Managing stress
By Jo Bennett
Jo Bennett
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.
Jon Kabat Zinn
Stress is normal; it is our body’s reaction to change. The brain assesses the change and prepares the body for action, automatically providing a burst of energy so we can respond quickly. For example, this is useful when we need to jump back to the curb to avoid an oncoming car! After a few moments, our system returns to a state of equilibrium.

Although such sudden reactions may be uncommon, our daily activities still generate a certain level of stress. Stepping into the audition room, we may notice our heart rate increases, our breath comes a little faster and we begin to perspire – all signs our body is preparing for action by releasing the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This normal stress response can be helpful, energizing us to meet life’s challenges.
Stress is normal; it is our body’s reaction to change.
Too much demand, however, causes problems. Frequent surges or persistent low-level stress can deprive the body of needed recovery time. This overexposes us to stress hormones, thus compromising the digestive, cardiovascular and immune systems, and can lead to serious health conditions. Relentless stress can also reduce the ability to focus, learn and memorize. Not helpful for auditions!

So, how do we get off the stress response treadmill? Follow these guidelines to improve your health and wellbeing:
To manage stress we need to understand ourselves.
1. Recover easily
Increase the ability to drop back into the recovery zone after stressful experiences. Regular exercise reduces stress hormones and elevates mood. Invoke a relaxation response by doing mindfulness exercises. Maintaining close, positive relationships provides mental and physiological benefits that can protect us from the negative effects of stress.

Of course, there are sources of stress that are universally draining, such as the loss of a loved one. When the load of stress is against us, we must make room to recover. There is no way around this. Dial down responsibilities, dive into self-care and get support.* Acknowledge it’s okay to create this necessary space.

2. Reduce stressors
Being an actor has its unique challenges. Awareness, knowledge and planning give us the power to prevent stressors in the first place. To alleviate ‘in the moment’ stress, provide enough time to calmly arrive at an audition. Downgrade future worry about paying rent by addressing financial needs now. And be mindful of persistent low-grade stress that manifests from deeper issues. For example, feelings of self-betrayal bubble below our consciousness when we allow ourselves to remain in situations where we don’t feel respected. Understand your values and practise communicating them.
Dealing with stressful situations is all about choice.
3. Replay the story
To manage stress, we need to understand ourselves and how our assumptions and expectations can sometimes exacerbate problems. In a collaborative industry, performers are just one part of the whole picture. Often, we aren’t asked to provide input and it’s easy to feel unseen or to feel like we’ve lost control over our work. No matter how we rationalize why we didn’t get a role or why our agents aren’t calling, self-doubt and hurt feelings may lurk in the background. Remember, emotions are data, not instructions. Look at reactions and ask what this emotional information means and whether it’s useful.

Dealing with stressful situations is all about choice. While there are extraordinary events we can’t control, we do have much to say and do when it comes to engaging our bodies, hearts and minds in this precious life. By setting personal and professional goals and learning to navigate stress that arises, we expand our ideas of what is possible and create the future we want.

Jo Bennett is an International Coach Federation (ICF) credentialed life coach who helps clients simplify their lives so they can get to what matters most. She co-created the Total Life Checkup, an online facilitated program for people ages 50+ so they can age well in the second half of life. Jo has been an ACTRA member since 1997.

Feeling stressed? HAVEN Helpline and LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell are here for you
HAVEN Helpline (1-855-201-7823) is a 24/7 national, bilingual critical incident reporting line available to members of ACTRA and the Directors Guild of Canada. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. HAVEN Helpline is operated by Morneau Shepell, the leading provider of assistance programs in Canada, to provide confidential counselling and support services. LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell is a wellness resource, accessible from a mobile app or the web. Through LifeWorks, you have access to hundreds of articles, toolkits and audio recordings that can be tailored to meet your interests about issues related to family, health, life, money and work. You can also easily access HAVEN Helpline through the LifeWorks app and chat function. LifeWorks is available on the web at, and the free LifeWorks mobile app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or from Google Play.


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