How UK Actors Can Improve Their Mental Health During Lockdown

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Photo Source: Anaya Katlego / Unsplash

It’s a tough time for actors right now, but The Slate – Backstage’s live series of classes, seminars, and digital exercises – will help turn time on your hands to your advantage.

In her Q&A with Backstage, Mary Burch from Industry Minds spoke to us about dealing with emotions, anxiety, and the unexpected. With so much uncertainty in the industry, it’s natural to be feeling low or even to not know what you feel. Here are just a few of Mary’s guidance and tips for dealing with the emotional toll of the pandemic. 

On the importance of listening to your emotions
“When I’ve been talking to clients, they’ve had difficulty telling me exactly what emotion they’re feeling. It might be sadness about what’s happening to the industry. Or fear, because we can’t see the path ahead. Maybe there’s anger that COVID-19 has stolen so much from so many of us. Confusion, restlessness – emotions are a basic part of who we are. They won’t be denied any more than we can ignore the feelings when we’re hungry or thirsty. They’re shouting at us to listen. And emotion is necessary for survival. Emotion can tell us when we need to run away, for instance. It’s our body’s way of communicating, of driving us to do something. So, it’s important to listen, to hear what that emotion is saying, to be in touch with our emotions. 

If a friend or family member told you they were upset, I’d bet you’d listen to them. But time after time, I get clients who don’t listen to their emotions, so can’t respond appropriately because they don’t know what it is they’re actually feeling. Listen to your emotion and find a way to act on it to improve your situation. Recognise your feelings, put them into words. It is so powerful to say: ‘I feel sad.’ It’s powerful to say: ‘I was hurt by what you said.’ Acknowledge the emotions.”

On putting in the work
“Those in the industry who have developed skills during training –  dancing, singing, writing, choreography – you know the work that goes into learning and improving, the practice you need to put in to be good at what you do. Putting words to your feelings is a skill. That’s perhaps why some people find it difficult. It needs practice. It needs work. It needs effort. You can take five minutes to develop that skill. Hopefully, you’re finding you’ve got a little space, you’re alone with no distractions at the moment. Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen in your mind. Banish all the thoughts and focus your attention on that blank screen. Turn your attention inward to where your emotions are sitting or hiding. And ask yourself: ‘What am I feeling right now?’ Be aware of any other thoughts that might pop into your head and erase them quickly. Keep your focus on what am I feeling right now? If you have awareness of the feeling, try to find feeling words to express it.”  

The hard bit
“Once you have that ‘feeling word,’ look at why you feel like that. Ask yourself: ‘Why would I be feeling this at the moment?’ This is a hard bit, where I find that clients get stuck. They can say ‘I feel isolated,’ or ‘I feel lonely,’ but finding the reasons behind a feeling can be difficult. Asking yourself questions about the feeling can help you understand why you’re feeling it. Suppose the feeling you identified with is sadness, then here are some questions: What is going on in my life at the moment that might make me feel sad? Has something happened recently to upset me? Is it something sad or troubling from the past that is being brought back up by recent events? Is this feeling familiar to me? Have I felt it before? Have I felt it often? If so, when did I feel it? Why did I feel it? 

Remember: it is a skill. If it’s difficult, try again. You didn’t walk into drama school and walk out at five o’clock being fully trained. Those skills took years to practice and develop. So, as you keep going forward with it, notice you will get better. If you’re struggling to get in touch with your feelings, record them at least three times a day. That emotions diary will help you focus inwards. Eventually, it becomes natural – you’re tuned in to your emotions as they happen. And then you can deal with them.”

On the unexpected endings
“Life is full of endings, planned and unplanned. The end of school, moving house, a new job, the end of a holiday, the end of a year. A lot of them are planned and that sits OK with us. But even if it’s planned, it can still bring fear and anxiety. For some, endings might be exciting. I’ve had clients who have said they were at a crossroads and now they’re thinking of going back to do a Masters, going into teaching, or that the industry just isn’t for them anymore. For some, there’s curiosity, for others there’s loss, rejection, fear. There are three steps to deal with endings. But the first thing is to acknowledge it, whatever has ended. Until we acknowledge it, it’s hard to move on. We’re stuck in that loss. We have no power over COVID-19, we have no power over the redundancies that are happening at the moment. We have no power over the industry and where it’s going to go. So instead of trying to move the unmovable, think about what you can control. When you start to look for the opportunities to empower yourself, to work towards the things that you can’t change, you’re less likely to feel stuck.”

Watch the full video here and visit Industry Minds for more information.

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