Being the Anxious Actor

Stefanie Townsend

Acting, auditioning and anxiety might sound like one of the worst combinations known to mankind. The heart pounds, the mind blanks and you get the notorious deer-in-the-headlights look.

The truth is, acting and auditioning can be some of the most therapeutic elements of an anxious actor’s life.

I have been struggling with anxiety myself, and know plenty of others, including fellow actors, who live with it as well. And I would be lying if I said it doesn’t get in the way. It can. It does. But I don’t let it stop me.

 I can think of many auditions where I forgot the lines, or didn’t keep up with the song, or completely forgot how to breathe. It’s even happened in class, where no matter how well I thought I knew the lines, it all left my brain. It’s as if my body punishes me from not running away from what it understands to be a dangerous situation. I could tell myself that auditions and being on stage are completely harmless, but sometimes the anxiety just doesn’t want to listen.

With all of that going on before or during an audition, it may seem that continuing my dream of being an actor seems counterproductive and even masochistic to a point. But it isn’t. Truthfully, acting and auditioning help because performing requires a great deal of focus.

It’s because acting, be it in an audition, on the stage, in film, or in a park, is mindfulness. It’s about being present, about being in the moment and about listening and responding. All about focus, and nothing about the other myriad of concerns that currently whirl around in my mind.

And it’s mindfulness that allows me to be present, focus, and listen and respond. It’s mindfulness that lets me access the character. It’s mindfulness that brings me into the world, quiets my brain and allows me to do the work and deliver a solid performance.

The fight or flight response is anxiety’s constant companion. When I think about auditions or performing, anxiety desperately asks me to run away from the situation. What if I embarrass myself and those people in the audition room remember forever and think that I’m a fool?

Mindfulness allows me to stand my ground and to persevere. To face those fears and fight them. Confidence is higher. The determination to do well is strong. With those two factors working together, performances improve, and thus the positive cycle of confidence fueling improved performances fueling confidence begins.

In my experience, the mindfulness that actors practice through performing is beyond beneficial.

I highly recommend mindfulness to anyone, whether they suffer from anxiety or nerves. Who knows – perhaps it will help you make leaps and bounds in your work.

And you’ll be grateful you gave it a try.


Stefanie Townsend has been pursuing her career in acting for over six years and will graduate with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance in May 2017. She plans to continue her acting career wherever the wind takes her and continue taking classes and learning as well.