Separation Anxiety: Tips to Keep Your Personal Life from Killing Your Acting

-1Acting is a messy business at the best of times. More than messy, it is profoundly personal. To be a good actor requires a certain level of self-awareness and reflection, coupled with emotional accessibility, an ability to draw on one’s personal experiences, and the courage and willingness to risk vulnerability and exposure. That is some heady stuff, and to be an effective tool, all this must be channeled through airtight technique. Otherwise your professional acting career is in danger of becoming your personal therapy, and the work will suffer for it.


But how? How do you maintain access to all these deeply personal tools without allowing extraneous or damaging feelings to poison the well? How do you “leave it at the door,” (as we are often counseled to do in acting classes) without shutting down and becoming a zombie, unable to access any emotions at all?


To be honest, it’s an ever evolving struggle, in need of supervision, care and awareness. But if you’re at a loss, here are some quick tips to kick things off.


  1. Differentiate Between Distractions and Fuel. Self-awareness is key. There are many experiences in your life that will fill the well from which you draw, that will inform your acting with  authenticity and specificity. These experiences and emotions are fuel, and they are welcome in the room (at your request, of course). Then there are other experiences. The bad breakup barely a week old. The unpleasant interaction with another driver. Your impatience with your landlord’s refusal to deal with your pest problem. These are the unresolved distractions that buzz at the back of your head, leeching focus and energy from your work. Identifying what you should draw from and what should be told to wait outside is half the battle.


  1. Set Aside Time to Deal with Real Life Problems. Once you know what your distractions are, acknowledge them. Tell them they are valid and worthy of your attention. And then tell them to wait their turn. Set aside future time when you will fully dwell in all the anxiety, confusion and frustration they bring, and time when you will deal with it. Sometimes making that kind of promise to yourself can help free up present headspace.


  1. Build in Palate Cleansers. The life of a working actor is often chaotic. Between auditions, overlapping gigs, day jobs, and the many hurdles of daily life, it is easy to find yourself rushing from one thing to the next and cramming in meals in the car. This can make it difficult to set distractions aside when it’s time to rehearse or film. Try to demand some small time or activity between duties to cleanse the palate and clear your head. Do the same once you leave set. Creating clear boundaries in your life will help combat actor/character confusion and keep your personal life from hindering your artistic creativity.


  1. Meditation. Meditation is an excellent tool for building an organized mind that works for you. Practicing meditation can help you clear the clutter, regain focus, prioritize and come to terms with whatever might be gumming up the works. The key is in the word practice. Trying it out for fifteen minutes and then shrugging it off won’t help. Start building it into a regular routine, even if it’s in small doses. That way when you really need it, you will have habit and technique to fall back on.


  1. Know Your Untouchables. You owe no one your trauma. Just because you are in a business that trades on energy and emotion doesn’t mean that everything is fair game. If you have something in your past or present that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, that is your right to decide. You have the full power of an actor’s imagination at your disposal. Don’t draw on experiences that are still fresh or unresolved or too potentially damaging. Chances are playing fast and loose with these will lead to messy work anyway. Know your limits and defend them.


Be kind to yourself. As fulfilling and exhilarating as acting can be, when handled carelessly, it can become emotionally draining or even damaging. Remember that good fences make good neighbors. Build within your psyche some good, strong fences. And then build some gates. You have the power to open or shut them. We are often reminded in acting classes that we ourselves are the tools. It is healthy and necessary to remind ourselves that we are also doing the wielding.


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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at

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