As I write this article, IT’S APRIL ALREADY. I made a commitment this year to take better care of myself. I am a notorious over-achiever, and I don’t participate in “relaxation.” My motto is: I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Whilst this means I’m productive and pro-active in building my career, it isn’t great for my mental and physical health. So, here are 1o ways for actors (myself included) to practice self-care.
1. Regular Meditation
I can swear by this one. Meditation can be done in many different ways; 15 minute body scan before you go to sleep, 30 minutes first thing in the morning, 5 minutes in the car before work, or 2 minutes after you finish your Yoga class. Find what works for you, but make it part of your routine. Just because you can’t commit to 30 minutes every day, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t commit at all! Start small if you have too. 5 minutes before bed every night, and do it for at least 6 weeks. 6 weeks is how long it takes to develop and cement a new habit. Before you know it, you’ll look forward to and crave your evening meditation. From there, you can build and build. Some days you might need a full 30 minutes to de-compress, and other days maybe not. Meditation is invaluable – it centres the breath, clears the mind, relaxes the muscles and grounds the artist.
2. Soul Food
You are what you eat. We all know what kinds of foods make us a feel good, and those that make us feel like absolute crap. Sure, Pizza may have been a good idea at the time, but I am sure to regret it in 45 minutes time! This is not to say go on a military-like diet which involves fasting and drinking 4 cups of green “stuff” every morning. But do some research, read some books – eat more of the good stuff (whole foods, unprocessed, pesticide and GMO free, organic, local, fresh) and less of the bad stuff (you can still treat yoself every now and then, but more on that later). Food is fuel – give yourself the good quality, slow-burning fuel to last you the entire day – whether you’re on set, in rehearsals, going on stage, auditioning or just working your casual job. Listen to your body, and give it what it needs.
3. Genuine social life
You know those couple of negative friends you have? Yeah, ditch em. Move away from cynicism, and towards positivity. Complaining about a lack of auditions, a lazy agent, putting on weight, a crappy cafe job – none of this is useful or productive. In fact it’s actually demotivating and completely unproductive. So it’s time for a purge. You don’t need to actually let these people know you’re going to start avoiding them, but you can definitely slyly fade into the background without anyone noticing. You are a creative trying to build a career over here, you don’t have time for that kind of negativity in your life! And if you’re now realising you’re one of those negative people, well, stop that… and focus on what really matters.
4. Release endorphins
Gym it, go for a jog in the park, swim in the ocean, walk the dog round the block. 20 minutes a day, minimum. If I’m stuck on something, tired, feeling lazy, feeling anxious, feeling frustrated – I go for a 20 minute walk outside. Getting the body moving, getting some fresh air and releasing endorphins is a surefire way to help problem solve. It might feel like the last thing you want to do in the beginning, but trust me, you’ll come to love it. If you’re a gym person, then set out a routine or schedule for yourself. If you need accountability, spend the money on a trainer, or booking yourself into classes. As an actor, you are your instrument. Take care of it. A fit, flexible, healthy body is going to do better work than a flabby, tired, tense one.
5. Warm Up, Cool Down
You’re probably well aware of the idea of a “warm up.” Everyone at the top of their field in any industry, will do a warm up before they work. Peak sportspeople, top athletes, musicians, singers, heck, politicians probably have a warm-up routine! So why on earth shouldn’t actors do a warm-up before they perform? I can’t think of any legitimate excuse, if you do, please email me. As we just spoke about, you are your own instrument. Get it ready to work, prepare yourself, set yourself up to perform at your absolute best every single time.
Now we’ve got the warm up all sorted. But we often forget about the cooling down part. This is arguably even more important than a warm up. After performing, we’re often left with what’s called an emotional hangover. We’re probably pumped with adrenalines, whilst simultaneously exhausted, running a million miles an hour, and stressed about how our work was received. That’s totally fine! That’s normal. But what’s important is to shake all of that off after we work. Take 10 minutes to stretch, breathe, meditate and relax the mind and body. Release all that tension, and then give yourself a pat on the bloody back. You did well, you deserve to take a moment to yourself and just breathe.
