As an actor, I repeatedly put myself into situations where sometimes I bring work home. And by that, I mean I can get the emotional hangovers of whatever I’m doing and that gets shared with the Mister, the cat, and whoever else may come into my path.
If you’ve ever done theater that was draining or intense, you may be able to relate. Perhaps you had an emotional connection to the work or to the other actors. Maybe your character shares something profound in your history. That day could have just done a number on your energy. Whatever it is, you came home after rehearsal or a performance and just couldn’t unplug. You might have slipped into a warm bath of numbness or let your stage emotions ripple outward into your life, breaking the fourth wall and wreaking havoc on your homeostasis.
It’s tough, but it happens to a lot of us. Especially the lot of us who are sensitive to begin with!
I was thinking the other day of what it was like to be in Angels in America. The experience was so, so special to me for many reasons, but the character of Harper Pitt was a beautiful opportunity.
Admittedly, I had days when I came home and just had to cry for Harper. She made me feel powerful and powerless at the same time. She was electric and manic and childish and playful and sad and bitter and so many other things. After playing her, I found myself taking all of that home.
Challenging as it was, I’m hungry for more roles like that one – where I can stretch and push and play. But in the meantime, it has me thinking about how sometimes it can be really easy to bring the baggage you’d rather leave behind into other parts of your life.
As for how I try to keep things separate and unplug, it’s not an exact science. I’m not an expert and am still a huge work in progress. But here are a few things that help me when I’m put into a situation where I’m bringing stuff home (and it’s not just theater stuff – this works for work stuff or other life stuff).
The Commute Talk Down. Commuting time can be stressful, but it can also be one of the kindest moments you have with yourself. I have long and sometimes passionate discussions with myself in the car. I’ve done this ever since I could drive.
The car is my sounding board, my time to process out loud, my time to get out whatever dregs of crazy I have left in my body before I have to get my shit together. I’ve had fights out loud with imaginary people to get out my anger. Stoplight sniffling. Stream of consciousness while on cruise control. Random bouts of singing intermingled with dissertations on whatever I might be thinking at that moment. It’s nice.
The Self-Care Reminders. I set reminders on my phone and used post-it notes during Angels in America to do little things to take care of myself. Between my bouts of hunching over my Taco Bell like an animal during rehearsal, I pinged myself to stretch, drink water, or to look at a cat pic. I played Solitaire as a way to unplug my brain during breaks.
When I was home, I paid a bit more attention to what I was doing to take care of myself. I watched videos of Fred Astaire dancing and gave my cat extra belly rubs (petting cats lowers your blood pressure, FYI).
The Support Group. Just open the hell up and communicate with the people around you about how you’re feeling. Do it. Don’t talk yourself out of it. If you’re mad, be mad. If you’re sad, be sad. Let the people who love you take care of you and listen. They want to.
I’m lucky in that I have such a powerful support group around me. I could openly talk about my feelings and what I was experiencing in a totally open place. I asked for hugs when I needed them.
The Amenities. Like Tom on Parks & Rec, I’m a sucker for amenities. Little indulgences like aromatherapy face spray (came in my POPSUGAR box!), good chocolate, water with mint and lemon and cucumber, a shower beer, or one of those sheet face mask can sometimes cure all that ails you. Or at least can keep you sane for that moment.
Find little ways to reward yourself for making it through or for reminding yourself that you’re an amazing tropical starfish deserving of comfort and happiness.
The Calm App. Also check out Calm.com. I swear by this thing. Guided meditations prove to be super helpful when I can’t sleep or when I feel like my mind won’t quiet. I use them also to center myself when I feel like I can’t get my equilibrium back.
If you’re not a fan of the app or want to try something else, you’ll also find plenty of guided meditations and visualizations on YouTube. Even just some deep breathing and a little quiet can go a long way.
Anyways, just be good to yourself when you’re working on something that stresses you out or challenges you emotionally. It’s good to stretch those feelings muscles.