Lights, Camera, Anxiety?
As an actor I’ve had a lot of experience working on set for film and television. After the excitement of booking the job sinks in, I’ve always been cognizant of an undercurrent of pressure and stress when it’s time to finally get to work. The crew seems to move at a lightning pace and yet somehow shooting is always delayed. We’re simultaneously told “time is money” while being pressured to “hit your mark.” The external stress is compounded by an endless river of internal thoughts such as “don’t forget your lines,” and “I hope they like me.” Repeat that 12 times while 40 crew and staff are watching, listening, and lighting. And these are only the technical components! Material that is excessively violent or tragic often augments the tension. Collectively, these pressures leave the cast and crew emotionally drained, anxious, or depressed.
Before Covid this was all part of the job, The industry reinforced the notion that “you should feel lucky to have booked the part.” This pervasive attitude left cast and crew feeling unable to express or even be aware of their need for support for fear of being replaced.
When March 2020 hit, film, tv and theatre came to a screeching halt. This was followed by months of uncertainty. Those in the industry wondered if there was hope of being employed again. And while being grateful that film, television, and theatre have returned, many actors have a new understanding of the emotional impact of their work. “Being lucky to book the part” is no longer an adequate answer to emotional toil. Actors have gained awareness that the job is not compelling enough to sacrifice one’s physical and emotional well-being.
The New York Times recently published an article addressing a new role for therapists on set. Hopefully the US will start to follow suit. In the meantime, here are some helpful tools you can implement when feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or panicked heading back to production.
The operative word being Mindfully. To feel less overwhelmed, it’s helpful to have a sense of control when it comes to your commute. Finding the best route, by practicing taking the train or driving to and from location, can give you a greater sense of control. In addition, try to be mindful of how you experience anxiety. Pay attention to how you feel when you are nervous. Does your heartbeat faster, or do you feel yourself getting flushed? Once you are familiar with the physical symptoms of your anxiety, use them as cues to take a break. Remember, anxiety is a normal reaction to returning to performing after a long hiatus. Give yourself time to plan mindfully.
Make a playlist
Music is one of the most powerful tools we can use to help change our state of mind. Make a playlist with intention. Compiling some of your favorite calming songs is a fast way to get out of your own way when triggered. Along with relaxation playlists, collect some songs that you associate with joy, happiness, and energy. These are great tools that can bring a sense of ease when confronting anxiety or depression.
Do not worry if you do not get it, Meditation has never been so accessible. You don’t need to be a monk to benefit! Multiple studies demonstrate that meditation is a helpful tool to decrease anxiety. With access to apps like Calm https://www.calm.com/ and Headspace https://www.headspace.com/, a myriad of different styles is at your fingertips. From guided meditations narrated by Lebron James, to soothing sounds and visual meditations, there are a number to choose from. The key is routine and consistency. Pick a time of day when you can dedicate 5-10 minutes to building this practice. Quieting your mind isn’t easy, but guided meditations can help you facilitate your technique. Through a meditation routine we build awareness, understanding, and coping strategies to manage difficult emotions. Just 10 minutes a day can change how you feel.
Paced breathing is a tool that you can use when you experience a significant increase of anxiety and or panic. When we are overwhelmed, we often restrict our breathing. This decreases oxygen flow to the brain, signaling the heart to work harder and can cause physical distress creating panic. Paced breathing is a tool that activates our parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls bodily functions when a person is at rest. Some of its activities include stimulating digestion, activating metabolism, and helping the body relax. If you find yourself experiencing panic with restrictive breathing here are 3 steps you can take to help calm your nervous system down:
- Take a seat making sure both feet are firmly planted on the floor.
- Start with a deep breath, inhaling through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Then exhale through your mouth as if blowing through a straw for 8 seconds.
- Repeat this breathing 4 times
By changing our body temperature, we can quickly decrease the intensity of an emotion. Like paced breathing, this is an excellent tool to decrease panic and anxiety. Dip your face in cold water (not less than 50 degrees) and hold your breath. Try to hold it there for 30 to 60 seconds. If that’s not feasible, try an ice pack on your face around your eyes and cheeks.
Talk about how you’re feeling
The past two years have elicited anxiety and depression for people who prior to Covid may never have experienced emotional disruption. You are not alone. When we talk about how we feel, chances are there are people around you who feel the same way. Find a community on set. Be the support you seek for each other. This eliminates the stigma associated with mental health and builds bonds that protect us from loneliness and isolation in the future.