So much can be said about the relationship between social anxiety and acting.
Why? Well, because anxiety is such a central topic in today’s conversations. Social anxiety can be understood as an extreme fear of being judged or scrutinized by those around us.
Usually it is associated with a context where we feel like we need to show performance.
Social anxiety is not shyness. It is a serious mental health condition with symptoms that can cause anything from discomfort to a serious disruption of a person’s daily life. This condition is also known as social phobia and it can leave the person who suffers from it in quite a lonely place.
The person experiences a feeling of powerlessness, being alone and feeling ashamed or unworthy. This, naturally leaves the person with a few or no social contacts or romantic relationships.
The mechanism is that, based on a negative experience the individual learns that social situations lead to shame, humiliation, judgment and negative experience. This leads to fear. And fear ultimately leads to avoidance of trigger situations. Avoidance, of course, only reinforces the cycle of negative beliefs.
The person who suffers from social phobia will fear and avoid being introduced or meeting new people, being teased, being the center of attention, being watched, interacting with people in positions of authority and, sometimes, committing to intimate personal relationships.
Raising quality of life is one of the main focus points of today’s mental health community. So, naturally with a raise in the numbers of people suffering from social anxiety we are trying to understand and create new and effective ways to deal with it.
Acting might just be one of the most interesting, beneficial and sustainable solutions. Even more so, many actors, even some of those considered to be well respected or accomplished have come out to say that they suffer from social anxiety.
The natural questions that come to mind after reading these lines are: “How can this be?” and “How can an actor deal with social anxiety?”
So how can an actor deal with his or her social anxiety?
1. By becoming aware that acting is a birth right
The truth is that acting is an art form that does take commitment, education and practice.
But, more than any other art form, we are capable of doing it without any formal training.
Even before becoming aware of ourselves, we are playing a part. In our day to day lives we all act our part as humans. We perform our role as children, students, neighbors, friends, lovers and strangers. Without even being aware of it, we put on a mask and an outfit and we channel ourselves with more or less enthusiasm.
Actors understand this better than anyone.
In ancient Greece this mask was called Persona. To this day the concept is still accurate and defines the psychological facet of our personality that we use to interact with the world around us.
This mask, our Persona is both a protection and a mean of interaction with the world around us. In other words, we all have a built-in feature that enables and forces us to act.
2. By practicing
Practice does make perfect. It also helps us gather more experiences that can show us how reality can manifest in multiple ways. And only some of them are similar to our fears.
In other words, our fears and phobias are fueled by past experiences and feelings. These experiences form beliefs that shape our expectations of ourselves, people and situations.
In other words, if performing in public has made us tremendously uncomfortable in the past, we will avoid social exposure in order to avoid further humiliation. By exposing ourselves consciously to situations we make ourselves vulnerable.
But we also have a fair chance at challenging our imitating beliefs and reaching very empowering conclusions.
The more an actor practices and is proactive about putting himself or herself in challenging situations the more he or she will trust that social anxiety can be a blessing in disguise.
3. By becoming a good listener
People who suffer from anxiety will usually have trouble with really listening to others.
Anxiety pushed the person into “being in their head”. A train of thoughts is automatically set in motion propelling the person into a potential future scenario that causes them to experience all sorts of negative feelings. This is also a means of unconsciously avoiding the present moment.
Acting forces the person to really listen to the people he or she is working with. Otherwise the whole point and dynamic of the situation is wasted and the work is compromised.
An Acting technique such as the Meisner technique emphasizes on the importance of really listening.
The key request ingredient of acting is the idea of showing up mentally and emotionally to the performance. This key request teaches and forces the actor to interact with his or her role, with the other actors and with the audience.
4. Working with a coach or psychotherapist
Acting coaches are not’t a must but they certainly help greatly. Having an objective mirror and a specialist that knows how to properly challenge is a huge asset. Not everyone will decide to contract the services of an acting coach. But the experience can be greatly insightful even if it’s a one time thing.
For those who have a deeper need of being supported and of introspection, working with a psychotherapist can help tremendously. Acting is a deep form of catharsis so it provides powerful emotional release and insight. Having the option of exploring the nature of these emotions, impressions and contents in a safe relationships can bring deep healing and access to valuable resources.
5. Becoming aware of other people’s vulnerability
The actor has an intimate and direct view into the psychological nature of the human experience. Besides the relevant experiences that the roles and the performance provide, the actor can also catch meaningful glimpses of other people’s hidden sides. For example, the actor will closely work with other actors. He or she will surely become aware of how others deal with stress or how they are not always able to perform perfectly. Sometimes the actor will see emotional break-downs, fears, childish behavior, conflicts or a failure to remember a certain line. These are the moments that will help the actor understand that he or she is not the only one who is imperfect.
