An Actor’s Comprehensive Guide to Self-Care

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Photo Source: Jasmin Garcia Verdin

Much has been said about the challenges actors endure: rejection, survival jobs, rejection, making ends meet—did we mention rejection? And in performance, more than arguably any other existing profession, self-care is paramount. Your mind and body are your currency and the product you’re “selling.” When your physical and mental health falter in the slightest, it shows in your acting. And they will falter—sometimes frequently. In those instances, caring for yourself becomes even more critical. From keeping your head up amidst the “nos” to maintaining your physical and emotional health, this guide will break down everything actors need to know about self-care.

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Why is self-care important for actors?

You will lose out on jobs without good physical and mental health. It’s just a fact. As actor Shaan Sharma notes, there’s so little in this industry you can control; your health is ultimately one of the few over which you can exert power. “Let’s take this opportunity as a community to examine how you’re caring for your instrument,” Sharma urges. “Are you getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, caring for your teeth, hair, nails, and skin, and staying in good physical and mental shape? If not, look into it. Even if you are a character actor and your greater weight or niche look is part of your product, there are basic things you should be doing to just stay healthy and well-groomed.

“Once our bodies and minds are healthy, the next step is to make sure you’re marketing a look that fits you and works for you…. Of course, there are things about our look that we can and cannot change. Our goal should be to do the best with what we’ve got in order to work as much as possible.”

What are some ways actors can practice self-care?

Self-care means something different to everyone. Actor and dietitian Libby Parker has a range of suggestions when it comes to healthy coping mechanisms for actors during COVID-19 and beyond:

  • Emotional awareness: Journaling, art, therapy, meditation, celebrate small accomplishments
  • Distraction: Art, crafts, games, talking to friends, watching or reading
  • Self-soothing: Grounding exercises, body-scan meditation, getting off social media (even for a day)
  • Physical: Movement, eat a balanced meal, rearrange a room, get out in nature
  • Opposite action: Read positive affirmations, watch something funny, gratitude journal, pay it forward
  • Practical self-care: Make a grocery list, declutter, get on a sleep schedule

How do I maintain work-life balance as an actor?

Creating work-life balance is never easy, but it can be especially difficult as an actor trying to make it in Hollywood, on Broadway, or anywhere else. Acting is a demanding profession that calls for long days, last-minute auditions, and frequent travel. To keep a healthy balance in your life, author Stan Popovich suggests establishing boundaries. “Many people make the mistake of making their career their social life, but this is can cause problems in the long run,” he says. “If you can keep the two worlds separate, do so. Set time aside to be with your friends and family, and leave your career separate.”

How do actors stay healthy physically?

Physical health is vital for an actor. (Try doing eight shows a week without ample stamina or completing a 16-hour day on set without succumbing to exhaustion!) But for those exact reasons, it’s even easier for actors to fall victim to poor physical health. Below are four key components to physical health—and how actors can incorporate each one into their routine.

Physical activity: Whether it’s dance classes, yoga, or a gym membership, working out regularly is a key component of staying healthy as an actor. You can even exercise from home with these five key techniques recommended by actor and personal trainer Joe Rosko.

Sleep: There’s no better way to boost your energy and focus than getting restful, regular sleep. And it becomes even more critical if you’re a theater actor performing eight shows a week, as audition coach and NYC actor Philip Hernández notes. If you need some help dozing off, he suggests a sleep aid: “A gentle post-show stretch and chamomile tea is my personal favorite. If you opt for an over-the-counter sleep aid, avoid ones containing antihistamines—they dry you out. Melatonin or valerian root may be better options but remember that herbs and supplements can interact with prescription and over-the-counter meds, so consult your doctor before choosing one.” 

Nutrition: Eating well is another core tenant of physical health. But dealing with erratic schedules and multiple jobs can make it harder for actors to focus on what’s fueling them each day. Health and nutrition expert Kyle Buchanan recommends bringing your own snacks to jobs (he likes almonds and pumpkin seeds), choosing healthy options at the craft services table, and avoiding heavy carbs at lunch.

