A while ago I began surrounding myself with people who love improv and how it relates to their everyday lives. I have the pleasure of speaking with those people about the benefits of improv frequently. One of the things that came up recently was how improv helps relieve symptoms of anxiety.
One of my friends in LA leads an improv group specifically designed to help people with anxiety. Anxiety is fear continued over a long period of time – fear habituated. So why would putting someone in another fearful situation help them ease that fear? Here are my theories, and they have nothing to do with pushing through our fears.
First, we set a new context in improv where it’s okay to mess up. In fact, screw ups often lead to the most creative and funny situations. Improv teaches that there’s no way to “do it wrong” because everything in improv is accepted and played with as is. Most of us live in a head space where we are always looking for what’s right and what wrong, striving for the former, while trying to avoid that latter. We would rather hide instead of risk being ‘wrong’. Because the duality of right and wrong is so entrenched in our brains, I like to play with doing it wrong instead of just telling people that there’s no way to do it wrong (because no matter how many time I say that your brain will still want to find the right way to do it). We can actually have fun practicing ‘doing it wrong’ and interrupting our old programming.
My second theory for how improv eases anxiety is that we practice being in the moment. Most anxiety arises from something that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future. Practicing presence releases us from the past and future. I teach that all the inspiration you need for your scene is right there, in you, in your partner, in the space. There is never a need to try remember something from your past (though that might come up intuitively), or predict the future.
From these two new ways of being, we allow ourselves to express freely (without the right/wrong filter) in the moment. We STOP hiding. And wow, is that ever a relief. When I think I need to hide something about myself I immediately feel scared. Even though improv is about making stuff up, it’s not about hiding anything. It’s about letting through whatever comes up in that moment.
It was through my personal transformative play that I discovered the complete solace of knowing that everything I need is right here, always. I go back to improv because it is a practice that reminds me over and over again how true that is.
I’m offering three upcoming opportunities to experience improv and get to know each other: Mondays, Nov 19th (in 1 week), Dec 3rd and Dec 17th at the Fauntleroy Schoolhouse in West Seattle. I don’t do a la carte classes very often, so this is your chance to come to one class and sample my style. Next year, beginning in January, I’ll offer another class series for those of you ready to jump into an extended exploration of improv.