6. Acting Exercises That Helps With Social Anxiety
Any art, craft or endeavor requires serious exercising in order toget to a level of performance or mastery. Acting is no different. Even if working with an agency or acting coach can be huge support, the reality is that one should always focus on establishing a constant routine in order to develop those stong, lean acting muscles. This type of commitment offers the actor the advantage of always being in that mental and emotional space of perfecting his or her skills and becoming more aware of who they are. It also offers less room for over-thinking and anxiety and more room for observation.
These exercises can be both simple and highly effective in assisting the person become more confident in their ability to overcome social anxiety.
A great way to work on one’s acting skills daily is to learn how to “be in your body”. This sounds more abstract than it really is. A great way to be more aware and in touch with your body is to be observant of your body’s posture. We express a lot more than we think through non-verbal communication. Good posture ensures better communication, a better mood, better overall functions of the internal organs and bodily functions. It also offers more self-confidence and sends a message of: “I am comfortable in my own skin and I allow myself to express whatever it is that I feel.” A good posture is also a key feature of a good actor because it allows the person to express and channel the role with all his or her being.
Another great daily exercise that allows the actor to become more comfortable in his or her body and space is stretching. This can be done as often as we feel the need. It brings relief, better balance and a sense of relaxation.
Eating well, drinking enough water and working out are other very seemingly obvious but absolutely crucial exercises. They offer more self-confidence, energy, mental clarity and also are really effective ways to deal with anxiety and elevate mood.
A good way to become inspired and exercise daily is by observing. You can make it your goal to observe actors that you admire and take note of their techniques and the things that you admire about them. You can try to re-create those same techniques in your own time. This can be very fun and it can also assist you in learning how versatile you can truly be. Of course, you can build your characters by observing people in general. As mentioned earlier in the article, everyone acts their part. If you feel truly attracted or interested by the way someone speaks, moves or acts you can take note and learn from your observations.
While watching yourself on camera can be quite challenging for most of us, it is a vital part of becoming a good actor. You might feel vain or even crazy. But think of it this way, how can you expect others to watch you perform if you don’t do it yourself? Seeing and hearing ourselves on a recording can be quite disturbing for most of us. But for a good actor, becoming aware of what his or her strong points, preferences and shortcomings, is of the essence. You can start by preparing as you would for an audition. Choose a moment of complete concentration and solitude. Give it your best and watch yourself perform. By doing this exercise you will surely become more comfortable with yourself and you will grow tremendously!
All of these exercises can also assist the actor with preparing for a task that can seem huge for someone with social anxiety. Castings can be a scary prospect. Most often people who suffer from anxiety tend to postpone and avoid things under the thought that they can “figure it out”. Avoiding the reality of an up-coming casting is really detrimental. It leads to stress and anxiety building up and creates a huge block. This can even manifest in self-sabotage, somatic conditions and depression.
The best way to tackle the reality of an up-coming casting is to take it step-by-step with a plan for each day. The first thing the actor can do it remind him/her self that this is in fact great news. Remaining on top of one’s thoughts and staying rational and positive is of the essence. Instead of feeling huge pressure, the actor can make a conscious choice to be grateful for a great professional opportunity. This can be hard so physical reminders can work wonders. For example, the actor can create a list of positive things that might happen if they go through with the audition and a parallel list with negative things that will happen if they aren’t accepted. Social anxiety is very much connected with the fear of failure, being judged, embarrassed or inappropriate. Most often, when the person will make a list of their worst fears they will come to realize how irrational they are. Keeping this list in a visible place might be a huge help.
Another helpful practice for someone who is preparing for a casting would be to create daily plans that include all the stages of preparation. The plan should give the actor a sense that they are preparing at a high intensity. But it should also leave room for relaxation and pleasurable activities. The person might need to be prepared to work and adjust the plan as they go. If they are not focused of busy enough they will feel underprepared and will also have time to stress and over-react. If the daily routine is too busy, the person might feel like they are unable to cope and will feel disappointed in themselves.
During periods of preparation having contact with positive and supportive people is a huge help. Also, taking the time to walk, read and do relaxing things is helpful. The actor needs to keep in mind that most castings are just learning experiences so they should not over or under-invest effort and expectation in the outcome.
In such periods, the actor should avoid, at all costs, to self-medicate the anxiety.
As the saying goes, where is a will there is a way. The same can be said about this intense, consuming, personal and elaborate journey of the actor that aims to deal with his/her social anxiety. Many resources, solutions and aids can be used in dealing with social anxiety. But what is true and most important, in the end, is that every actor’s journey is unique and worth being fully enjoyed and a priceless learning experience.