How can we de-stress from a chaotic life in the entertainment industry, one with long hours, deadlines and uncertainty and ultimately avoid depression or a meltdown? First thing to note is that drugs and alcohol are not the answer to the stress part of the equation. The gears of our lives may be functioning but we can’t grease them with our psychological guts. We get to the end of a long stressful day and there is an inclination to reach for a blunt and a beer (or something harder). It’s the easy out, efficient and immediate, but the long term effects of it are severe.
Marijuana has many sedative type effects and alcohol is an outright depressant on the central nervous system. There are numerous studies delineating the effects and that indicate long term ingestion of these lead to a whole host of problems, physical and mental: Loss of or decreased coordination, increased appetite (the munchies), tremors or shaking (DT’s from severe alcohol use), anxiety, sleepiness, memory lapses and difficulty focusing or concentrating, hallucinations (severe psychosis) and paranoia (Seen at even low levels of THC use). The manifestation of any one of these is not going to help you on location, on a sound stage, or in the office.
Causes of Depression
There are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression and there is no clear cut avenue to tell us this will definitely cause it.
Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms of depression are trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions, fatigue (12 -14 hours days will cause this) , feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness, pessimism and hopelessness, (most of these are exacerbated by thinking errors) insomnia (amphetamine abuse or just too many energy drinks can cause this), early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much, irritability, restlessness, loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex, overeating, or appetite loss, aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away, digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment, persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings, (More thinking errors) and ultimately suicidal thoughts or attempts. Notice the overlap in many areas with substance use. Our task is to minimize the negative factors in our lives and maximize the winning factors so we don’t get sucked into the whirlpool of depression. The gears of our life are running, We have work and family obligations, relationship obligations, bills to pay, meetings and classes to get to and a whole list of “shoulds.” The gears of our lives may be functioning, but we have to keep in mind that we can’t grease these gears with our psychological guts.
We Need to Practice Self-Care
We don’t have to be on a strict vegan diet, or a specialized keto regimen for weight loss, but we definitely need to stay away from a high processed food diet. I am not a nutritionist but there is a growing awareness in the field of what the effects are of various foods on our brain. Here’s an excellent article from Harvard Medical School, Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.
If you are working long hours and your main source of nourishment comes from carne asada burritos, Yankee Doodles and your caffeinated energy drink of choice from the on-location roach coach you’re not setting yourself up for success. I am not saying that this kind of diet will lead to depression, but it doesn’t set one up for optimal performance.
Make Time for Exercise
When we are working 12-14 hour days we are not be able to schedule an hour and a half workout with a trainer or a long yoga session, but a brisk walk of 20 -30 minutes duration, or a short bike ride at the gym can certainly help. Hell, even 25 pushups or some deep knee bends will help. We might need to just be in and out of the gym, but that short activity can help to reduce stress and it does help in releasing dopamine the “reward chemical” in the brain. The benefits to exercise are that it prevents cognitive decline, reduces anxiety, sharpens memory and boosts brainpower, reduces stress, increases relaxation, improves self-confidence and just makes us overall more productive and effective in almost every area of our lives. Notice how it mitigates and addresses those specific symptoms of depression. Our race is a distance race. We seek longevity. Short snippets of exercise are liking paying an inexpensive premium for long term health.
Get Some Sleep
Easier said than done with the long hours but do your best to get some good quality sleep. Ideally 7 to 8 hours in a night. When working 12-14 hour days (or longer) this isn’t always doable but we need to strive for this. 2 or 3 hours isn’t going to cut it. I am not a fan of when people tell me “I only sleep 4 hours a night” (I usually sense a crash coming.) But some try and do this. There may be exceptions but by and large humans need more than 4 hours a night. With many of the patients and clients that I have seen through the years, prolonged lack of sleep is almost a constant symptom in their stories. Some people sleep excessively but usually what I see is that about 80-85% are not sleeping nearly enough. And with serious depressions it’s usually weeks or months of little or no sleep.
Lean Up Against a Schedule or Regimen
I am a fan of structure. Some people feel that it’s limiting or constricting, but if a schedule contains a series a good quality activities designed to put us on the right foot then do it. If we wake up in the morning after a long hard night of partying , drink an energy drink and then head out to work with the heavy metal music blasting we’re not setting ourselves up for success. Start your day with the four fold breath for 1 minute and then take in 10 minutes of the “no thing” meditation. Certainly you can spare 11 minutes in your day to calm your body and your mind, no? Someone once asked His Holiness the Dali Lama “But what about the days when we are going to be really busy and have a LOT to do?” The Dali Lama replied “Those are the days you need to meditate TWICE as long.” There is a lot of truth in this. If you are in a relaxed state, stress is going to take longer to activate and you are going to be in a better position to head it off.
Reframe the Negative Self Talk
This is an area that I can help you with specifically in a one on one therapy session. There are a number of thinking errors that we as humans engage in. For the hopelessness, guilt, shame, anxiety and other items listed above in the symptoms of depression – these need to be dealt with in therapy. Much of the negative self talk we’re not even aware of as we go through the motions of our lives. However this cascade of running dialogue running down the back of our minds sets the stage for how we think of our daily lives. And the thoughts leads to emotions. With excessive negativity we can quickly get to a very dark place.
If you do feel yourself starting to go down that rabbit hole or have friends in that situation reach out and give me a call at (818) 533-8781. The phone consultation is free and we can see if my services are a good fit for your situation and circumstances. I am in Burbank, CA and I specialize in treating stress and depression in the entertainment industry. ~ Bill Leavitt MBA, MS, LMFT