Hi everyone, my name is Isabel, and I’m an advocate for women’s physical and mental health. Through these blog posts, I’ll be discussing how I’ve found pole dance intersects with body image, stress management, progress and recovery, and empowerment through representation. As you read through, I ask that you keep an open mind while taking any necessary time required afterwards to reflect on and understand why certain emotions may have been triggered.

Chapter #2 – The Intersection of Pole Dance and Stress Management by Isabel Zhu (@alexbchrome)

We should be allowed to feel and understand our stress without the pressure of immediately having to bounce back to inner peace. Forcing ourselves to stay positive all the time is unrealistic and invalidates emotions that should be addressed to prevent future burnout. I used to engage in the idea of toxic positivity which included telling myself “just think happy thoughts”, “stay positive”, and “good vibes only”. Other phrases I’ve heard include “it could always be worse”, and “just smile!”. Reciting these phrases results in the dangerous assumption that everything can be solved with a good attitude. It minimizes completely valid emotions which may be healthier dealt with by working through them. How we manage stress can tell us a lot about ourselves, our boundaries, and our values. Understanding them is important as it helps with communication between others, as well as reminders for ourselves in times of need.

I remind myself that I am not an iron wall - I am allowed to be emotional, relapse into bad habits, and completely break down once in a while. Crying can be incredibly cathartic and is nothing to be ashamed of. When I am ready, I then ask myself what led me to this current state of mind. Some of these prompts may help you understand where the root of certain stresses lie as well:

1)   Is something visually triggering me? Is there something in my life that would be worth getting rid of, setting some boundaries with, or distancing myself from for a while? I remind myself that saying “no” is acceptable because I know myself best! 

2)   Am I feeling jealous of someone's character trait and/or achievement? If so, is it something I want to personally achieve as well? If it’s feasible, can I go after it at this very moment, or would it better fit in my life during a later period of time? If it’s something I don’t want to personally achieve, then its settled – I can just sit back, relax, and personally congratulate the individual for their wonderful achievement.

3)   Am I just bored with completing my other responsibilities and stressing/overthinking was the next best thing to do? If so, I probably won’t be able to put my best foot forward into completing that task anyways. I distract myself with something fun for a while, decisively allowing myself to relax! My go-to’s are dancing/grooving to some music, watching Netflix, eating some snacks, or chatting with friends.

4)   Am I on less than 6 hours of sleep? I’m not very good with maintaining a proper sleep schedule but I recognize that having a clear mind not bogged down by tiredness plays a big role in stress management. Being well rested already helps, but you probably already know that. While I tell myself that I should already have these habits set in stone, I do not. Thus, part of my checklist also includes recalling whether I’ve gotten enough exercise, daylight, or vegetables/fruits recently.

5)   Do I feel trapped in a situation in which I have no control over? If it’s not safe nor feasible to change the circumstance I am in, balancing that out by doing something that makes me feel in control helps me get my mind off of the situation for a while. For me this is usually solved by pole dancing, through the physical reminder of being in control of my mind, emotions, and body. Depending on how I’m feeling in that moment, I’ll choose between a variety of styles: strength focused, floor flow, lyrical, sensual, or a combination of them. Knowing that I have the ability to choose always makes me feel safer and less trapped.

Sometimes the situation at hand is the pandemic itself - being unable to revisit vacation destinations, recreate past memories, or even meet up with friends to go on new adventures. It’s normal to yearn for what we can’t have, so I put myself in the shoes of my past self, where I dreamed of the situation I’m currently in. For example, when I’m living away from home, I miss the homecooked food, the company of my sister, and the spacious backyard. When I’m at a crowded party, or feel overwhelmed with a schedule packed with adventures, sometimes all I want is some peace and quiet alone time. By taking myself back in time to remember what I longed for and couldn’t have at the moment but do now, my current situation feels so much more comfortable.

This is similar to the concept of living in the present. For me that means I pause and think about my surroundings, appreciating the small things already here for me - and soak them all up. The practice of savouring has really helped me live in the present more, for example taking a few extra seconds to taste my food, or enjoying the warmth and comfort of lying in bed. There are small things around us to be grateful for hidden in plain sight - I’m grateful that I currently do not have a stuffy nose and can breathe clearly! 

6)   Are my boundaries being violated? It is not my responsibility to live up to what others expect of me, without my consent. For example, appearing “strong” or “tough” to satisfy friends’ expectations, amounting to qualifications/careers pressured by family, or rushing ourselves to reach a life milestone set by society. By saying “yes” all the time, we run the risk of sacrificing our mental health by minimizing our emotions to maintain other people’s inner peace. It may not feel the same, but compared to when we physically feel uncomfortable during pole class, we fear for our safety and can’t help but speak up if we sense an issue, have a question, or feel a boundary being violated. If we don’t, it could potentially be dangerous for our bodies. By transferring this mindset to manage my emotional stress reminds me that I shouldn’t be anticipating the needs of others before my own.


7)   Is my self worth solely based on my level of productivity? It’s understandable that making progress and ticking items off of a checklist can be a great motivating factor to reach goals! But if the amount of the fear from failing surpasses the fun the journey is supposed to bring, then it may be time to reconsider.


Lastly, burnout exists because we have made rest a reward rather than a right. Physical burnout is usually easier to identify, as we know when our muscles are tired from pole exercises – sore arms, or literal redness and visible bruises. Mental burnout is definitely not as easy to identify, especially as we as a society have been conditioned to prioritize productivity and constantly out-doing ourselves and one-another. If mental burnout does occur, I hope that you are able to treat yourself the way you do if you were physically sick. Put yourself first as the world can wait: drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, let yourself relax, treat yourself to your favourite self-care activities, and catch up on shows you wanted to watch!

Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all solution and I recognize that it takes privilege to be able to apply some or all of the above methods to manage stress. Understanding oneself can be difficult to start, especially if it isn’t already standard practice to take the time to reflect on one’s emotions. Nonetheless, you deserve to feel seen, heard, and safe, while having the time and space to process what you feel. Whether that’s on your own, or with professional support that can help you deeply understand your choices and bring out your authentic self.

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