TW: this blog deals includes content with references to depression, anxiety and other related mental health conditions. A reminder that you are not alone. Reach out for support often and early if required. Beyond Blue & Lifeline can be contacted for help if you're an Australian resident.
Let’s set the stage.
The poles have been cleaned and gripped. You wipe your hands and re-grip for the 10th time because your palms keep getting clammy from nerves. You hear your name called by the MC and you take those first tentative steps out from the wings, trying not to fall in your 8-inch pleasers. You look to the crowd but can’t make out any faces as you’re blinded by the lights. You take a deep breath and ground yourself. You prepare yourself and your body, and before there’s a moment to panic, the music begins.
Caption: Pole Physio Danielle Competing at Dance Filthy
The next 3-4 minutes are an absolute blur. The adrenaline pounding through your body makes it hard for you to think and hear, but luckily, you’ve practised the routine so much over the past 8 weeks that your muscles instinctively know what to do. The next thing you remember is walking off stage and the sound normalising in your ears. You’re greeted by love ones, friends, and fellow pole dancers, proud and in awe of you for putting yourself out there on that stage. You’re overcome with emotion. You feel like you’re riding a wave of euphoria. Immediately you begin to over-analyse every part of your performance, but the rational part of you decides to leave that for another day when you receive the judge’s feedback. So, instead you spend the rest of the night watching the other performances and running around backstage taking selfies with the dancers. And if you’re lucky, you may even do a nudie run with your winner's sashie! It’s been a long but rewarding day, so before you know it your body crashes into bed.
The next morning you wake up. You feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. The sense of euphoria lingers but the adrenaline has completely worn off from the night before. You come to the realisation that everything you’ve been working towards for the past 12 weeks is now done and dusted. You don’t have to go to training today and you don’t have to stick to your meal plan. But you also no longer have anything to work towards. You suddenly feel a little bit lost and as the week goes on this sensation grows stronger and stronger.
This feeling my friends is known as ‘post-competition blues’. Not only is it real, but it can hit hard and knock you completely for six. We can guarantee many other polers around you, including your pole instructors, have felt it before. But there’s been a lack of discussion about it in the pole community to date, so we’re here to shine the light on it.
What’s the science?
The main theory behind post-comp blues is a change or disruption to biological rhythms. This is thought particularly to be the case for professional athletes such as Olympians who have a set structure and routine all year round. After the peak competition is over, the highs of being on the world’s greatest stage, the media exposure, the endorsements and sponsorships all die down and depression often sets in.
On a smaller scale this can also happen to a hobbyist pole dancer. All of a sudden, a strict schedule and intense motivation is no longer required, so the poler deregulates and strays from their previously meticulous routine, leading to feelings of loss, and loss of purpose, which can ultimately lead to an internal battle and downhill spiral into a dark emotional place.
Post competition blues can include, but is not limited to:
- Changes in diet/decreased appetite
- Decrease libido
- Mood swings
These symptoms may disappear after a few days post comp or for some may even hang around for months. It’s important to remember that polers may have trained for many months or years with an intense training schedule with many ups and downs in the lead up to a competition. They may have very high expectations of themselves and a great deal of anticipation for competition day, which means the emotional fall if they haven’t achieved their goals can be quite a steep one.
Just remember, it’s not only a big deal to put yourself out there, but it’s incredibly hard to do so against a whole group of other competitors. And it’s even harder to be judged on your creation and how you performed the routine that day. When polers place well in their competition, it’s natural for them to feel like the struggle and preparation was worth it. But when a poler doesn’t place, it can feel like a waste of money, time, effort and energy. Never forget that just stepping out on stage is a huge accomplishment in itself!
The likely post-comp blues candidate
For many, their first time performing may be a transformative experience like no other. In fact, a first timer is far more likely to experience these symptoms of post comp blues because they may not be as prepared for what emotionally is to come.
The other likely candidate to experience post comp blues is the poler who has turned their passion into an obsession. They may have turned their life upside down for the competition and as a result are dealing with the potential
fallout of neglecting relationships, self-care or other key aspects of their life. It’s vital when training for competitions to not lose perspective of the bigger picture in life and to not become obsessed.
