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Welcome to the last post in Pole Goals 101! Today, we’re talking about the importance of looking after your mental health while you’re focusing on your goals.
If you haven’t caught up with the previous posts in this series, check them out below:
Let’s get to it!
Your Mental Health
Taking care of your mental health isn’t just for people with mental health issues.
Taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body, and mental health issues can affect anyone, at any time.
Mental health issues can spring up in childhood (like they did with me, yay!) or develop when you’re an adult. They can be caused by life experiences, your brain chemistry, or most commonly, both.
Mental health issues can be chronic, or can only occur for a short period of time. Some are more able to be treated with medication than others, but whatever your choice of treatment, all require attention.
You can have bad mental health without having a mental health disorder.
At some point in everyone’s life, they will experience periods where their mental health isn’t particularly great.
People who have children can experience Post-Partum Depression, or the ‘baby blues’, even if they’ve never had depression before.
You may have a fear of spiders that is particularly intense in certain situations without it being a diagnosable phobia.
You might even go through a period of intense anxiety for a few weeks on the run-up to a significant life event without having lived with anxiety before, or experiencing it after the event has passed.
My point is that you don’t have to have a diagnosable mental health disorder to have bad mental health.
Just like having a cold means your physical health is poor for a time, going through a period of burnout means your mental health is poor for a time. And, like with a cold, there are things you can do to promote healing through self-care techniques, but there are certain things that will make your condition last longer.
Mental Health Disorders
A mental health concern becomes a disorder when the effects are prolonged, get in the way of your day-to-day functioning, and cause significant stress in your life.
A mental health disorder can be a long-term, recurring issue, or a single, prolonged episode. With mental health disorders being so unique to each patient, doctors tend to look at the things I outlined above in order to determine whether a diagnosis of a mental health disorder is appropriate.
For those of us who live with a mental health disorder, taking care of your mental health becomes even more imperative to a functional life.
This is even more important when you’re making changes to your lifestyle that require you to shift around your normal routines.
Mental Health and Pole Goals
Changing your lifestyle
Changing your lifestyle can have a huge effect on your mental health.
As I talked about in Engineer Your Environment, you only have a finite level of willpower each day to make decisions that go against your current habits. For those of us with mental health issues, this level of willpower can vary from day to day, or we can have very little willpower and energy to work with.
This is why mental health and self care are super important when embarking on a new fitness regime.
Instead of staying within the comfortable boundaries of your normal habits, you’re using your energy to perform new tasks that can be physically and mentally draining.
If you’re already struggling with your energy levels, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be a significant drain on what energy you have left.
But, this can go the other way too.
Forgetting to rest
If you’re embracing new habits that you’re enjoying, and that you’re passionate for, it might feel like your energy is boundless.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it really isn’t.
Enthusiasm can help your momentum and motivation go further, but sooner or later, the energy expenditure will catch up with you – both physically and mentally.
As I talked about in Pole Goals 101: Rest Days, it’s vital for you to take time to recover from exercise. Even if you’re itching to get back to pole class, rest days will prevent Overtraining Syndrome and help you maintain your mental health.
One of the many reasons why we love pole is because it makes us feel like badasses.
It’s empowering to be part of a class with likeminded individuals, celebrating what our bodies can do, and playing around with what our newfound strength and flexibility allows us to achieve.
Pole is commonly referred to as an addiction, and it’s easy to see why the atmosphere of a great pole studio makes us want to spend as much time there as possible.
However, there’s a stark difference between doing two classes a week because you want to – and doing the same because you feel obligated to.
And it’s perfectly normal for that to change from week to week. Some weeks, two classes might not feel like enough, but on others going to class might feel like dragging yourself through treacle.
Maintaining Your Mental Health
Take rest days
And by that, I mean true rest days.
It can be overwhelming to feel like you have to do something every day, and as polers, we can love our sport so much we’re tempted to train as often as we can.
Even if pole is a significant part of your self care routine, as it can be for me, practicing other forms of self care can give you the break you didn’t know you needed.
While I’ve talked a lot about the physical importance of scheduling in rest days, we can often underestimate the importance of rest days for our mental health when we’re so focused on a physical goal.
So, be lazy.
Take a bath with some relaxing Epsom salts* that help both your muscles and your mind (and combine them with this bath honey*, trust me – together, they’ll send you off to sleep). Hell, why not do an at-home spa day with a face mask, hair mask, and body scrub too?
Play video games, tabletop games, card games, or drinking games. Whatever games you find fun, do it!
Binge Netflix. Make your favourite food, or order it in. Grab the book you’ve been meaning to read.
Whatever relaxes you and makes your heart sing, do it.
It’s easy to lose yourself amongst class schedules, home stretch sessions, and things that you need to do. Dedicated rest days help you make time for non-fitness things that you love.
You don’t need to do it all
We’re always working on a handful of things at any given time – and that’s without counting the cross-training we’re always intending on doing.
Sometimes, our pole eyes are bigger than our pole stomach.
(Yes, it’s a weird analogy, but hear me out)
It’s very easy for us to take on too much at once because we want to do all the cool shapes and feel great at what we do.
In Pole Goals 2019, I talked about how I wanted to make some solid progression towards inverting, which for me involves a forearm stand against the pole. However, the more I practised this the more I realised that I need to do more core strength work, as I’m so very close when I kick up into it, but I need that extra lift to get me there. Without doing dedicated core work and dedicated practice, I knew I wouldn’t get there by the end of the year.
And I’m okay with that.
Sometimes, your pole goals can involve more than just “I’m going to do the thing!”.
They can become “I can do the thing if I have more core strength, but more flexibility will help as well, and I also think I need more bodyweight strength to feel secure in the thing, so I just need to work on these three things!”
And there’s no shame in adjusting your goals because they demand an unrealistic amount of time and energy from you.
We all want to work on our splits, our core strength, our upper body strength, our inverts, our Jades, our Ayeshas, our Climbs, our stamina…our everything. But the truth is, we can’t work on them all at the same time.
Unless we’re lucky enough to be a professional athlete and our job is our sport, chances are we don’t have the time to work on all of those things.
So be kind to yourself and understand your limits. Knowing where they are isn’t an admission of weakness, but a test of strength.
Goals are ambitions, not obligations
Goals are fantastic things that can help give our training direction and purpose.
However, the narrative and sentiment behind the concept of goals can lend you to believe that once you’ve set them, that’s it – you meet your goal and you’re a success, or you don’t meet your goal, and you’re a failure.
Go anywhere on the internet and you’ll see motivational quotes attributing goal-smashing to success, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from living with a mental illness, it’s this –
We need to change the moral values we assign to goals.
That’s why I say that goals are ambitions. They’re not obligations or a pass-or-fail trial of will.
There’s no deity that’ll drop out the sky and smite you because you didn’t have time to train your Superman this year.
Goals, whether you achieve them or not, will have led you to make progress in the moves or disciplines you wanted to train.
Whether you end the year working on Superman variations or have reached the point where you can hold it for a few seconds from the floor, you’ve still made progress.
You may not have reached your goal, but that doesn’t make you a failure.
That makes you human.
We’re going to have dreams for ourselves that, after a few weeks of working on them, we realise we haven’t given ourself enough time.
Life is going to happen and interrupt your plans.
You’re going to get ill or deal with a flare-up.
You might have to deal with a whole-life upheaval that puts all your plans on hold.
And when you’re dealing with a rough period in your life, the last thing you need is feeling guilt over not training your Inverts.
How do you look after your mental health while you’re training and working towards your goals? Do you find that certain goals affect your mind more than others?
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