ weddings, I just never felt comfortable on the dance floor. Not even a little bit.

But I’ve also always really felt like a very physical person. I absolutely love music and love how it feels—in my body. Yet I’ve had a hard time letting this out, in public anyway. Like many, I’ll enthusiastically sing and dance at home, when I’m by myself, and in my car (the dancing is more like wiggling in my seat when I’m in my car, of course; I’ve never seen myself, but I imagine it’s very hot).

Photo 110--Dance Line


Last summer, I took some introductory dance classes. I remember calling my friend Tara on my walk home from my first one. I was so excited. It was so much fun. It was all the joy of movement I’ve experienced doing things like playing shortstop, shooting three baskets, and trail running plus music and this great sense of non-competitive play. Oh, and, um, dancing with women. This is like a no-brainer, right?

As fun as it was, I didn’t stick with it after those first few lessons. Although in my heart, I’ve always wanted to be like Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (played by Robert Dinero) in Scent of a Woman, my inner wallflower won out all fall. (Seriously, what guy watches this movie and doesn’t want to be Slade in this tango scene?)

Recently, with some loving nudging from a few friends, I’ve let down my guard and done some more dancing. The other night, a few of us had a wonderful evening of sharing a meal and listening to music and some really nice dancing. It’s a part of me that has been blocked off for many years. It’s feeling really good to let him out.

When you restrain your true self, it holds you back from optimal wellness. In Eastern medicine, this may be thought of as one’s chi being blocked. That might sound out there from a Western-medicine approach, so you can also look at this from the well-accepted notion of stress being a cause of literally every chronic disease that plagues modern-day people. Could there be anything more stressful to a person than not being able to be himself/herself day after day, year after year? Sitting on the sidelines of one’s life might not seem as stressful as an occasional, but very traumatic event, but the stress of not being oneself day after day after day for years, even decades, accumulates and takes a toll.

Conversely, letting our inner shackles go frees us—our bodies, our hearts, our minds—to thrive. So what is it that you want to let out? In the words of singer Cat Stevens, “Well, if you want to sing out, sing out. And if you want to be free, be free.” Be free. You deserve to be free.



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