Managing the anxiety of an actor's unpredictable life: science-based tips
Every actor knows the feeling. Anxiety is real.
That feeling before you step on stage on opening night and can’t remember your lines or the gap between jobs that can span weeks, months, or even years.
There’s as much fear in those moments as there is hope. We associate excitement with positive feelings, but we think of anxiety as an overwhelmingly negative emotion that’s at times debilitating. While some anxiety is useful, as it can help motivate us, protect us when we’re in danger, and increase our alertness, too much can be disruptive to our state of being and make us suffer physically and mentally.
So how do we manage the ebbs and flows of this business alongside the ups and downs of our lives?
Well, I recently came across the Biopsychosocial Model, a pluralistic model of understanding mental health that looks at the Biological, Psychological, and Social factors that contribute to our state of being, and have found it to be extremely helpful in coming up with strategies for coping with all the crazy things life has, is, and will continue to throw my way.
Here are a few takeaways I’ve learned:
1. Biological Factors:
- What you put into your body matters. Eating nourishing foods and having a balanced diet, drinking enough clean water, and staying properly hydrated (get those electrolytes!).
- How you use your body matters. Everything from regular exercise to holistic care is important. Whether it’s a daily walk, a fitness class, or playing a game of pick up, study after study shows that 30 minutes of exercise can do wonders for your head, heart, and body.
- Listening to the needs of your body matters. When you’re tired, sleep. When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re unwell, rest. Sounds simple but it’s harder nowadays to listen to those cues. Remember, you’re no good to anyone if you’re not good to yourself.
- Self-care isn’t just about a spa day. Though that’s a great way to spend time with yourself! Self-care is taking time to tend to yourself with anything that nourishes you. It can be calming and relaxing or stimulating and practical.
2. Psychological Factors:
- We all need a little quiet time. Whether it’s a guided meditation online, a formal time for prayer, or simply pausing in your day and taking three deep and conscious breaths, taking time to self reflect can have a profound effect on your brain.
- “The best ideas come in the shower.” Ever heard that one? Yeah, we all have and it’s always true. Doing something that’s out of your loop recalibrates your brain and allows you to return to whatever issue you're tackling from a different perspective. Doing things that have nothing to do with acting, like drawing, writing, puzzles, D&D, whatever your thing is, can actually give you the creative juices you need to understand and dive deeper into your work. Go find some fun and play!
- Lose the taboo around therapy. Working with a therapist when things are good gives you an advantage for when things go south. You’ll have a baseline by which to gauge and a relationship established with your therapist without the added element of a specific trauma or issue. Remember that finding a therapist you jive with is akin to finding a car, you have to test drive a few before you find the right one. If the anxiety or feelings get worse, talk to your doctor about alternative treatments, including medication.
3. Social Factors:
- Social engagement is a way for us to connect with others in our community, both in person and online. These interactions help us create a sense of belonging and purpose. Strong social bonds can also help prevent feelings of isolation, depression, and cognitive decline.
This can include:
- spending time with family
- outings with friends
- volunteering your time
- or activities with colleagues
- Watch what you watch! Cheap thrills are just that. As is doom scrolling and mindless swiping. Being mindful of what you consume in the media, including all kinds of social media and traditional forms, is like being mindful of what you eat.
To wrap up...
Life is weird and full of so many twists and turns we can’t always predict. Whether it’s a new love, a big job, or a baby on the way, the more you have in your arsenal the better you’ll be able to navigate and cope with whatever comes your way.
And when all else fails, just breathe!
~ Coach Farah
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