The business is winding down for the holidays and actors are booking flights home, pulling money together for gifts, and strategically sending holiday cards and emails to casting directors, agents and managers. The Connecticut school massacre is troubling us all, bringing us to a screeching halt in a ridiculous rush towards the holiday break. This is a time of reflection. Of family, friends, and food. While it’s a welcome change, it’s also a hectic, emotionally-charged time that can offer us some real challenges. So here are some ways to keep you joyful, sane, and even prosperous during this holiday season.
1. Acknowledge the Big Feelings that come up.
If you’re an actor, you’re probably hyper-sensitive. You’ve got big feelings. It seems like everything is emotionally heightened this time of year and you can feel like you’re on an emotional roller-coaster. Certainly with recent events (Hurricane Sandy, Connecticut…), feelings are even more amplified. The expectation of merriment, bliss, New Year’s resolutions weighs heavily and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. The extra money you have to spend on flights, gifts, etc is a source of anxiety. The increased sugar intake jacks your emotions up only to send them crashing down. And then there’s your family (more on that). It’s all enough to drive a hyper-sensitive person insane. In order to get through it, it’s crucial to check in with yourselves amidst all this emotional craziness. Ask yourself how you truthfully feel. Write it if you can. And remember that feelings come and go. Big feelings will move and get smaller in time. Don’t react in the moment as you would in your work. Breathe!
2. Be realistic in terms of what this time of year does to people. Especially considering what’s happened this week.
Commercials are in our faces, loudly selling jewelry, cars and smartphones, most often things we can’t afford The media- advertisers in particular- forces us to examine our own lives relative to those they portray and we rarely measure up. CNN is delivering horrific information on the shootings 24/7. There’s not enough time or money to get everyone a gift in time, our family members have conflicting agendas, the kids won’t trim the tree (even though they insisted you get one). Everyone’s tweaked. Stop. Be aware of the impact. Find your generosity of spirit. Cultivate empathy for everyone who’s stressed – on the road, in the malls, at home, across the country (or even farther away.) Now is the precise time to embrace the people you love. And those you don’t.
3. Let go of expectations (giving and receiving gifts, what things are supposed to look like, how big the tree…) and allow yourself to discover what wonderful things may happen. See the beauty of both the holiday things that might move you and the vulnerability around you. Celebrate what’s right in front of you.
Give gifts of the heart. The best gifts are ones created or bought with your heart, whatever that means to you. It will ultimately mean a lot more to your friends and family. Let go of what’s “supposed” to be, and spend your time, energy and money on giving something personal, something emotional.
4. Be ready for the questions from family and friends back home.
When you go back to your proverbial village for the holidays, everyone wants to know how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished along the way. “So, you been in anything big lately?” “Can’t you get on that NCIS show?” “You meet any celebrities out there?” The reason why we find those questions offensive is because they assume a narrow definition of success; a definition that most of us don’t sustain consistently and many of us don’t achieve at all. We all want to be the local boy or girl who made good and impressed our family and friends back home. But aside from the tangible evidence that standing beside Mark Harmon on NCIS gives them, what we have to offer probably won’t be understood by most folks as success.
Have your answers to questions of your own… Answers you’re comfortable with, happy with…. “I got some amazing feedback from a big casting director in November.” “I made a huge breakthrough in my acting class this year.” “I wrote, shot and starred in a short over the summer that got into a festival.” “I don’t get scared when I drive on the 405 anymore.” Understand that we may measure victories in a way that most people who don’t know the business won’t understand. If you’re feeling courageous you can try to explain it to them (good luck). But don’t take it personally when they ask. They just don’t know.
It’s on you, the person in the family who understands human emotions more than most, to accept your family for what they can understand and what they can’t. Don’t meet resistance with resistance. Don’t expect things from people who you know can’t deliver. Just breathe and maintain your inner emotional life by writing, texting friends or whatever medium you use to get it out in a non-combative way. Remember: they’re not actors. They’re family.
5. Don’t get “crunked.” Moderate the intake of food and booze. Anytime you put food, alcohol, and family together during a three to five day celebration, excess is bound to appear. Food and drink can mess with your feelings making small things seem big and big things seem small. Besides, your body can’t handle it. This can be a time to actually take care of yourself physically as well as emotionally. So do some things that are really good for you and moderate the rest. Have a good time, but don’t do damage that you’ll have to undo when you get back to real life.
6. Make NO resolutions but DO identify the wonderful things you accomplished in 2012. Pinpoint the incredible things about you and the people you love, and the things you KNOW FOR SURE, as well as the QUESTIONS you may have. Allow yourself to live in the question.
7. Embrace the DOWN TIME. What a great opportunity to turn off the noise, the to-do lists, and let yourself do NOTHING. Read a book. Go to the movies. Go for a hike, a walk, read the paper, cook, bake, sleep, call someone you miss, dance, do some yoga, did I say… sleep?! Let yourself sit in the quiet. For some of you it can be like all of a sudden the music was turned off and all you have to listen to is the deafening sound of your own thoughts. It can make you antsy and make you want to fill the silence with bad behavior, negative thoughts, etc. Do what you can to embrace the silence in a positive way. Take a step back and think about your career and your craft. What do you want? How are you going to get there? Are you doing enough? What’s working and what isn’t? What really matters to you?
8. Find other “holiday orphans” and share the time together. If family isn’t in the plans, allow yourself to celebrate with friends. Seek out a community of fellow artists to be with. Isolating isn’t good- especially for hyper-sensitive people over the holidays- and it’s a broad stroke but actors and other such folks are some of the most generous and accepting people around.
9. Be generous. Do for others. Tis the season. Walk the walk. And with the horrors of “Sandy” and “Connecticut”, the way to deal with any feelings of sorrow for ourselves, sadness, or isolation is getting out of our emotional ditches and help others. There are so many ways to give and volunteer. Find one. You might just feel joyful.
10. Be grateful that you’re an artist. That you get to do this, that you made it to this place, wherever that is. Celebrate that! For yourself. How great does that feel?!
Make the most of your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa & New Year. If you stay in touch with your inner life, are accepting of others, celebrate in healthy moderation, and connect with generosity and authenticity, you’ll survive anything that the holidays can throw at you. And you’ll be ready to get back to work in January, on your own terms.
Happy Holidays! Peace. Joy. Health. Love. Life!
And when you’re ready to get back to the work? Check out our classes!