How to Cope With ‘Show Shock’ After a Project Ends

How to Cope With ‘Show Shock’ After a Project Ends

Photo Source: Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

The closure of a show can be jarring. Whether it’s a short fringe run or a long national tour, the final curtain marks an ending that inevitably carries stress. “Show shock” (not an official disorder, though it can certainly feel like one) is a common condition of the actor who has let go of a character, a company, and an intense and irreplaceable shared experience all at the same time.

My show-shocked clients describe a range of emotions including anxiety, sadness, loss of self-esteem, and loneliness. Some notice they find daily activities harder to manage and others experience changes in their appetite, increased fatigue, or insomnia.

I regularly hear concerns such as “I can’t get motivated” and “I’m not feeling as connected to my partner” and “I’m worried I’ll never work again!”

Closure involves accepting something is over, letting go of what was, honoring it, and moving on. Here are some tips for successfully navigating the transition from the drama to the day-to-day:

1. Recognize
Whether gory or glorious, a production of any kind is a consuming experience. You’ve developed new daily routines, habits, and patterns of living. You’ve forged powerful bonds with castmates and have come to rely on them for emotional support. You’ve had no time for “real life” yet you’ve been living at maximum capacity, expressing aspects of yourself on and off stage that seldom see the light of the humdrum day-to-day.

Now you’re a civilian again. But all of that happened. Recognize that whatever adjustment issues you’re experiencing now are a normal reaction to a transition. There is no set amount of time or prescribed way to process the loss of an experience that has greatly impacted you so give yourself permission to process the ending and grieve the loss. If you don’t feel it, you can’t heal it.

2. Reconnect
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling vulnerable or off-balance. Discussing your worries, fears, or behaviors with a trusted person can give rise to new interpretations, perspectives, and options.

Push yourself to reconnect with family and friends in your support system outside of the show. If you feel disconnected or alienated from those around you, it may be a good idea to put your electronics away and make extra efforts to connect with living, breathing human beings rather than their virtual versions.

READ: Self-Care: An Actor’s Secret Weapon

3. Reset
If you’re feeling anxious or tense, a practice of daily relaxation can help reset your brain and nervous system. Try diaphragmatic breathing: with one hand on your chest and the other below your belly button, breathe slowly and deeply into your belly for several minutes. Feel the rhythm of your breathing and if you’re breathing into your chest, shift the center of breathing lower in your body. Try 5-10 minutes per day to boost the oxygen flow to your brain and notice how this alters the way you feel and behave.

4. Rejuvenate
Find room in your new schedule to practice self-care! Maintaining a healthy diet and sleep patterns and regular exercise can make a huge difference when dealing with stress. Over-drinking, over (or under) eating, and becoming a night owl will just add to your discomfort.

If additional lifestyle changes seem overwhelming right now, focus on one thing at a time. You really do need a little breathing room to adapt to a new normal! Take it slow and don’t expect everything to click back into place right away. If good self-care means you’re watching more Netflix than usual this week, so be it.

Keep in mind that powerful reactions to the end of a production may be rooted in the dynamics of your family of origin, the original cast of characters. When the company of a show becomes a family, it’s no wonder the final goodbye is a precarious, emotional landscape to navigate!

For some actors, the stressful transition of their show or shoot ending may trigger depression or anxiety that prevents them from bouncing back even when things have settled down. If this is your experience or if you’d like a safe space to navigate issues, examine relationship patterns, and explore your identity, consider reaching out to a counselor or mental health practitioner for specialized support.

I hope these suggestions are useful in helping you process show shock with compassion and awareness, get back into that audition room, and turn your energies toward whatever’s up next!

*This post was originally published on July 18, 2018. It has since been updated.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Jenny Williams
Jenny Williams, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist based in NYC and the Hudson Valley. Jenny helps clients with issues including audition and performance anxiety, depression, stress, work-life balance, self-doubt, relationships, success mindset, trauma recovery, and more. Jenny enjoys helping actors and artists heal from the past and ignite their talent to fulfill their creative dreams in life, business, and art.
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