Are your emotions being held hostage by outside circumstances? Do you find that your good mood is reliant upon things going your way? Are you happy when you get what you want and pouty when you don’t? Although these reactions seem logical, they can eventually take a toll on your ability to feel balanced and happy. When outside circumstances control your mood, you’re hitching your happiness to events that are most likely out of your control. As actors, it is especially important for you to learn how to handle the ups and downs of your profession. There is so little in your control. Whether you work or not is dependent on another person saying yes. You may want that particular agent or manager to represent you, but it is up to them to say yes. Even when you work your hardest, you may not get what you want and deserve. Things don’t always go your way. Life feels unfair. You’re not wrong for feeling all those things, but after you kick and scream, then what? Are you going to dwell in the muck for the rest of the day, week, year? What a waste.
The reality is that life happens to be filled with good and bad for everyone. So, rather than denying the disappointments, get skilled at handling them. The happiest people I know have not lived a life unscathed by misfortune and pain. They are the ones who know how to control their view of what happens to them. Some people are born with this gift. They are called optimists. But for the rest of us, it requires hard work to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to see obstacles as opportunities and to find the treasure in difficulty. The work to attain this state of mind is hard, but well worth the effort. How you ride out the bumps can have a huge impact on the quality of your life. When you can handle difficulties more efficiently you will feel more balanced and at peace.
There is one simple, effective tool that you can easily learn to use that has research-backed results in making you feel calmer when dealing with difficult emotions. It’s Naming and Reframing. Simply put, when something happens to you that makes you feel very badly, you observe it and name it. For example, at a rehearsal, the director criticizes your performance in front of the whole cast. You notice that your face feels like it’s on fire. Rather than running and hiding, accept the feeling and label it. Oh, shame is here. Naming it helps you to witness what’s going on inside you. Witnessing and observing what you are feeling gives you a little wiggle room to not feel it as intensely. Research at UCLA shows MRI scans of the brain revealed that the activity of mental noting (naming) activates the prefrontal cortex (the sight that’s associated with executive functioning) and reduces activity in the limbic system, which deals with emotions. So the implication is that if you’re having intense unpleasant sensations, naming them correlates with a reduction of reactivity to the experience. Isn’t that wonderful news! It’s so simple yet can have such a profound effect on how you feel in the moment.
Now for the second half – reframing. After you have labeled it, get grounded in reality with the truth of your situation. Let’s go back to the rehearsal. After the director’s criticism, feeling shame and naming it, you’ve got to put things in perspective by reframing it. You may feel like it’s the end of the world and you’ll never work again, but that is not reality. Remember, feelings are not facts. The fact is that you got some constructive criticism from the person who is in charge and that’s it. It’s nothing more and nothing less. It’s not the end of the world and you will go on living, breathing and acting. Naming and reframing stops you from going into catastrophizing thoughts. Congratulations, you’ve now taken charge of how you choose to feel and steered yourself away from spiraling down into a funky mood. You did not let that encounter make you judge yourself harshly and rip apart your self-esteem. You kept it in perspective and moved on.
Naming and reframing creates a space between you and what you’re experiencing, so you can choose your response. The answers are within you. Your mood is a choice and not reliant on outside circumstances. Developing this internal skill is empowering. You will feel more in control of your life because you will be more in control of yourself. Outside circumstances don’t have to throw you off balance. Instead, use them to strengthen your skill at riding out the storms in life.
Authentic connection is at the core of our happiness. If we do not experience relationships that are mutually empowering and attuned we suffer.
Join a circle of trust that provides a safe place to explore and learn about your emotions. The group is facilitated by Bonnie Katz, MFT who has 15 years of group experience and training. Learn about the emotions that are causing you difficulty in your personal and professional life.
Bonnie Katz is an active member of The American Group Psychotherapy Association and a former board member of The Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles,
Free phone consultation to discuss your goals and see if group therapy is a good fit for you right now.
I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Samuel French Bookshop
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.