6. Sleep schedules
There are 3 types of people in this world: early risers, night owls and loose units who can quite happily do both. So unless you’re one of those loose units, getting your 8 hours of sleep in however you can, then you should probably set up a sleep-schedule. First, figure out how much sleep you actually need. Experiment, write it in your diary if you need to, usually 7,8,9 hours is average. This may vary depending on what you’re doing each day. If you can’t sleep past 6am, then you better be getting to bed by at least 10pm. If you can’t get up before 8am, then go to bed at a time that allows you to get up when you need to. Start the habit, make the routine – there is ample evidence that a regular sleep schedule is great for productivity and your mental health.
7. Alone time, me time, quiet time
Take some time for yourself. I need me-time every single day, otherwise I get a bit stir crazy. Me time can mean whatever you want it too – a cup of tea on the balcony, watching Netflix for an hour, going for a drive, going for that 20 minute walk we talked about earlier (look at us killing 2 birds with 1 stone). Taking time to be with yourself, reflect and decompress is really important. It’s all too easy to procrastinate and avoid inward reflection. All my great ideas, big realisations and breakthroughs have been when I’m alone and quiet. It’s very hard to lie to yourself when you’re constantly checking in with yourself and taking a moment to reflect.
8. Annual solo creative retreat
This is my favourite one! Every year, take off 5 days for a creative retreat. Go sit on the beach and read for 5 days straight, go on a horseback riding safari, go camping, go hiking, do a yoga retreat, or just find somewhere nice and AirBnb it. Important thing is to be alone. If you really struggle being alone for that long, then either take a shorter trip or take someone with you whom you trust and are comfortable with. You can retreat together.
- Important thing is to take a pen and a notebook, and write for at least 30 minutes every day, first thing in the morning. Doesn’t matter what you write about, can be complete nonsense, can be a short story, or a shopping list. Just get those thoughts onto the page. You’d be surprised at what comes up.
- Next thing I need you to do is log out of all social media – completely. I don’t think I need to explain this one. It’s 5 days, I’m sure you can manage.
- If you can go somewhere surrounded by nature, that’s always best. Being immersed in nature is both calming and rejuvenating.
- Finally, set some goals and do some planning. Mind maps, affirmations, 5 year plans – do it all. What do you need some clarity on? Do you need to mark out some steps for the rest of the year, do you need reminding of your goals, do you need motivation and accountability? Put it all down on paper, and then stick to it. Taking that space away from the daily struggle is the best way to set goals, and then stick to them.
Impermanence. A divine buddhist practice is embracing impermanence and accepting suffering, and I encourage all actors to live by these principles. At the end of the day, you’re only human, and s%#t happens. Such is life, etc. etc. Auditions come and go, there are successes and there are failures, disappointments, rejections and fleeting moments of excitement. To become empowered and resilient actors, we need to practice embracing all of those moments, and just #forgettaboudit.
10. Get off social media
Maybe not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ‘self-care’, but there is bucketloads of evidence that suggest social media can have a negative impact on wellbeing. This isn’t news, but it’s hard to accept. Turn off the devices, and log out of social media every now and then. As hard as it is to believe, you do not need to be online every moment of every day. Do you seek validation through social media? Do you feel insecure and get caught up comparing yourself to others when you scroll through Instagram? You are essentially torturing yourself on a daily basis. There is such a thing as having a healthy relationship with social media, and that is by having a distant and independent attitude towards it. Take a step back from the online world, and focus on the real world in front of you.
BONUS ROUND: Treat Yoself
Yes, you heard me, treat yoself. I don’t care what you do, just take care of yourself and do what you love. Eat a block of chocolate, buy something for your room, go to the bookstore and splurge, spend Sunday morning in bed watching movies from the 90’s – do something fun, and a bit cheeky perhaps. Taking a break, giving yourself a hall pass – just means you can come back to your routine more invigorated and energetic. If you push and push and push, you’re inevitably going to burn out.
Take care friends, listen to your body, and don’t forget to #treatyoself. xx