Tools for Calming Anxiety and Stress for Actors and Everyday Life
Everyone faces stress from time to time. Whether you are worried about politics or stressed about an audition or something personal in your life we all face it and feel the physical effects of it. Some have stage fright. Some feel it around people they are attracted to. Some get intimidated by bullies. Some just feel helpless from the state of the world. I suffer from anxiety and I’ve learned so many tools over the years that have been really helpful.
Years ago I didn’t know what it was. I would just feel things in my body and not really be thinking about it. My body was holding onto stuff. I would be walking down the street and all of the sudden not be able to catch my breath or I’d have this really sharp pain in the right side of my chest or I’d get a headache and everything would be a flutter. I was having panic attacks. Luckily I had been working for Pace University as a medical actor for many years and had a slew of nurses I got to know well. After a conversation one day I learned what it was. I have anxiety.
Not everyone is as lucky as me but through trial and error and many tools I’ve gathered, I’ve been able to stay off of anxiety medication. I by no means am suggesting that some people don’t need it, but there are other tools out there, and definitely other tools to try first.
Here are some of my favorite tools for coping with stress and anxiety:
When I get tightness in my chest and everything just wants to tense up tight I find one of my favorite tools to be an old-fashioned heat pad. I like the ones you can put in the microwave so you don’t have to worry about falling asleep with it still on and burning yourself. They’re usually made from rice and herbs and sewn into a nice little sac. It’s like a nice hug and somehow the tightness often dissipates.
Essential Oils and Herbs
Now, I know essential oils are a hot topic, but here is where I find their place. Lavender, Clary Sage, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Hawthorne are all really wonderful soothing herbs that have known to have calming effects for years. Diffuse them. Rub them on your feet and temples. Drink them as a tea. It all works. I love to put a few drops in a bath and soak my whole body or just my feet. They work well and they make things smell great too.
Kava is my secret super weapon. I first learned about Kava when I was studying at Ithaca. My cultural anthropology teacher had worked on Tonga and had taught us all about Kava from a ritual standpoint. People in Tonga and Fiji would dry the root, grind it down, and make a cold brew out of it. It tastes a bit like dirt, I’m not gonna lie, but it is powerful. There is an antiseptic quality to it. People use it for tooth aches as it has a mild numbing effect and recovering alcoholics drink it regularly for calming their nerves. In ritual it’s done in calming Kava circles, and in Hawaii you will see it in Kava specific bars. I have a brew the root from time to time. It comes in teas too. For the quickest result I carry around a tincture of it (very concentrated) with a dropper. When I’m having a panic attack and cannot feel the catch in my breath, a drop on my tongue instantly helps me breath again. It’s a miracle root and I’m a big big fan.
This is easier said than done, but we often forget to do it. This is part of the reason why meditation and yoga is so calming, because it forces us to pay attention to our breath. The same goes for exercise. Some people like to put their hands on their heart. Others like to lie on their back. My favorite exercise involves pretending to suck in a delicious milkshake for the count of 5, holding for 5, and exhale like you are blowing our birthday candles for 10. It’s a simple tool that a few rounds in the moment when I’m getting worked up can help a great deal.
This trick is for when everything else doesn’t work. Hold ice. Grab a hunk of it and hold it in your hands. But Shara, that’s going to make my hands freezing and hurt! That is the whole point. Our brain is a silly thing and distraction is a wonderful tool. If you hold ice your brain will instantly focus on how cold it is, and immediately release the tension you hold elsewhere. Sometimes we gotta play tricks on ourselves! I was at a film festival once and having a lot of anxiety due to something going on in my personal life. We were at the awards dinner and I couldn’t just leave. I kept asking the waiter for ice. It got me through it.
It doesn’t matter if you get audition jitters, or worries about a big presentation we all face this stuff. Some people face it a lot more than others, but at some point in our lives most of us will at some point feel stress and anxiety. There are so many tools that help and sometimes you need outside help like Western medicine, or seeing a professional, but if you’re not sure if you’re there yet, try some of these tools the next time you feel it. Hopefully some of these can work for you, the same way they do for me. Cheers to the journey to calm.
Awesome Herbal Tools for Stress and Anxiety
Awesome Tools That Use Distraction to Deal with Stress Anxiety
Books I Love That Are Great Tools for Managing Stress and Anxiety
This is a picture of me after doing some relaxing yoga with alpacas
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