At a drama school with endless amounts of opportunity, it can be hard to put yourself before your craft. Pursuing a degree in the arts, although rewarding, can often have detrimental effects on the mind and body. Therefore, it is crucial to develop healthy habits to avoid artistic burnout.
With the race towards the end of the year upon us, many Tisch drama students are drowning in studio, academic, and extracurricular work. I was no exception. I became overwhelmed, struggling to take care of my instrument while simultaneously striving to work to my fullest potential. I knew that I needed guidance, so I turned to the artists around me. Their knowledge resulted in a beautiful collection of artistic advice that I am honored to share with you now.
I asked my community: how do you, as artists, take care of yourselves? What keeps you from getting overwhelmed? What calms you down?
Here are their responses:
"Finding time and the ability for self-care is truly an art form within itself. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy mental space as an artist, and for me, it strangely helps to stay busy and on a schedule. I find that creating little tasks for me to do for myself throughout the day, such as making coffee in the morning, or taking a dance class in the afternoon, help to distract and free me from my own thoughts. I've also found reading as a nice outlet, because it acts as an artistic escape from the world around me. Self-care is imperative to sustainability as an artist: we can't love others without loving ourselves." - Serenity Mariana (Experimental Theatre Wing)
"I remind myself that as much as I am 'an artist' it truly is only one part of myself. Finding time to read a book, connect with my soul, watch a movie, go to the gym, something to get me out of the acting. It's so consuming being an artist, especially an actor, because it requires all of you and I'm beyond willing to give all of myself, just not all the time. Taking the time to step away from it reminds me why I love being an artist and keeps me caring for myself and my craft." - Kris Wilson (Stella Adler)
"My favorite way of taking care of myself when I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed is listening to music or podcasts. I can always find something that fits my mood or is a contrast in order to calm me down/hype me up. I think it's important to find those moments to sit and just be with the music, as it helps center my mind and body. I feel more grounded after listening to music, which in my opinion shows the power it has on us." - Darcie Hingula (New Studio on Broadway)
"It can be overwhelming to be an artist! A lot of our work comes from a place of vulnerability. Whenever I feel myself drifting, I take deep breaths to bring me back into the moment and remember why I want to tell a certain story; other creative things like making music or writing, also help me digest my thoughts if a challenge comes up within the work." - Angelina Anderson (Playwrights Horizons)
"Deep breathing. When I breathe into areas where I'm the tensest, I'm able to bring myself into the present moment and remind myself to take things one step at a time, which helps me both physically and mentally." - Deborah DosSantos (Stella Adler)
"I call on the superpower of softness in times of discomfort or challenge. I always find the answer surfaces the moment I loosen my grip and release my mental fist. When in doubt, cat/cow it out!" - Lauren Slavin (Stella Adler)
"A lot of the time the work can feel stressful and overwhelming, so when I'm feeling a little low on inspiration I usually try to do something with my craft that's just for me. For example, I'll sing my favorite song or write. Going to the gym and stretching have also been great de-stressors to help me loosen up and release any tension." - Madison Torkoff (Stella Adler)
"For me, I have to check in on three different parts of myself, my body, my mind, and my heart. For my body, I take rest nights and make sure to get plenty of sleep especially before performing or before studio. I make sure I am eating three meals every day. I also make sure I exercise and present myself to the best of my ability. For my mind, I try to make sure I process and learn to understand any emotions that come up in my acting. Not pushing them down but exploring them to better understand myself. And for my heart, I try to fill my life with art. Watching films for me is a great way to get centered and grounded as a person as well as inspire me and connect me back to my passion and drive for acting." - Nick Skonberg (Lee Strasberg)
