4 Ways for Working Actors to Deal With Emotional Stress

You have to protect your headspace.

We have a job to do. No excuses, not even broken hearts or loss. There’s nothing wrong with your auditions or work being affected by personal issues, but it isn’t effective, and we need to be consistently effective if we want to be consistently working. And we all know those actors who always seem to have an excuse for everything. It’s lame and doesn’t reflect well on them.

I don’t know how I was able to focus on work for much of the past year. I've been through the most emotionally challenging year of my adult life, and yet I still managed to have my best year as an actor, booking a dozen shows and almost as many commercials. It forced me to learn how to compartmentalize, take control of my brain and my instrument, and not be victimized by my personal struggles.

Perhaps you will be able to relate.

Emotional insulation. First off, when shit is going down, your phone is your enemy. While I should have been running lines in the car or prepping outside of an audition, it was too easy to be checking for that next text or email that had the potential to destroy me or send me to the moon.

Before work on set or an audition, turn your phone off or leave it in the car. Remove the potential for your hard work to be disrupted. He or she can wait until you’re done working for a response. We need to be strategic about how we use every moment before our job interview (audition) to set ourselves up for success so we can tell the story we came to tell.

Pummel your brain into submission. It must be nearly impossible for regular humans to escape from the emotional issues they’re dealing with. As actors, we always have and escape: our characters. Before I had to perform, whenever I started having thoughts about my personal drama, I immediately, and sometimes audibly, commanded myself, “No. Not right now. Focus on the work,” and shifted into the world of my character, immersing myself in their thoughts and concerns and world.

What an amazing blessing that we have these opportunities in which to temporarily lose ourselves. We can take refuge in the sanctuary of the story we are about tell. Few others get to have that.

Purge stress from your body. I had one of the worst Valentine’s Days in recorded history. I ended up in the ER with my first panic attack. That weekend was a huge shock to my system, and it had lasting effects.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, then you know I don’t see nerves as our enemy, and that you can overcome their effects with preparation. But following the events of Valentine’s Day, I found myself getting more nervous than I had ever experienced for a couple of auditions. I still did what I wanted to do in the room, but at one audition in particular, when I got into my car moments after leaving the room, I felt shockwaves of those nerves shooting down my spinal cord and attacking my lower back. It was painful. I’d never felt anything like that before.

So I got myself in for a two-hour massage with my regular girl, and she dug in and pushed that stress out of my muscles. And I drank tons of water and flushed that stress down the damn drain, and felt refreshed.

Expression isn’t optional, it’s mandatory. I saved this one for last because it’s made the most important impact on being able to protect my headspace: my friends. I’m so blessed to have a large community of beloved friends that gave me a safe space to talk about what I was going through. Prior to this time, I wasn’t a dramatic person. Most would have said I was the most even-keeled, stable guy they knew.

But my friends showed me patience and took an interest in my ordeals, offered advice, and reminded me when my conduct was unbecoming, but never made me feel judged for making mistakes. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like I do, go to them and give them a chance to be there for you.

If we don’t express the pain and stress and frustration, it eats away at you from inside until one day it manifests in weird neurosis and ticks and OCDs.

So be good to yourselves. Protect your thoughts, hearts, and instruments so you can weather the inevitable storms of life while still being legendary in the room and on set. Much love to you all.