Anxiety on Stage

A friend of mine suggested talking about my experience with anxiety and sharing it on my blog.

I was not too keen on the idea at first but I figure that it might help anyone else who suffers from it.

During the last few productions, namely Merry Poppins and I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, my anxiety decided to play up a little. Thankfully, it was never during a performance. I’m not sure that I can have an anxiety attack during a performance because I’m not ‘me’ on stage. I’m a completely different person …

Anxiety is a mental thing. I get panic attacks when I become stressed and anxious and agitated. It builds up a kind of fire in my tummy and I feel my breathing becoming shallower and shallower. Thankfully, I have now identified when a panic attack is going to come on so I’ve taught myself to stop what I am doing and just breathe. Deeply. A friend of mine told me that anxiety is just “the body not being able to breathe properly”. I completely understood what she meant.

I also have some pills which I take, prescribed by my GP, for when I feel an anxiety attack coming on. They were prescribed to me in October 2014 and I’ve not even finished a full sachet of them. I was told I should take them when I feel I need to but no more than 3 a day. I have done just that and they really do help. They’re called Stresam and my doctor said they work more in the way a muscle relaxant would. Not like the hardcore anti-depressant drugs a psychiatrist would prescribe. Far from it.

I prefer not to take them and I try my best to regulate my breathing when I feel it coming on but sometimes it doesn’t work so I take one and I feel better in about 10 minutes. Taking long, deep breaths works for me and trying to mentally tell myself to relax. I also, weirdly, found that a massage or a slow tickle helps too. I’ve often asked my partner to stroke the palm of my hand lightly when I feel anxious. It works because it relaxes me.

I had the opportunity to help a girl during our panto last year. She was having an anxiety attack and crying and breathing very shallowly. Someone brought a paper bag to her – something I don’t believe in at all. I got rid of the paper bag, asked people to leave, sat her down and started rubbing and massaging her back and telling her to relax in a very low tone. I asked her to slowly try and take deep breaths and she calmed down very quickly. It felt really nice to be able to help someone who has the same problem I do.

I mentioned in a previous blog that during Merry Poppins I had a small anxiety attack when trying to get into my costume with my partner for the first time. We were stuck together and it was not the most comfortable thing. We shared a skirt and there was very little room to move around. I had to take one of my Stresam pills that day but that was the first and last time I took it during rehearsal because I got used to it after that.

During I’ll Be Back Before Midnight was a different story though. The rehearsal period was very stressful for me. Having to put myself in such an intense situation, and being so scared all the time – lots of shallow breathing. It would give me tension headaches and I needed to go to a doctor who told me to try and take more of my Stresam pills than I usually would. So I was taking one a day for a short while until the rehearsal period was over.  I was considering going to see a psychologist but my partner, my voice of reason, suggested to wait until the show was over. He was right. It went away like nothing ever happened once the run was over.

When getting into the play I didn’t realise that it would affect me so much. I don’t regret it. On the contrary, I feel like immersing myself in the role and into the situation might have made my performance better albeit with some slight physical consequences. Now I can say that my skills to deal with my own anxiety have improved and I am more equipped to deal with it in the future.

One thing I want to say is this: if you know someone who suffers from anxiety, do try to help them relax, don’t blow it out of proportion and don’t dismiss them either. Both things will make the anxiety worse. It is a state of mental unrest of varying degrees and shouldn’t be taken lightly no matter how little or how much it affects them.

As Ellen DeGeneres says: Be kind to one another.

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