Smile at Fear
If there’s one feeling actors would love to get rid of once and for all, it’s FEAR; especially when it gets in the way of their performance. Fear can sound like a faint voice in the background causing you to doubt yourself. It whispers things like, “What if you don’t get any auditions this week?” “What if your agent drops you?” “What if you flub a line?” “What if you fall on your face when the curtain goes up?” Not all fears are based in failure, some come along with success. Like,” Wow, finally booked a job, will I be able to do this again?” “Love working on this show, I wonder when it’s going to be cancelled?” “Gee, it feels good to have money in the bank, but how long will it last?”
An abundant amount of uncertainty is built into the acting profession. If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Big Hollywood execs are not immune to the “phone call,” from the top, wishing them good-bye and good luck. It’s unavoidable, and if you don’t learn to manage your fear, it ends up managing you. But, here’s some good news…it’s manageable. Take it from one who knows. When I was a child, my mother would shout, “BE CAREFUL!” every time I was about to leave home. Those two powerful words made it feel as if my life was on the line as soon as I stepped outside. The seeds of fear are usually planted early in life and can have a sneaky effect on your perceptions of yourself and the world. When we’re kids, we are handed our parents view, but as adults, we have the power to choose our own views. It’s a good idea to be aware of your view, especially if it’s not working for you. We can’t always be in control of what happens to us in life, but during those difficult times when we’re in the grips of fear, we always have control over our state of mind.
It takes determination and discipline to stop old habits. You’ve got to be able to take an honest look at yourself and admit that you’re not very happy with the way you’ve been meeting the challenges in your life. It may seem easier to blame others for your woes, but you end up without dignity, character, and strength. Every time you avoid taking responsibility for your choices and blame others, you become a victim and remain powerless. The minute you accept responsibility for how you react to what is coming at you, you have already taken a step towards power and possibilities.
You are capable of transforming your fear into the greatest source of your strength. Instead of feeling victimized by situations that are out of your control, imagine harnessing uncertainty and using it as solid ground beneath you. Rather than running from fear, view it as a vitamin; something that will fortify you. This simple adjustment of your view will lessen the impact of it. It feels difficult to do this, because it is the antithesis of what our instincts tell us, which is run. By facing your fear, accepting it, and saying, “Okay, fear is here right now,” you are building strength and courage. Turn around and dive into that big wave, rather than standing there and letting it come crashing down on you.
Setting intentions is another tool that could help you take back the power when fear makes you feel very small. Set an intention on how you want to handle your fear. The difference between an intention and a goal: an intention is based in the present moment, how you would like to handle things right now; a goal is based in the future. Intentions are tools that will help you meet your goals. For example, your goal may be to have six auditions this week, and your intention is, “I would like to be relaxed and at ease during each audition.” Now you have a plan for how to handle any shaky emotions that might surface in your day. You’re not powerless.
Another tool to handle fear is to think about what you were taught by your family about handling hardship. Were you told positive stories demonstrating the family’s ability to bounce back? Or, were you told stories of hardship that led to blame, self-pity, and resentment? How you handle your fear today has its origins in what you saw and were told growing up in your family. In order to break those old patterns, it’s important for you to recognize the family myths around fear. For example, a common family myth might be, “Smile today cry tomorrow.” “Don’t allow yourself to get too happy because something horrible is always lurking.” When you become conscious of what you’re thinking and why, it no longer has power over you. Become aware when those old patterns of reaction, get reactivated, and put a stop to it. Pat yourself on the back for being awake and choosing to no longer be a victim.
The last tool to handle your fear is an easy one: simply notice where in your body you feel the fear. Think of fear as simply a sensation in the body that needs tending to. For example, if you feel fear in your stomach, just pay attention to it. By putting some mental space around it, you are making it less claustrophobic. Just acknowledge it and say, “Oh, fear is in my gut right now.” Then, take three deep breaths inhaling to the count of five and exhaling to the count of five. By the third count, a message is sent to the brain letting it know that you are safe and there is no need to go into fight or flight response. Your blood pressure and heart rate will lower and you will feel more relaxed. Relaxing lowers the fear hormone cortisol.
With some simple awareness and a willingness to break away from old patterns, you can meet your challenges with strength and courage. Now, you’re in full control of yourself and ready to be in command of your adventure.
Bonnie Katz, MFT is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website. Like The Conscious Actor on Facebook
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.