Managing Mental Health as an Actor

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According to entertainment industry research, the prevalence of mental health problems among actors appears to be an open secret. People can see its effects but mental health is not spoken about candidly.  

It’s quite surprising considering the intense pressure and scrutiny that actors can face, leaving them vulnerable to the unpredictable nature of their job.  

Mental illnesses that disrupt thinking, emotions, and behaviour can affect anyone, including actors, at any age. Grasping these complexities and knowing when to seek help is a crucial skill in any actor’s toolkit.  

Essentially, our goal is to break the stigma and prioritise mental health for actors. 

Why Mental Health is Important for Actors

Understanding the difference between mental health and mental illness is key to positive actor mental health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It influences how we think, feel, and act, helping us handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions. Keeping good mental health allows actors to perform at their best, both on and off the stage, and helps them handle the pressures of the industry. 

Conversely, mental illness covers a wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behaviour. Common examples include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. These conditions can significantly impact an actor’s ability to function well both professionally and personally. Unlike temporary emotional responses to the stresses of acting, mental illnesses are long-lasting and often need professional treatment. 

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Actors, given the unique demands of their profession, can be more prone to mental health challenges. Think about the long, erratic hours, the intense pressure to perform, and constant public scrutiny. This can really affect their emotional wellbeing.  

Ultimately, recognising the early signs of mental illness is key for timely intervention and management. Early warning signs might include lingering sadness, dramatic mood swings, and pulling away from social activities. 

Challenges as an Actor that can Impact Mental Health

Becoming Someone Else

Acting is a demanding profession that asks you to fully immerse yourself in the characters you portray. While this transformation is key to the craft, it can sometimes blur the lines between your personal identity and your on-stage persona. For actors managing mental health, this shift can occasionally lead to emotional and psychological challenges. 

One of the main challenges in acting is convincingly adopting the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of a character, which can be quite different or even opposite to the actor’s own personality. This constant shift in identity can sometimes lead to a sense of disorientation or detachment from one’s own reality, making it especially important for actors to manage their mental health. 

To counter these effects, it’s crucial for actors to set clear boundaries between their work and personal lives. While techniques like method acting can be effective, they should be approached carefully to avoid getting too immersed in a character’s psyche. Developing routines and rituals that mark the end of a performance or rehearsal can help actors consciously step out of their roles and re-centre themselves. 

The Aftermath of a Performance

Eventually, the performance season or shooting period wraps up. That often signals the ‘end’ of a character into which you’ve poured so much focus, energy, and care. As actors, you might recognize this as the ‘post-production blues’. This feeling can range from a mild sense of coming down from a night-before high or a temporary sense of dislocation or disorientation, but it can sometimes shift into more lasting, challenging effects.  

In some cases, the mental disorientation at the end of a performance season or shooting period might feel like a personal or identity crisis, or even more intensely, as a trauma (which can show up in physical, psychological, and emotional ways). There’s often a deep sense of social loss and subsequent isolation as ensemble cast members find themselves scattered to either unemployment or different projects far apart from each other. 

Dealing with Rejection

The audition process can be brutal, often requiring you to prepare and perform endless pages of material, knowing you might never hear back from those people again. This can be disheartening and impactful on self-esteem. But then, it’s on to the next one! It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows, with each day bringing a new adventure. 

Rejection is an inevitable part of an actor’s career, but to ensure an actors mental health is maintained, it requires addressing this emotional challenge head-on. 

Exposure to Critics

In the demanding world of acting, critics can have a significant impact, offering both opportunities and challenges for performers. From early-stage performances to an actor’s entire career, dealing with critics is a constant. Managing mental health as an actor is pretty important, as reviews shape public perception, influence casting decisions, and affect self-worth. However, building this resilience against negative feedback isn’t so easy for most. 

Unstable Income

Due to the unpredictable nature of the profession, most actors face the stress of financial insecurity. Jumping from gig to gig offers no guarantee of earning enough to make a living solely from acting. This can put actors in a constant state of anxiety, because you always have to look out for the next project without the certainty that you’ll get it. 

Difficulty Maintaining Relationships

Relationships can also be put under considerable stress due to the often ‘anti-social’ hours actors need for rehearsals and work, or the isolation caused by long periods of touring or filming on location. There are also unique challenges like performing scenes involving violence, dysfunction, or intimacy, which can affect the actor’s real-life partner and other important relationships. 

The Actor’s Lifestyle

We also need to acknowledge the aspects of an actor’s lifestyle that go beyond the performance cycle. After all, it’s a fact that most actors spend a good chunk of their time not directly engaged in creating and performing. 

At any given time, 70-90% of trained professionals aren’t working specifically as actors. This precarious lifestyle can lead to significant stress, resulting in physical and psychological issues like high blood pressure, weight changes, anxiety, and depression. In extreme cases, it might even lead to suicide. On top of that, the uncertainty of consistent employment adds to financial and domestic stress. 

