As an Actor, having access to your emotions is hugely important.
So important in fact, that some people mistake the ability to emote (or even to cry) on cue as the most important skill in an actor’s toolbox. But without emotional balance, an actor is setting themselves up for a rocky time.
When you are constantly working, whether it is in class, on those coveted self-tape requests, or on stage, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the undertow of your character’s emotional life. Or the emotions of the myriad characters you are working on as you bounce from audition to audition and back and forth between real life and your vocation.
Sometimes flexing your emotional muscles can feel really incredible and freeing, especially if you find it hard to express yourself in your daily life.
But overtime, all that emotional debris can start to leak into your day-to-day experience. At best, you may feel really tired, sad, angry or irritable, and at worst, you may find yourself triggered into a fight, flight, or freeze response.
The good news is that you can absolutely learn to regulate your emotions in a way that is healthy.
It all starts with Awareness.
You need to know that your Emotional Life is off before you can shift it.
Here are the three most common signs that your Emotional Balance is off as an Actor:
- Your reactions to people and things in your daily life is not in proportion to the matter at hand.
Now actors notoriously live larger than life or are more expressive than the average person, so to be clear, I’m not talking about sheer expressiveness. I’m talking about hyper-reactivity.
Maybe your partner asks you to wash the dishes or take out the trash and you find yourself yelling at them. Or maybe a friend tells you they can’t make your birthday party and you’re suddenly sobbing uncontrollably on the floor, complete with a story that they never liked you in the first place and this is just a sign that you are never going to have real friends.
- You are stuck in one emotion for a long period of time.
Our emotions are designed to move. In fact, the physiological lifespan of an emotion in the emotion and the brain is 90 seconds.
But how often are you having a completely different experience with emotions, one where the emotion lingers for minutes, hours, or days?
If you are feeling sad all the time or angry all the time, and there is never any release, this is a clear sign of being out of balance.
- You are feeling numb – some or all of the time.
For most actors, being numb is unusual since emotions are one of the major ways that we express ourselves. When I was going through one particularly difficult emotional patch, I would run hot and cold. I’d either be so sad that I couldn’t shift tactics in the middle of a scene or I’d be dry as a bone and feel like a robot.
Why your emotional balance gets off as an Actor
If you are experiencing any of these things, don’t be discouraged. Learning how to regulate your emotions is an important part of being an actor. And unfortunately, many training programs don’t teach us how to do this vital work.
It doesn’t help that many of us are empaths. The very thing that often attracts us to being an actor and makes us really good at our job can get in our way if we don’t learn how to manage our gifts.
When our emotional balance is off, there are larger forces at play than simply the emotion itself.
We all have a set point within our nervous systems for experiencing emotion. This means that if we experience emotion in a range that feels safe, we can pretty naturally return to a state of relaxation. But if we push beyond that threshold, our nervous system perceives the emotion we are experiencing as unsafe and retracts in order to protect us from the perceived threat.
Because we are consistently asking ourselves to move beyond our comfort zone, it really isn’t a surprise that our nervous system retracts.
When it does, we go into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, classic trauma responses. When we don’t take the time to let the experience of a threat pass through our bodies and release it, it gets stuck.
That stuck emotion means that each time we encounter a similar situation, we immediately go back into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Each time we fight against our bodies, our animal instinct to protect us gets a little stronger, and before we know it, our ability to act fluidly or function like a balanced human being outside of our acting seems like a distant memory.
How to Balance Your Emotions as an Actor
The most critical thing you can do to achieve emotional balance and regulate your emotions as an actor is to start implementing a practice that helps you separate your work from your life.
There are myriad ways you can do this.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Take the time to reflect on your work when you are done.
Ask yourself these 3 questions and jot down the answers:
- What went well?
- What can I improve upon?
- What will I do differently next time?
- Affirm that you are yourself in the present time and space that you are in. As a bonus, state out loud that you are releasing your character until the next time you are ready to inhabit them.
- Energy Work. I personally ground myself, clear my energy, and re-establish my energetic boundaries. (You can ground and establish your energetic boundaries using my free recording HERE. )
Feel free to pick one or do them all.
By doing these practices, you will be helping your nervous system return to a state of relaxation every time you act. And that means more access to your full range, both in your career and in your life.
Do you have a favorite practice that helps you restore your own emotional balance as an actor?
I’d love for you to share it in the comments below, so we can all learn together.
PS: Looking for more support in finding emotional balance in your life? Book your FREE 1:1 Joyful Action Strategy Consultation to discover how coaching can help.