"When inspiration is everywhere, it's easy to get lost in it. Caring for myself is learning how to balance empathy and openness with the kind of mindfulness that fosters moment to moment presence -and when necessary- cultivates a point of focus that's grounded in specificity and intention." - Talia Kai (Stella Adler)
"I find that the most helpful thing to prevent burnout and take care of myself is finding a creative outlet that is separate from acting. When I was auditioning for colleges I would take the mail that I got from the college and make a collage out of it, it was incredibly cathartic and still engaged the part of me that craves being creative." - Pierce Elliott (Stella Adler)
"Learning the difference between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and being uncomfortable is crucial. Knowing that difference is what allows me to be comfortably uncomfortable when pushing myself because I know what my limit is." - Elena Falkow (Atlantic)
"During those moments where my heart is pounding against my ribcage and I can't seem to find my breath, the one thing that helps me take care of myself, ironically, is focusing on everything but myself. Whether it is tuning my ears a little tighter to the lowest vibrations seeping through my headphones, pressing my toes against the floor to feel the footsteps of those below, or just looking my scene partner in the eye -and really seeing them- it always seems to calm my nerves. And it makes sense: as actors, we shouldn't be so focused on ourselves: we should be really listening, really responding to our partners. It is a skill I think we can all work to carry with us out the door of our acting studios, and into our real lives." - Sadie Shea (Atlantic)
"When I'm feeling stuck or uninspired, I try to do something that my brain can handle that day. If I have the energy to journal about my thoughts and feelings, I'll do that. If I'm feeling like I don't want to think at all, I'll sit down to draw. Sometimes I come home to sing and play guitar and make sure not to record it or even play it to the best of my ability. Sometimes I think just the act of doing it, of being where you are that day with it, is enough. Do it "badly" and make a mess!" - Mia Cusianovic (Stella Adler)
"Something I learned that has helped me when I have felt overwhelmed is the phrase "bird by bird". This was curated by Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Bird by bird has a simple philosophy which is to take anything that needs to be accomplished in your life one step at a time and without judgment of how big or small the step may be. The idea of taking anything going on in my life (such as assignments, presentations, social events, etc) "bird by bird" makes me feel as if I can step back from the big picture and feel motivated to get even one thing done. I know there isn't this expectation that will be quantified with what I may accomplish. It is also a very humanizing phrase. In many ways, when I take something bird by bird I begin to realize how simply I can accomplish it in doses without feeling lost." - Camille Foisie (New Studio on Broadway)
"I really think having some kind of outlet where you can get all your energy and emotions out is key. Whether it's talking to a trusted individual, a journal, a gym class or just giving yourself the space to be with yourself. It is hard to not bottle up emotions and put up a face when you're an artist, but being able to process your emotions and energy helps you get in a better space with yourself and have easier access to your vulnerability - therefore helping your artistry in the long run." - Jordan Reilly (New Studio on Broadway)
"My go-to method of taking care of myself is to move my body. Whether that's an hour-long boxing class a few times a week or a 10-minute domestic dance party in my bedroom, moving around really gets me out of my head." - Sloane A. L. Spencer (Associate Production Manager at Tisch Drama)
"This may sound silly but I try to find what I call "pockets of peace." For me, that means being able to focus on something unrelated to my craft that makes me happy. That can be writing poetry, thinking about how I want to decorate my future apartment, or taking the time to bake a recipe I've always wanted to try. The biggest thing is reminding myself that I deserve time away from my craft and I don't need to feel guilty about it whatsoever." - Leah Davidowitz (New Studio on Broadway)
"I have always found moving to be one of the most therapeutic things in the world. The work that we do in studio has shown me the true power that uncensored movement can have on my creativity and perspective. It gives me insight into the inner workings of my mind and on how I operate as an artist - discoveries that are always inspiring and comforting for me. I also find that small moments of stillness, drawing, and journaling are helpful because they encourage me to sit with myself, recognize and process what is happening internally so that I don't instinctually hold onto any unhealthy emotions." - Megan Zammit (Experimental Theatre Wing)
