TheaterMania U

Keeping My Cool

Counting your blessings and talking it out can help with moving past a mental funk.

What can you do to keep your cool when the inevitable mental funks come around?
(stock image courtesy of Microsoft Office Images)

While I was awakened at 5:00am, once again, to the sounds of ConEd workers protesting in the early summer heat, my thoughts turned to the angst they must be having about their jobs, families and futures. This led to thoughts about me (doesn’t it always?) and the worries and concerns that have been brewing inside about my life as an actor. The hours of prep, torment, joy and tears. The feelings of uncertainty. Unless you’re in the trenches, you really can’t know….

Moments this year have ranged from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, often changing at the drop of a hat. Just when I’m convinced I’ve hit a wall and it’s time to throw in the towel, something happens that lights a fire under me again. And off I go full of hope and enthusiasm.

All of my actor friends with whom I’ve shared these emotions nod and respond with an overwhelming sense of, “Oh yes, been there too.”

So, what to do when the inevitable mental funks come around? How to move past them as quickly and productively as possible? Even Emma Stone, who has skyrocketed to A-List stardom, has to keep her anxiety in check. While filming Spider Man, she baked…a lot. “It seemed like it made me feel, if I put these (baked goods) in, I’ll know what the outcome is…I was over baking.”

Well, I don’t bake, but I have come up with some coping strategies.

Walk and talk. In a recent show, I got into the habit of walking to the theater every night to calm my anxieties. It became a ritual. I’d call one of my bestest friends – and members of my family. This drew me out, connected me and gave me equilibrium. It also reminded me of my good fortune to have a wonderful support system. I’ve taken to walking and talking things out in general.

Share the positive. When I’ve auditioned for a role and people ask me, “so, when will you hear something?” The truth is, I don’t have a clue – maybe never. I’ve learned it’s wiser to be discreet. Why? Because I’d rather emphasize the positive. Dwelling on rejections or unanswered emails and phone calls takes good energy away from diving into the next project or audition.

Keep going even when it seems hopeless. Playwright Nicky Silver, who is famously honest about his anxiety, made it to Broadway this past summer with The Lyons. It took him 16 years in New York before he had his “breakthrough” play with Pterodactyls. In a recent New York Times essay he said, “I just did my work. Sometimes people liked it. Sometimes they didn’t…But the truth is, creating something is better than not. The joy is in creating.” It’s easy to get bogged down in the business and politics of it all, but never forget the joy you feel when you’re actually doin’ your thang!

Count your blessings. I am so guilty of not doing this. Why do I rarely pause and realize all the good that is around me? I had the chance to work with some incredible actors on a film this past weekend and it reminded me why I am in this for the long haul: the connections that we make, the bonds we create, all by sharing experiences – like a four-hour swimming pool shoot. I’m thankful for the friendships that this craft continues to bring me.

Seek wise counsel. You don’t always have to be playing the networking game. Sometimes it just helps to talk to someone who has been around the block a few times and can add a gem of wisdom.

My early morning ConEd reverie led me to Thomas A. Edison, whose pithy statements have stood the test of time. Here’s one I keep in mind to stave off demon thoughts. “Everything comes to him (or her!) who hustles while he waits.” (Who knew Tom was such a badass?)