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  • Frankie Regalia

Mental Health, Boundaries, and Burnout

Mental Health


Theatre is an industry that requires a lot from us as artists, mentally and emotionally. You need to develop practices to protect and nurture your mental health. I had to learn this lesson during my first production at the Edinburgh Fringe. I was both the director and producer, had never brought something to the Fringe before, and had not thought hard enough about the people I surrounded myself with. I was more stressed than I ever had been before and my mental health took a dive. During the entire month of Fringe I was incredibly depressed, living in a flat with 12 other people, and completely unaware of how to help myself. That incident lead me to seek out mental health support two years later when I planned to produce another show at the Fringe.


If you can afford private mental health services and a regular therapist, I recommend doing so. This is a very difficult industry and even if you are in a good place now, the constant competition and rejection will eventually get to you. If you cannot afford private mental health services ask about them at your university (if you are a student) and seek out services offered by your local council. I got treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD through Talking Therapies program through the NHS.


Asking for help when you are struggling is a massive step and can feel impossible because the things that are affecting you negatively are "just part of the industry." However, there are people in your community and industry that are facing the same difficulties. Reach out to your network and start to create a system of mutual support between artists. You are not alone in these struggles.


Determine what "self-care" looks like for you. It could be yoga/meditation, journaling, taking a break from social media, zoning out to some TV, reading a book, or going for a walk, just to name a few. Explore the things that help your mental health and find things that have nothing to do with work or theatre. This industry has a habit of consuming everything about us: our interests, our hobbies, our passions, and all our friends. Carve out space away from the industry to recharge.


Boundaries


Boundaries are incredibly important and equally difficult to enforce in this industry. You need to have clear personal and professional boundaries because working in theatre often blurs the lines between personal and professional. This is also an industry ripe with exploitation. Defining your boundaries and needs, communicating them clearly, and enforcing them are tools that require practice. You should also be constantly interrogating your own boundaries. What boundaries are you willing or not willing to compromise on? If you are willing to compromise, what practices do you need to see from your collaborators in order to maintain your own safety and mental health? How does this boundary affect your collaborators?


The flip side is that you need to respect the boundaries and needs of others. Put yourself in their place and try to understand why they have the boundaries they do. Recognize that sometimes others are not going to communicate their boundaries clearly. Think about how you will handle those situations. The "golden rule" of treating others how you want to be treated is not actually a good outlook. Not everyone wants to be treated the way you do. Instead, be a clear communicator and ask your collaborators about their boundaries if they are not clear.


Communicating clearly and honestly is always the best way to deal with a situation.


Burnout


Beware of physical, mental, and emotional burnout! Keep an eye on yourself and your collaborators for the symptoms: short tempers, exhaustion, mental fog, and mental ill health being the key ones. Being a freelance artist comes with a host of anxieties that can lead to burnout. The constant search for the next job, the stress of juggling multiple jobs and responsibilities, the exhaustion from constantly being on the go, and the anxiety of financial/professional instability are all huge contributing factors. You have to find your own way of dealing with these stresses, whether that be by seeking professional help, practicing self-care, or a combination.


I want to specifically mention financial/creative anxiety and comparison/competition. These are rampant in our industry and the most difficult things to overcome or quell. Financial and creative anxiety is the worry that you are not progressing enough or making enough money. For some people, this is a fuel that pushes them to work hard. For others, this is a weight that drags them down. It can be constant, even when you feel like you are doing well. It also goes hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome. You need to find your own way of harnessing this anxiety because it will be there for your entire career unless you deal with it. Competition and comparison are also mental health harpies. Seeing your peers succeed and comparing yourself to them will not help you. Everyone has their own path in this industry. Focus on your own journey, your accomplishments, and your challenges. Take a break from social media if it gets particularly bad. Develop your own self-worth outside of the industry and work.


A final note about privilege: this industry is full of nepo-babies and classism. It is something that we must all wrestle with. If you do not have financial or social advantages from the off, you'll struggle with bitterness about those that do and the cards that are stacked against you. You will have to work a lot harder for the same goals your entire career. If you do have those advantages, think about how you can use your influence or advantages to help those around you that do not have them. This should not be about class division, but it is up to people with more to lift up those with less. This is the way that we combat extreme and unnecessary competition in this industry, through solidarity and spreading wealth. Recognize your privilege. I am a cis, white woman with relatives financially secure enough to pay for my tuition for not one, not two, but three degrees. I am trying to utilize my education free from student loans by doing things like creating these resources. I have work to do, as does everyone, but actively working on yourself is always better than pretending you don't have any advantages.

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