"I remind myself that the only thing I can control is myself and I cannot be affected by the outside world unless I let that energy in; therefore breathe, plant your feet on the floor, listen to your heartbeat and evaluate your next steps. There is no rush. You have the time. Take it." - Erin Cain (New Studio on Broadway)
"For me, I keep a playlist of songs that have lyrics that resonate the most with me, my craft, and personal wellness. It helps when things become overwhelming. Usually, the lyrics remind me of why I am here in the first place and that the stress is temporary but the dream is forever. I also have been utilizing manifestation and meditation while I listen to this playlist; so that it is not just mentally impactful but also physically" - Angelique Robyn Kureya (Stella Adler)
"When I start to feel overwhelmed I like to take a breath, put on my earphones and go for a walk. Once I reach a crosswalk, I'll go with the light that turns green first, allowing the city to take me where it likes. I always end up in the most beautiful, interesting places, all accompanied by my favorite melodies." - Tara O'Riordan Walsh (Stella Adler)
Despite the large drama program, each student and faculty member at Tisch is a different kind of creative, with eccentric passions and various backgrounds to constantly collaborate with and learn from. People here study as pre-professionals, advocating for themselves in an industry they're soon to join, endlessly supporting one another, and striving to be unapologetically human. The generous words above prove that this community is a circle of big-hearted artists that approach their peers with open arms, eager to catch them if they fall. I hope their words resonate with you as they did with me.
If you have the time, read the bolded phrases of each quote above in succession. It summarizes each message into a concise "speech". I've also included it below:
"Finding time and the ability for self-care is truly an art form within itself" (Mariana). "I remind myself that as much as I am 'an artist' it truly is only one part of myself" (Wilson). "It's important to find those moments to sit and" (Hingula) "whenever I feel myself drifting, I take deep breaths to bring me back into the moment and remember why I want to tell a certain story" (Anderson).
"When I breathe into areas where I'm the tensest, I'm able to bring myself into the present moment and" (DosSantos) "I always find the answer surfaces the moment I loosen my grip" (Slavin).
"A lot of the time the work can feel stressful and overwhelming, so when I'm feeling a little low on inspiration I usually try to do something with my craft that's just for me" (Torkoff). "I try to fill my life with art" (Skonberg), but "when inspiration is everywhere, it's easy to get lost in it. Caring for myself is learning how to balance" (Kai). "I find that the most helpful thing to prevent burnout and take care of myself is finding a creative outlet that is separate from acting" (Elliot).
"Learning the difference between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and being uncomfortable is crucial" (Falkow). "During those moments where my heart is pounding against my ribcage, and I can't seem to find my breath" (Shea), "I try to do something that my brain can handle that day," (Cusianovic) "without judgment of how big or small the step may be" (Foisie).
"I really think having some kind of outlet where you can get all your energy and emotions out is key. Whether it's talking to a trusted individual" (Reilly), "or a 10-minute domestic dance party in my bedroom" (Spencer), "the biggest thing is reminding myself that I deserve time away from my craft and I don't need to feel guilty about it whatsoever" (Davidowitz). "It gives me insight into the inner workings of my mind and on how I operate as an artist" (Zammit).
"I remind myself that the only thing I can control is myself" (Cain) and that "the stress is temporary but the dream is forever" (Kureya).
"I always end up in the most beautiful, interesting places" (O'Riordan Walsh).
Special thank you to: Angelina Anderson, Deborah DosSantos, Elena Falkow, Tara O'Riordan Walsh, Lauren Slavin, Talia Kai, Madison Torkoff, Angelique Robyn Kureya, Kris Wilson, Erin Cain, Leah Davidowitz, Camille Foisie, Pierce Elliott, Mia Cusianovic, Nick Skonberg, Darcie Hingula, Sloane A. L. Spencer, Jordan Reilly, Sadie Shea, Megan Zammit, and Serenity Mariana for your words of advice. I'm confident your suggestions will reach the artists that need them most.