Vocal health: Vocal health matters most for musical theater performers, but other actors aren’t exempt from caring for their cords. Here’s how to identify several common vocal problems that performers face—and how best to address them.

How can actors maintain a healthy body image?

The entertainment industry is notoriously body image-obsessed—and that can be damaging for both the physical and mental health of aspiring actors. Actor Kate Huffman spent the beginning of her career convinced that being thin was a prerequisite to success, toxic messaging it took years to shed. “Even though you may feel pressure to have a ‘perfect’ body as an actor, the truth is that this is not a requirement,” she says. “If anything, focusing on maintaining or achieving a ‘perfect’ body detracts from the trajectory of your career.”

Actor and producer Douglas Tural agrees. “Being healthy doesn’t mean being skinny. Being healthy means taking care of yourself and committing to a healthy lifestyle, eating the right foods, and making sure your body is strong enough because you never know when that role is going to come around that you’ll need to be ready for.”

How should actors approach mental health?

Emotional health is another core component of self-care for actors. Below are just a few ways to maintain your emotional health in the stressful world of acting:

  • Find a community. Heidi Levitt, an L.A.-based casting director and producer shares five tips for finding your inner circle here.
  • Find a passion outside of the craft. In order to survive as an actor, you need an undying love of the craft. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also have hobbies and interest in other areas. Here, acting teacher and Backstage Expert Mae Ross gives her top four reasons actors should exist “outside” of acting.
  • Cope with financial stress. Financial worries are omni-present and will be possibly for your entire career. It’s OK! Check out Backstage’s financial guidance archives for advice on everything from the survival jobs that won’t drain the life out of you, to the advice all actors should know when it comes to their student loans.
  • Make sure you have somewhere for personal decompression. Speaking of financial strain, as a working actor, you may not be able to afford your own place to live (and that may be the case for a very long time). It’s important that you have a place that is yours and yours alone to unwind every now and again. If you live with roommates, especially, this might not be at home. Maybe there’s a garden close to your apartment where you can read a book or even just a sidewalk bench on which you can people watch; anywhere you can go to be truly alone—for however long you need to be—is a valuable tool.

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How do actors cope with rejection?

No matter how successful your acting career is, if you don’t learn to coexist in some way with frequent rejection, your mental health will suffer.

There are many ways to retool that relationship. Backstage Expert Risa Bramon Garcia argues that embracing, rather than bemoaning, rejection is key. “Our normal human reaction is to resist feeling like crap,” she says. “We don’t want to hurt. We don’t want to go to uncomfortable places, and we resist it in the work. It scares us; we do everything to avoid it. 

“You’re going to be rejected. Many times. Rejection is a real part of your work. It’s also a part of your emotional evolution. So what would it be like if you were rejected and welcomed the experience of feeling the hurt, the sadness, the anger? What if you were willing to truly let yourself experience those feelings wholly? And then were able to come out the other side – to find the power in it, to know the beauty in such deep feeling, to absorb the information revealed, to know the truth in both your unique experience along with its universality. It’s so uncomfortable for us to go there, but it’s vital for an artist. It’s essential to grow your entire instrument as an actor. It’s the most exciting human experience there is.”

How do you know when to see a therapist?

The stigma around therapy extends far beyond the acting community; there’s a nagging conception that seeing a therapist means there’s something wrong with you which, in reality, could not be more false. Every person on this earth could benefit from sitting down and chatting with someone who has an outside perspective on their life. But for actors, especially, so much of what you do is about clarity, which makes therapy even more important for both your life and your career.

“Some people believe that therapy is only for weak or ‘sick’ people,” says Robert Curtiss, a Backstage Expert and former psychiatrist. “This is untrue. In fact, it shows inner strength to ask for help. As for the cost, many therapists have a sliding scale to accommodate clients with limited resources, and most insurance plans offer some mental health coverage. If you need therapy and can truly benefit from it, find a way to afford it. Some people can't afford to not have therapy!

“A therapist can help you identify problematic behavior patterns and help you to figure out why you do what you do, help you to cope and/or make necessary changes in your life to move forward, maintain your balance, and to help you deal with new challenges. This will only enhance your life and your career.”

Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the senior staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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