Depending on the demands and goals of the pole competition, you may have altered your diet for your performance. Nutrition plays a big role in post-competition blues.
It’s common after a performance to have the post show munchies and eat copious amounts of pre-training food. After all you’ve worked hard for it right? Yes, you have! But everything in moderation. A sudden and severe change in your diet can lead to bloating and hormonal changes which can lead to a negative spiral of self-esteem issues regarding appearances.
In preparation for your comp, you may have received guided medical or nutritional advice to avoid certain foods to reduce your sweating levels or to assist with weight loss. After a competition it’s not uncommon for polers to want to maintain their competition physique for as long as possible. However, depending on nutritional changes, this may not be attainable, and the body may result in burnout with long-term health consequences. And we’re here to tell you that this may lead to a cycle of body image issues, diet related shame and guilt, over-eating/exercising, anxiety, depression and insomnia. All of which can become a dangerous and ingrained cycle.
Instead, we encourage a gradual diet-reversal post competition if you have altered your diet in preparation. This is where you slowly and gradually re-introduce foods along the way that you may have removed and should be done with the guidance of your health care professional. This gradual re-introduction of food allows your body to deal with changes to your diet in a slow and controlled way which is less likely to be associated with an emotional low.
Please note: we do not advocate for a change or alteration to diet without guidance from a health care professional.
How to manage post-comp blues
Unfortunately, there’s no set recipe that everyone can use for managing the ups and downs of competing. There will be some strategies that feel right for one person and wrong for another, so it’s about finding what works for you to help pull you out of the post comp funk.
One strategy that we find can be particularly helpful is to invest your time and energy in other activities post-competition. Whilst pole and aerial can be incredibly fulfilling, having your eggs all in one basket can set you up for an emotional fall after a competition finishes. You can always focus on the next comp or the next big trick, but eventually your mind and body will burn out. So take some time to take care of yourself boo, and invest in your mental health. You may look to join a book club, try other forms of physical exercise (dancing, roller derby), or even take up pottery! Whatever it is that you’re interested in, you do you! We’re sure that within no time, you’ll be feeling re-energised and like yourself again!
Other helpful tips:
Here’s some other very helpful tips to guide you on the rollercoaster ride that comes with pole competitions!
Don’t lose sight of the reason why you’re competing. Winning can be fun, but use the competition to have fun and focus on personal growth instead.
Expect that you will eventually lose your competition physique at some point. Your body cannot function under continual competition training stress for long periods of time. Burnout is otherwise inevitable.
Have a plan of when you’re going to return back to training and what exactly that will involve.
But at the same time ensure you have adequate time off to relax after your competition and do some nice things for yourself. Recovery is key and we recommend a minimum of a week off. Self-care is always important as well.
Gradually re-introduce into your diet foods that you may have reduced or avoided during competition training.
Listen to your body. Your body may be begging for something you’re not providing it with. So stop for a second and listen to what it may be trying to tell you.
Reach out for support if you begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Touching base with a psychologist/sports psychologist can be very helpful in times like this, or even just your friends or instructor for help and support or to debrief. We would highly advocate for seeing a professional if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
Don’t forget to plan time for you, and think about other important things in your life. Pole is great, but it shouldn’t consume every fibre of your being.
Reconnect with other activities and aspects of your life that bring you happiness.
Be proud of what you have accomplished, even if it wasn't what you had hoped. It’s ok if you don’t take home the sashie every time, there’s so much more you can get out of a competition than a win, including the experience and enjoyment.
Got the comp bug?
For some pole dancers, one competition is more than enough. They committed to the experience at the time but it just wasn’t something they’re keen on again! Not a worry if that’s you! You’re far from alone with these feelings.
For other polers, the stage feels like a second home and they’re already dreaming of their next big performance. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to invest in a pole planner, create a schedule and plan your competition year with lots of recovery in between! Competitions can take a huge toll on our body mentally, physically and emotionally, so make sure you’re prepared to handle every aspect of it!
Are you looking at competing this year and want a tailored exercise program to help you achieve your dream goals?
Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio