Managing Stress in the Entertainment Industry
Most industries have pressing deadlines, and therefore stress, but none seems more prone to emergency deliverables than the entertainment industry. Whether one works in Film, TV, Music, or the Video Gaming industry, the deadlines are constantly being pulled in, changed, and modified, often to unreasonable targets – no industry pushes the limit and boundaries of individuals employed more than entertainment. As a therapist in Burbank California, I regularly help people in the entertainment industry. Every one who is involved speaks of the pressures, stress and anxiety about unrealistic and pressing deadlines, not to mention the overbearing and over reaching demands on their time and energy.
The first thing to note is that stress is self-induced. Some anxiety and associated stress is needed to perform. With too little stress we get into boredom. As our attention increases and we move on to optimal performance we increase cortisol and adrenalin in our bodies. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Adrenaline is the get-up-and-go hormone which allows us to do super human feats if required. These hormones allow us to get the job done. The problem is that on the downside of the performance curve we get strong anxiety and it might lead to a complete meltdown.
So What is Happening to Us When We Begin to Panic?
The amygdala is an almond shaped gland in the brain that controls the fight or flight response. In evolutionary terms, it’s located in the oldest section of the brain in an area in the medial part of the temporal lobes. Some have called it the reptilian part of the brain. It is associated with survival, aggression, danger and even in some cases sexual drives. When the amygdala kicks in we act instinctively. As Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, posits in his book “The Body Keeps the Score”, the amygdala is the “smoke detector” in the brain. It’s activated during times of stress and if not put in check can really put us into a bad place.
The “watchtower” for the amygdala is the prefrontal cortex. It’s at the front of our brain and is basically one of the things in the brain that separates from the rest of the animal kingdom. It’s involved in “planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior.” (3) If you smell smoke in your house, the amygdala goes into action, but as long as you aren’t too upset, the prefrontal cortex, unique to mammals, weighs in to decide if it’s the English Muffins that you put in the toaster, or the 32nd St. Crips really have decided to burn down your house.
Again Dr. Van Der Kolk shows, there are two methods to manage your emotions (and thereby your stress) better.
- The first is top down via modulating messages from the medial prefrontal cortex or from the bottom up from the reptilian brain. The top down method involves strengthening the capacity of the watchtower to monitor your body’s signals. Mindfulness meditation and yoga are great for this.
- The second is to impact the amygdala through breath movement or touch. Breathing is automatic but also under conscious control.
Practical & Effective Methods to De-Stress
I use a Very Effective method for controlling the breath called the four fold breathing technique. When we control our breathing as per the four fold breath technique, we cause the amygdala to signal the decrease of emitting cortisol, the stress hormone and adrenaline, the get-up-and-go chemical. As the amygdala gives the signal to shut these down, it also promotes the emission of what is known as the “hugging hormone.” The release of this hormone leads to feelings of well being.
When you get that email, text or notice that induces the panic response, take one minute – literally, to de-stress. Bring your breathing under control. If you use a 3 second rule for each leg of the 4 fold breathing technique, then each cycle should last about 12 seconds. If you do 5 complete cycles then that amounts to one minute. If we do the four fold breath for one minute, we can get 5 cycles of the breathing technique into that time frame and favorably impact our amygdala and limbic system. Certainly you can spare one minute to bring yourself into a better state can’t you?
This is a three part series covering how to successfully cope with the inevitable stress that is unique to working in “The Industry”. Watch for Part 2 and Part 3!
I’m Bill Leavitt, an entertainment industry therapist in Burbank, California. If you are interested in lowering your stress levels and getting to a place where you can cope with the situation(s) that you face, schedule a free phone consultation. Message me or call me at (818) 533-8781.