Supporting Mental Health as an Actor

Actors’ mental health can be particularly challenging given the high expectations placed on performers. Meeting these expectations, whether they come from directors, audiences, or even oneself, requires effective strategies to ensure mental wellbeing.     

Fortunately, there are effective steps you can take: 

Set Realistic Goals: While ambition is essential, setting achievable goals can help you avoid feelings of inadequacy and burnout. Try breaking down your long-term objectives into smaller, manageable tasks. 

Learn to Say No & Set Boundaries: Learning to set boundaries is crucial for maintaining mental health. This may involve limiting the amount of criticism you allow yourself to absorb, managing your work-life balance, or saying no to roles that might be too demanding. As much as you’d like your career to advance, respectfully declining opportunities that don’t align with your goals is perfectly healthy. 

Practice Self-Compassion: It’s important to recognize your efforts and achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Ditch the self-criticism and treat yourself with the same kindness you’d offer a friend. Building a routine of self-compassion can work wonders for an actor’s mental health. This might include daily practices like positive affirmations, journaling, or setting aside time for self-care activities that nurture both body and mind. 

Take Breaks: Regular breaks are essential to recharge your mental energy. Enjoy activities that help you relax, like reading, walking, or meditating. 

Establish a Routine: Having a routine can bring a much-needed sense of normalcy and predictability, especially in an often erratic profession. Try incorporating regular sleep patterns, healthy eating habits, and consistent exercise into your daily life—it can make a world of difference. 

Seek Professional Help: If you’re struggling with mental health, it’s time to reach out and connect with a professional. You have plenty of options: online chat counselling, telephone counselling, face-to-face sessions, and even classes and workshops. Alternatively, a life coach could help you set some exciting goals. Taking that first step can be daunting, but think of it as an investment in your acting career. 

Develop a Support Network: Building a robust support network of friends, family, and fellow actors can furnish a valuable safety net. Regularly communicate with your loved ones and participate in acting communities or support groups. 

Engage in Hobbies and Interests: Engaging in activities outside of acting can be a great way to relax and recharge. Hobbies offer a fun escape and can bring a lot of fulfilment and joy. 

Have your own creative project: Some acting jobs wrap up in less than a day: the TV commercial, the voiceover, or the pop-up play. While they might pay well, they might not push your creative boundaries. So, keep your creative juices flowing. Find something exciting that lets your creativity shine, even when your current work doesn’t. Engaging in creative activities boosts your spirits and keeps you inspired. 

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Strategies for Handling Rejection & Criticism

We’re also going to share some methods to help you deal with the toughest parts of working in the entertainment industry.  

Maintain a balanced perspective. Keeping a journal that captures both your wins and setbacks can offer clarity and a sense of emotional release. It’s also super helpful to build a strong support network of fellow actors, mentors, and friends who get the unique pressures of the industry. Sharing experiences and seeking advice can provide comfort and valuable insights for actors’ mental health. 

Practise mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep-breathing exercises can really help manage stress and anxiety that come with rejection. Plus, diving into hobbies and interests outside of acting can bring a sense of fulfilment and make professional disappointments feel less intense. 

Adopt an attitude of continuous learning and growth. This can turn rejection into a chance for elevation. Seeking feedback from auditions, attending acting workshops, and staying open to constructive criticism can boost your skills and confidence, making each rejection a step forward rather than a setback. 

Learn to distinguish between constructive criticism and personal attacks. Constructive feedback is a valuable tool for growth, helping actors refine their craft and enhance their performances. On the other hand, harsh, non-constructive criticism can be damaging if taken to heart. By focusing on the positive feedback and letting go of the negative, actors can maintain a healthier mindset. 

Remind yourself of your passion and commitment to your craft. Remembering the joy and contentment you get from acting can anchor you amidst a sea of critical opinions. By focusing on personal growth and the intrinsic rewards of performing, you can learn to lessen the impact of negative reviews and keep a healthy mental state. 

Talking about Feelings

As an actor, you should remember that even though your career depends on you depicting the emotions of others, your own emotions matter too.  

To effectively manage your mental health as an actor, you’ll need to develop the ability to openly discuss and process your emotions.  

Talking about feelings can really help prevent the build-up of stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. You can start these open conversations in different ways. Reaching out to friends, family, or fellow actors who understand the unique challenges of the profession can be super beneficial. Professional counselling or therapy also offers a great option, providing a confidential and unbiased space to discuss personal experiences and concerns. 

Regularly talking about your feelings can lead to better emotional regulation, greater self-awareness, and a healthier mental state. It’s important to remember that seeking help and discussing emotions isn’t a sign of weakness, but a proactive step towards maintaining your mental health and achieving a successful and fulfilling acting career. By prioritising open communication, you can better navigate the emotional complexities of your roles as well as your personal life. 

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