Yesterday while waiting for my next patient to arrive, I glanced out the window and discovered a tiny hummingbird sitting in her nest. It was nestled in between some old Christmas lights that dangled from my roof. She delicately sat as the raindrops fell around her. I could feel my heart twinge as I saw her little body shake. I felt the urge to protect her from the cold rain by bringing her into my warm, dry office. But of course, I knew that I should not disturb her and I had to tolerate my feelings of powerlessness. As I witnessed her shaking, I understood that she was doing this to keep the eggs and her tiny body warm. My anxiety subsided as I realized that she was well equipped by Mother Nature to weather the rain on her own. This deceptively delicate creature migrates 500 miles annually non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico; I’m sure she can handle a few raindrops.
The courage of this tiny creature reminded me how we can get overwhelmed with our own emotional storms and forget to tap into our innate sense of well being. Underneath all the reactivity is a calm natural intelligence that contains the answers to our doubts. In all the years that I have been a practicing psychotherapist, I have never seen so many people suffering from stress and anxiety. As actors, it doesn’t help that this profession has inherent ups and downs woven into every aspect of it. Searching for the right agent, auditioning and competing for parts, landing the part and then struggling to bring the best of what you’ve got to it, and then when it’s finished repeating the cycle again. Whew, it’s an emotional whirlwind. All of this in the backdrop of an unstable economy and you’ve got your challenges cut out for you. No wonder you’re overwhelmed and exhausted, you’re just trying to figure out how to get through your day in one piece. Instead of inventing new energy drinks and stronger coffee to keep up, I advocate the opposite: stop running, slow down and let’s get back to basics.
When 27 year old Tracy first came in to see me, she had developed a twitch in her left cheek that got worse when she was nervous, especially during auditions. She had moved here from Indiana to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Without any family or friends in Los Angeles to give her emotional support, Tracy found the struggle extra hard. She wouldn’t call her family for fear they would tell her to come home. After a year of hard work and determination, she found a steady job, an agent and a group of like-minded friends. But, now that she was going out on more auditions, it was difficult juggling her job with her acting career. The stress of losing her steady job and missing an audition started to become unbearable for her. When she woke up in the morning, her mind was already fretting about the imagined dilemma of disappointing her agent and boss if she had to go on an audition. Even if her day went smoothly, her mind would not let her rest as she catastrophized about the future. Unfortunately, Tracy’s circumstances were not going to change until she was able to make a reliable income through her acting. But, it was not the external landscape that needed to change before she could feel a sense of well being again – it was her internal landscape.
Through our work together, Tracy learned that she had a very difficult time thinking she was disappointing people. She often felt like a disappointment to her parents growing up. It seemed that they were never quite happy with her accomplishments. Somehow their dissatisfaction made her feel that she was never good enough for them. As an adult, she internalized her critical parents and became extremely self-critical. Always doubting herself after auditions, even when she landed a part. It was difficult to congratulate herself and feel good about any accomplishments. This sense of inadequacy made her difficult life even harder and more stressful. It seemed that she was stuck in an ocean being knocked down over and over again by gigantic waves unable to come up for air. With time and hard work, she was able to develop compassion for the little girl who tried so hard to please her parents. She paid close attention to the negative stories she told herself. With ongoing practice, she no longer had to believe these stories anymore. She started to connect to a greater vision and a fresh outlook. We then started working on creating an environment that would feed her capacity to be happy and allow her to enjoy the life that she worked so hard to create. As Tracy slowly addressed her emotional needs, the twitch began to subside.
We are continuously bombarded with advice on how to keep our bodies healthy and strong with supplements, exercise and eating well. We understand that if we take care of our bodies, they will take care of us. So, why should our approach to mental health be any different? There is this expectation that we should feel happy all the time and when we aren’t, it depresses us even more. One common denominator of this state of being
overwhelmed is technology. I believe that today’s technology has created “technostress.” Because we are now able to do so much, we take on too much and end up feeling overwhelmed. Stimulation overload also adds to our inability to get a restful night’s sleep. More than 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. With so much distraction on the outside, how can we feel peaceful and calm on the inside? How can we get back to this innate sense of well being just like this adorable little baby? Here are some pointers to think about when trying to build your capacity to weather the storms that life can put in your way. I like to call it:
Building your “Bliss-ipline” practice
- Address any unfinished childhood issues from the past that get in the way of your happiness today. These issues usually surface in your inability to have satisfying relationships with others and with yourself.
- Slow down and stop running by developing a daily five-minute mindful meditation practice. No excuses, here’s a free guide and a list of all the proven benefits.
- When you have the urge to multi-task, don’t. Promise yourself that you will do only one thing at a time and do that one thing with all of your attention. In other words, do it mindfully.
- Find ways to simplify your life. Avoid overcommitting , and saying yes when you really mean no.
- Get a good dose of inspiration throughout your day it promotes motivation, encouragement and creativity. Hype and sensationalism just creates fear.
- Isolation causes depression. Avoid replacing people with techno-gadgets; there’s no substitute for talking to a live human being. Our wounds were caused by people and they need to be healed by people.
- You’ve heard it before, but it actually works – volunteer. Helping others promotes and strengthens an appreciation and gratitude for life.
- When faced with difficult situations, ask yourself how you can grow and learn from them instead of thinking, “Why me?”
- When you feel afraid resist holding on to something predictable for some kind of security. Remember to implement the acronym: F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real. Instead, face towards your fear and leap into it with tender hearted bravery. Instead of staying stuck in a closed mind and heart, you will begin to discover your courage.
- Become curious about your emotions rather than judgmental.
- Avoid blaming others; take responsibility for your own happiness.
- And above all, please be kind to yourself. At the root of all suffering is self-denigration. Take a look at that baby above, get in touch with how lovable you are.
When you are tossed in upheaval and find yourself stuck in an emotional storm, remember the strength, courage and fearlessness of the tiny but mighty hummingbird . Remember that storms will always come and go. As you move through the world, trust that an open heart can free you from old habits and fears and return you to your natural intelligence and sense of well-being.
Best of luck on your journey.
The names and circumstances have been altered to respect confidentiality.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.