Improv and Anxiety
Updated: Apr 28
For many people, even actors and stand-ups, just the idea of performing without a script can bring them out in a sweat. It therefore surprises a lot of people that I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and still do improv comedy. Apparently I’ve been anxious since I was a child. But here's the really weird thing, improv doesn't give me anxiety.
I've even had doctors and therapists question me about how this is possible! But to me it's very straightforward. Improv and particularly improv rehearsals, rely on a lot of the same notions you hear in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Having gone through several months of CBT in the past and discovered the benefits of it, I'm now studying to become CPD accredited in CBT and Physiotherapy. I believe that becoming more in tune with yourself and your body is key to a healthy mindset and communicating with others.
Here are six ways improv can help your anxiety and improve your mental health at work:
1. Being present
Mindfullness, meditation, staying in the moment, it's all the same thing. There's a theatre exercise called "Circles of Attention" which was developed by Stanislavski in the early 19th Century. Do you know it? Well if you've ever downloaded the mindfulness app Headspace, you've already done it!
While most art forms require you to be clear headed, improv depends upon you being fully in the moment. You need to be ready to take on anything that's thrown at you and not hold back. Being present is therefore the focus of improv warm-ups and ideal for getting you out of your head.
2. A guided safe space
We hear the term 'safe space' a lot but what does it mean? I like to put more of the responsibility on the coach, an independent figure who can mediate. So no one person takes over and no one lags behind - or slacks off leaving someone else to do the emotional lifting. When I look back at bad experiences in improv and business, I believe it's because the group lacked that guidance. If you're anxious, know that the coach is there to guide you and make sure everyone is having a good time.
3. Room to fail
One of the biggest causes of anxiety is fear of failure. But we all know that you need to fail in order to learn, grow and ultimately succeed. In an improv workshop everyone is given permission to fail so that they can get our of their comfort zones and stretch themselves. I promise you it’s very liberating!
Once you‘ve let go of your fear of failure, you’ll find a lot of other obstacles start to fade. We often hold ourselves back because of assumptions we make, usually by exaggerating a problem or ruminating over past experiences. In improv rehearsals you learn how to move through discomfort and see situations for what they really are. It’s rarely a matter of life and death!
Everyone feels awkward and embarrassed sometimes but that’s all part of being human and improv helps you become comfortable with that realisation.
5. Part of a team
Sometimes it can feel like it’s you against the world and you can’t ask for help. But is that really the case? Improv rehearsals are all about building a strong group dynamic. Everyone works on the basis that if your team mate looks good, everyone looks good. A lot of this is also about asking for help, knowing when to call for support and learning from your colleagues.
6. Laughter is the best medicine
The final and most simple thing to remember is to have fun. There is nothing more magical than creating something out of nothing. Sharing a laugh with someone forges an incredible bond and even having a giggle at yourself will get the endorphins going. So join in, have a laugh and watch the stress melt away.
Before every workshop, I will take time to consult your team leader or HR manager so that the workshop will serve your needs. I am always open to being contacted and I'm very sensitive to any concerns you may have.
To find out more and book a consultation, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org