After spending 12 days in a psych ward, coming back to pole was bittersweet. While I was excited to be able to dance and see my pole fam again, my aerial related anxiety wasn’t completely worked through. My mental state was more stable, but I was back to my regular feelings of weakness, fear, and self-consciousness. No matter how much I love aerial, I often think to myself, “Why bother,” or “I’ll never be good as this person,” or “I nailed this trick, but it doesn’t look pretty enough.” It doesn’t help that these thoughts are mixed with watching other people in class, toxic social media culture, and body image issues.
As anyone with anxiety will tell you, there is no reason for me to feel anxious when doing something I love. But it is still there. We can keep reassuring ourselves and others that pole is a celebration, an individual journey, but sometimes it’s hard for those messages to break through the clouds of negative thoughts. Mental health is not easy. It is a daily experience, like nutrition, exercise, illness, and sleep; all of which we need to balance to train our best.
Make your mental health part of your daily routine. Incorporate it into your warm up and cool down. If you mentally drained, take a break. Don’t overwork yourself mentally, just as you shouldn’t physically. You know your limits and needs, don’t ignore them.
Anxiety does not define you. Neither does your “level of skill.” We are all amazing dancers, with unique styles, who all go through ups and downs in our pole journeys. Just do what you need to do to keep going.
I’ve put together some coping skills that worked for me in and out of the hospital:
TAKE A BREATH/Meditate
When your starting to feel anxious, close your eyes, inhale for 3-4 counts and exhale for 4-5 counts or more. Allow any racing thoughts or physical abnormalities to disappear with the breath. Repeat a manta, such as “I am strong” or “I am confident.” If you have the time, do some MEDITATION. Even if you may feel rushed as you move through a pole class, there is always enough time to breath.
Squeeze A Stress Ball
You can find cheap stress balls anywhere. The point of the stress ball is to shift any physical or mental tension onto the ball so it is released from the body. It will also build up your grip strength!
Hug A Pole Sister
If there is anyone you know you can talk to, it’s your pole family. I know it can be intimidating to ask for help with deep personal issues, but asking for a hug is simple, especially if your not ready to talk. Odds are, your friends are also dealing with some anxiety, so don’t be afraid to ask for validation of your feelings; they may need one too.
Drink Some Water
I don’t think anyone is drinking enough water, and as athletes we need more than anyone else. Make sure to bring a bottle or two with you to your workout. Use your water break as a moment to slow down. Feel the refreshment. Drinking water can be very meditative while also nourishing. The more you drink, the better you’ll feel.
This is what pole is all about! We dance to free ourselves of life’s restrictions. Put on your favorite song, turn away from the mirror, turn off your camera, and just dance for the pure fun of it. Dance for YOU, not anyone else. Don’t stop until you’ve forced out anything that is holding you back.