This section includes information for helping you thrive on tour. For more information on touring, download the complete copy of Tour Well.
Promoting positive mental health and wellbeing on tour
Whether onstage or backstage, you can be pretty wired after a performance. This makes total sense – you have been under pressure to get things right, dealing with small margins of error and relying on your mind and body to get the job done. Your emotional-brain reckons shows are a dangerous thing to do, even if your rational-brain doesn’t agree. As a result, you have a sympathetic nervous system response which floods your body with adrenaline and activates you so you’re ready for anything. No wonder you can’t sleep straight after a show!
What your body needs is help to get the nervous system into parasympathetic mode – the ‘rest and digest’ rhythm you need for sleep. Expect to spend an hour winding-down before bed – here are some techniques to try.
- Put the day to bed (so you can go to bed!) – write down (or talk out) any thoughts about the day and put them away. What went well? What would you do differently next time? Psychologists call this ‘emotional processing’ and there is evidence that 15 to 20 minutes writing in this way each day is beneficial for sleep.
- Try gentle exercises like yoga, stretching, or walking. If you are staying close to the theatre and feel safe, a walk home after the show could be a good way to start the wind down process.
- Take a shower and spend that time imagining the show and the day being washed off.
- Rest in bed – time resting is still valuable for body and mind. Search the web for a ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ and see if that works for you.
- Read, or engage with audio books, gentle music, or mindfulness (see page 5 for more information on mindfulness).
- Limit screen use to less than two hours before bed. Light from screens can keep us awake, and certain types of screen use (social media, games) can increase brain activity and alertness. It’s hard because when you’re away as screens can help you connect with your loved ones, and entertain you when you’re wired after a show.
If you must use screens prior to going to sleep, at least turn on night shift (iPhone) or use F.lux (cross platform) to adjust the screen to the warmer end of the spectrum, which is easier on the eyes and less stimulating. As with all the recommendations here, it is important to make an assessment for your individual situation.
Getting out of character
There’s an added element to the post-performance wind down for actors – separating oneself from the character.
There are currently no research-based guidelines for getting out of character. The following ideas are drawn from anecdotal evidence and clinical experience:
- Connect with your body – dance, do yoga, walk, take some deep breaths, physically shake the character off – arms, legs, hands, feet.
- Create a ‘self-kit’ – a little box or bag of things that remind you of who you are outside of work. These could be keepsakes from loved ones, objects that represent your hobbies, favourite snacks.
- Pop your headphones on and crank up your favourite playlist or watch a cartoon you loved as a child.
- Carefully remove any make-up, wigs, markings etc. worn as the character.
- Change into an outfit that is comforting, or expresses your personality, or both.
- Smells can evoke powerful memories – use a particular perfume or deodorant when portraying the character, then rinse it off and use one that represents you.
- Call a loved one and find out the details of their day. The tiny details of daily life can be a good antidote to the epic arc of performance. Plus, you get to speak to someone who loves you for you.
- Notice when your mind supplies you with thoughts or suggestions that are from the character. Practise saying to yourself, “Thanks mind, but that’s (CHARACTER), that’s not me” and then turn your attention back to what you were doing in the present moment.
Late nights, early mornings, jet lag and long hours can impact your sleep patterns. Have a look through these strategies and pick one or two to work on – you don’t need to implement them all at once! Your goal is to set up conditions that are conducive to sleep: being sleepy and being relaxed.
Sleep is essential for your health. It refreshes the mind and repairs the body. When you’re functioning well, your body will give you the type and amount of sleep that’s needed all by itself.
How much sleep do I need?
While there is no ‘one size fits all’, some large scale studies recommend seven to nine hours being optimal. A small minority of people need only five hours of sleep each night, while others require up to 10 hours.
Good sleepers take less than 30 minutes to fall asleep and will wake up once or twice during the night. We all have nights where it takes a long time to fall asleep, or we’re wakeful overnight. This is often triggered by stress, and will usually pass after a night or two. The body is designed to tolerate short term sleep loss.
If you do have a sleepless night, research shows that we only need to catch up one-third of the sleep lost. So, if you sleep for two hours on one night and you normally get six hours, the next night you will only need to get one extra hour to catch up.
Try to aim for a longer sleep after a poor or short night, but don’t feel you have to recover every lost minute of sleep.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, defined as regular and chronic difficulty falling asleep or returning to sleep following night-time awakening, with significant consequences for daytime functioning and/or mood.
The good news is that insomnia and poor sleep usually respond well to treatment. If you are worried about your sleep, speak to your GP.
Should I take sleeping pills if I can’t sleep?
If you’re considering sleeping pills, speak with your GP and ask for advice before using any medication.
Tips for sleeping well
- Get up at the same time each day – where possible, within an hour.
- Go to bed only when sleepy – that is, close to nodding off. If you are not sleepy, engage in a ‘wind down’ activity (see page 14) – don’t expect to finish work at 11pm and be sound asleep by 11.30pm! You need time to unwind.
- Don’t worry, plan or problem solve in bed – if this disruptive thinking occurs frequently, set aside time each day to do the thinking, problem solving and planning that you brain wants to do.
- Don’t sleep with the enemy – get rid of the clock. Trial not looking at the clock overnight. Do this for at least a week before you decide whether it’s a helpful strategy for you. Whether it is 11pm, 2am or 4am your aim should be the same – relax and let sleep happen.
- Manage matinees – finish work at 11pm and have a matinee the next day? You may have to anticipate a shorter sleep for the night (as an exception, not the rule). A shorter sleep once or twice a week over the course of the season should be sustainable for most people.
- Manage sleeping in different rooms – reduce noise (use ear plugs or request a room away from the lift). Reduce light (eye masks, or black out curtains). Bring your own pillow if you can – one that you know is comfortable – or request additional/different pillows from your accommodation provider.
- Manage fatigue – mindset is key. Reassure yourself that a night of short sleep here and there is OK.
- Try self-talk along the lines of “I am willing to feel fatigued for this short period because I am doing the job I love and have worked so hard for”.
- What is happening outside the body – what can you hear, see, touch, and smell? Focus on this rather than focussing inwardly on symptoms of fatigue, which can intensify the fatigue experience.
- Spend time outside in sunlight.
- Know what re-energises you – do you benefit from time alone (introverts) or do your energy levels pick up when socialising (extroverts)?
- Try a short daytime sleep of 10 to 20 minutes – power naps can be hugely beneficial!