The Actor's Survival Guide: Mental Health Tips for Performers in a Post-Pandemic WorldFeb 27, 2023
It's no secret that the entertainment industry is a wild ride, and the past couple of years have taken things to a whole new level. With the pandemic wreaking havoc on our industry and our mental health, it can feel like we're constantly walking a tightrope without a safety net.
And let's not forget about the unique challenges that come with acting itself. It's not just about memorizing lines and hitting your marks. When we step into a character's shoes, our brains and bodies actually undergo some real neurological changes. We can even “lose our sense of self when performing,” which can be harmful for both ourselves and those around us. It's no wonder that so many actors struggle with their mental health.
But fear not, my friends—there are strategies you can use to stay grounded and sane in the face of all this uncertainty. In this article, I'm going to share some of my go-to mental health practices for performers. They've worked for me and my clients, and I'm confident they can work for you too. So, without further ado, let's dive in and start taking care of ourselves!
Remember Your Why
It's the reason you keep pushing through the rejections, the side gigs, and the long days of auditions. Your why is what fuels your passion and keeps you grounded in the face of uncertainty. It's the feeling you get when you step onto a stage or the thrill of bringing a character to life. Your why should be personal, powerful, and uniquely yours. So take a moment to reflect on why you love your craft and why it's worth fighting for, even when the odds seem stacked against you.
In this industry, it's all too easy to lose sight of your why amid the hustle and bustle of daily life. But remembering the reason you chose this profession in the first place is essential for maintaining your mental health and staying true to yourself. Make a habit of revisiting your why on a regular basis. Write it down, say it out loud, or share it with a friend. Whatever you do, don't let go of it! It's what makes you who you are as an artist and keeps you going in the toughest of times.
Identify Your Needs
Discovering what you need to keep going is just as important as knowing why you do what you do. After all, how can you give your best performance if you're not taking care of yourself?
Ask yourself: how do you recharge? Do you have a self-care routine in place, or do you need to create one? Remember, self-care isn't just about bubble baths and face masks—it's about doing what realistically works for you in a general sense as you juggle a work-life balance. So, what helps you protect your peace and stay grounded amid the chaos of the industry?
That being said, it's also important to recognize that self-care isn't an excuse to avoid responsibility or neglect your duties. Finding balance is key. So, how do you protect your peace and stay grounded while still showing up for others and fulfilling your obligations? Building a supportive community can be helpful, but ultimately, taking care of yourself is about taking responsibility for your own well-being. You are the only one who can truly understand what you need to thrive.
Define Your Role
Let's talk about your role—not just the one you play on stage, but the one you play in your professional journey. What roles are you currently taking on in pursuit of your goals? Are you the tireless auditioner, the passionate creator, or the savvy networker? And who or what is helping or blocking you from reaching your objectives?
Taking on a role can be a powerful tool for externalizing where you are in your journey. It can give you a concrete framework for understanding your current situation and identifying what you need to do to get where you want to be. For example, if you see yourself as the tireless auditioner, you might focus on refining your audition technique and networking with casting directors. If you see yourself as the passionate creator, you might focus on developing your original material and seeking out collaborators who share your vision.
But let's not forget about your dream role. What does success look like to you? Is it a specific character you long to play, or a broader vision of yourself as a successful artist? Externalizing your dream role can help you gain clarity on what you truly want, and provide motivation and direction for your journey.
Of course, the road to success is rarely smooth, and you may encounter setbacks and challenges along the way. But by understanding your current role and your dream role, you can stay focused on what matters most and navigate the ups and downs of this wild industry with grace and resilience.
Set Your Boundaries
Boundaries are essential for honoring yourself and protecting your mental health, especially in an industry that can be all-consuming. As a striving actor, it's easy to forget that you're entitled to set boundaries and to ask for support around them when working on a project that may be triggering.
To best hold your boundaries, try reframing them by centering and honoring yourself, rather than focusing on the person or reason behind them. It's okay to say no, to set limits on your time and energy, and to prioritize your own well-being.
This can be particularly challenging in our industry, where the lines between reality and make-believe can be blurred, especially when it comes to simulating intimacy or violence. If you're working in an environment where you don't feel safe and supported in your boundaries or are being asked to go to a harmful emotional place within a role or creative process, it's crucial to speak up and seek help.
Remember that you don't have to sacrifice your well-being for the sake of a job or to please others. It's okay to prioritize your own needs and to be assertive in communicating your boundaries. By doing so, you'll not only honor yourself but also create a safer and more supportive environment for yourself and those around you. And if you ever need someone to talk to, please don't hesitate to reach out to me—my contact information is below.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
When it comes to managing our emotions, our most accessible and powerful tool is the breath. When we feel anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing patterns tend to become shallow and quick. By taking slow, deep breaths, we can help regulate our nervous system, calming the fight or flight response and reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.
Not only does deep breathing help regulate our emotions, but it also provides a physical sensation of grounding and centering. By placing one hand on your heart and the other on your belly, you can feel the physical sensation of your breath moving through your body, which can help you feel more present and connected to the moment.
In addition, deep breathing is a tool that can be used anywhere, anytime, without the need for any special equipment or training. It's a technique that you can turn to whenever you feel the need to soothe yourself or regulate your emotions, whether you're backstage before a performance, waiting for an audition, or just going about your day-to-day life.
So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, remember to take a few slow, deep breaths and feel the grounding, calming effect that it can have on your mind and body. By making deep breathing a part of your self-care routine, you'll be better equipped to handle the challenges that come your way and maintain a sense of inner calm and balance, no matter what the industry throws at you.
Reframe a Rejection
Rejection is a harsh reality of the entertainment industry. No matter how talented or qualified you are, you're bound to face rejection at some point in your career. But rejection doesn't have to be a roadblock - it can be a redirection to something better.
Of course, it's easier said than done. It can be hard to accept rejection, especially when it feels personal. And it's all too easy to compare ourselves to others and feel like we're not measuring up. But by reframing our experience of rejection, we can create a new perspective that empowers us and allows us to move forward.
Instead of dwelling on the rejection, try to embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. Ask yourself what you can learn from the experience, and how you can use that knowledge to improve and grow as an artist. Recognize that rejection doesn't define your worth or value as a person or performer. It's simply one experience in a much larger journey.
It's also important to remember that comparison can be a trap. When we compare ourselves to others, we're often measuring ourselves against an idealized version of their success, rather than their actual journey. This can be detrimental to our self-worth and confidence, and make it harder to bounce back from rejection.
You Define Your Worth
So, focus on your own journey and your own goals. Define your own worth and value based on your unique experiences and strengths. And remember that rejection is not a failure, but simply a redirection to something better.
Rachel Brooks, M.A., LCAT-LP, is an actress and creative arts therapist based in New York City. She completed her Master of Arts at NYU in Drama Therapy and holds a BFA in Acting from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Rachel hopes to continue her clinical work and research within entertainment and artist wellness. She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at https://www.rachelbrookstherapist.com.
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