Feeling down or stressed? Try a ‘simha’!

When people are dancing together, the simha is a powerful distraction and remedy for the worries that participants may feel.

Whenever you go to a simha, join in the party! (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Whenever you go to a simha, join in the party!
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, John Bowlby and Jean Piaget are some of the well-known founding fathers of modern psychology. However, long before their times, Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer, who became known as the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism, and other rabbis who followed in this spirit, like Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, knew exactly what people needed to feel good and to forget their troubles – dancing and singing. Dancing and singing are part of the spirituality of Judaism.
During Simhat Torah, a holiday celebrating the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, much of the celebration in the synagogue centers on dancing and singing while holding Torah scrolls.
The word simha comes from the Hebrew root word sameah, which means happy or glad and is used to describe joyous events like a wedding celebration, bar/ bat mitzva, an engagement party or another special celebration. A simha is like social Prozac for the community.
It unites people and brings out feelings of happiness.
When people are dancing together, the simha is a powerful distraction and remedy for the worries that participants may feel.
No doubt, celebrations accompanied by dancing and singing are universal in many cultures. Therefore, in preparation for this column, I looked at the scientific literature to see what it has to say about the psychological benefits of dancing and singing at a simha.
• Improves your mood – Research studies have found that aerobic exercise like the type found in dancing improves both cognition and mood. Aerobic exercise is also a potent antidepressant and euphoriant; as a result, consistent exercise produces general improvements in mood and self-esteem. Endorphins are released when the body is forced to exert itself at a certain level commensurate with aerobic dancing. Just watch the happy look on people’s faces when they come off the dancing floor after some lengthy dancing typically found at a simha.
• Reduces stress – Aerobic exercise increases physical fitness and lowers neuroendocrine reactivity, which mediate chemical and behavioral indicators that the organism is under stress, and therefore reduces the biological response to psychological stress in humans.
Therefore, dancing and celebrating lowers stress and has positive health benefits as a result.
• Improves overall well-being – Dancing is an excellent form of exercise because it not only burns calories and builds muscles, in addition, like other aerobic exercises, it has proven positive cardiovascular and general fitness benefits. Dancing is good for your heath.
• Helps loneliness by connecting you to others – When the simha music begins, and you get up to dance, you are connecting with others. If there are couples dancing at the party, this is an excellent opportunity for them to connect to each other. Studies have shown that emotional bonds that couples experience when dancing have lasting effects on the relationship.
• Dancing is therapy – Unfortunately, terrorism tragedies or other catastrophic events sometimes precede a simha. In my experience, initially the sadness was certainly felt by the simha attendees but this did not stop people from attending or enjoying the event.
In fact, the opposite would happen. The host of the simha would say something about the tragic event at the beginning of the evening and afterward the guests seemed to put themselves in a positive state of mind.
The mood of the event would be especially joyful and the dancing would be full of spirit and high energy.
The dancing in these circumstances provides attendees with a powerful cathartic release of tensions and a diverting of attention away from the immediate impact of a tragic event. Clearly, the dancing in these instances was very therapeutic.
Personally speaking, when I have joined in the dancing, I can feel the joy and excitement on the simha dance floor. I see how easy it is to get into a positive frame of mind by dancing and singing. Perhaps, the simha has something to teach us about how to stay positive in everyday life. Music and dance distract us in good ways, interfere with negative thoughts, and by boosting up the brain’s happy chemicals, put smiles on our faces.
Therefore, whenever you go to a simha, do not be one of those people who sits and watches everyone else dance.
Get up and join in. Also, remember that everyday can be like a simha, if we just try to remember all of the positive things that we have in our lives.
Dr. Michael Gropper is a marital, child and adult cognitive- behavioral psychotherapist, with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. He also provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy. www.drmikegropper.weebly.com.