Actor in Isolation: A Survivor's Guide
Mentor Charlotte Thornton's guide to keep actors positive and entertained while they're isolating.
by Charlotte Thornton
Yes, you are isolated, but you can still reach out... Socialise virtually with those you love.
It’s exciting that the industry is moving again, and any actor who has a gig is naturally pleased about it. But the prospect and experience of isolating for 10 days can be daunting. Whilst retreats can be healthy periods of self-reflection, no one wants to risk disturbing their mental state just before starting a new job. Instead of emotionally unravelling, we want to ensure we are in a peak state.
With that in mind, here’s a guide to how you can boost your mood ‘hotel room style’:
It sounds a little dull, but structuring your days will ground you and make you feel less of a loose cannon. Schedule in mealtimes, your workout routine and movie hour. Create a healthy routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. A good night’s sleep is needed for so many functions, including the production of the happy hormone, dopamine.
Dopamine accounts for the mood boost we feel when we succeed at something or receive a reward. Achievement gives us this hit also. So, create mini-goals for your isolation time. Having a list with things you can tick off, and then rewarding yourself with a few cubes of dark chocolate (or your favourite thing) will also help the dopamine boost.
Laughter produces the happy hormone endorphin, which is also a painkiller. Knowing in advance that you will have to isolate means you can be prepared. Pack some comedies to watch and a very funny book or two. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, if it makes you laugh – it’s a winner.
We all know that a positive tune can change your mood in an instant. Combine music with exercise and you have a double endorphin hit. Yes actors, that is full permission to dance around your room to show tunes or whatever floats your boat. As if any actor needs much encouragement.
Walking in nature gives us a boost of serotonin, but we’re in a box for ten days so what can we do? If there is a window, open it, get some fresh air and sit with the sun on your face. The sun will boost your serotonin levels. If the window doesn’t open, or it’s raining, or worse, there is no window, then meditation or mindfulness can have a similar effect. Try the mindfulness exercise at the bottom of this piece to bring you into the present moment.
The feel-good love hormone oxytocin might seem like our biggest challenge in lockdown as it is normally created by socialising and engaging in physical contact. However, it can be produced when we do something loving for someone else. Yes, you are isolated, but you can still reach out. Which friend or family member might need a thoughtful text or a funny meme? It doesn’t need to be a big thing, just enough to help someone. Schedule in some Zoom lunches or dinners, so you can socialise virtually with those you love.
Your inner critic will most likely use this isolation time to ramp up the negative self-talk. Left unchecked, this may have you spiralling in self-confidence. As you have the time, practise ‘Catch, Delete and Replace’. This is done by first observing the thought objectively (catching it), deciding to reject it (mentally saying “delete”) and then replacing it with positive affirmation. Repeat this new positive sentence a few times for good measure. Stick it on the wall if you have to.
Finally, practise acceptance. Accept both the situation and your feelings about it. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s hard, you are only human. Equally, do take responsibility for your own emotional needs, and see if you can keep yourself buoyant, happy, and ready for ‘action!’ when work begins.
This is usually done with a raisin, but it can be done with any piece of fruit. Try the following exercise (replacing the word raisin with whatever you have):
- Examine the raisin as if for the very first time. Deeply look at it. Its colours, texture, shape, and size. Spend several minutes doing this, fully focused on this one task.
- Next, feel the raisin. Mentally go into your fingertips and zone in on how you are experiencing the raisin. What does it feel like? Again, let this one sense activity absorb you.
- Now smell the raisin. Inhale deeply and allow whatever associations come to you. What does it smell like? Pleasant, horrid, bitter, sweet, fresh, stale?
- Finally, pop the raisin in your mouth, but don’t eat it immediately. Very slowly move the raisin around in your mouth, taking in what that is like. Then you can slowly bite and chew, but with the same attention to detail as above.
- Finally check in. You should feel more present, calmer, and relaxed.
Charlotte trained at Mountview and was a professional actor for over fifteen years, performing in the West End and the National Theatre. Now a mentor, Charlotte helps actors with their business strategy, marketing and mindset. Charlotte is the author of Talent isn’t Enough: Ten Ways to Enhance Your Chances of Acting Success and Develop the Winner’s Mindset. Find out more at www.charlottethornton.com