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Staying Optimistic in Challenging Times

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I know. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? These days, when despair is sucking the life out of us with every morning CNN report, and hope feels like a distant memory our grandparents used to talk about, it’s increasingly hard to muster up the courage and positivity needed to go out into the world and yah know, contribute to it. I know you feel me.

For those of us in the entertainment industry (sensitive souls at the best of times), it’s doubly hard, and also, even more essential that we do, because our work requires us to contribute creatively to the world Every. Single. Day. Plus, it is through this work that we will fight the ever-increasing sense of fear and dread that is pervading our society, and, more importantly, make actual, concrete changes in the landscape. As actors, writers, filmmakers, casting directors, singers, artists of any kind really, it is up to us to be the changemakers, to write/speak/sing about what is right, what is wrong, and also to highlight what still is good and true and beautiful in the world.

So, the question becomes – how do we do this? Well, firstly, let me add that sometimes we need a moment to rest and gather up the strength needed to fight the good fight for another day. When this happens, by all means, pull the duvet over your head and cross today off the calendar (I mean, if nobody saw it, did it even exist?!) or (my current personal favorite) drag your butt to the couch and binge watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” with a week’s supply of cheddar popcorn & 85% dark chocolate by your side. Rest, and the opportunity to unplug from the bad news bears is vital. However, when you know it’s time to put your pants back on and get out there in the world, here are some ideas of how to do it, and stay sane at the same time:

1)     Don’t start (or end) your day with the news. Sounds simple enough but, half the time, even if you don’t specifically look for news, you’ve opened Facebook, Instagram, etc, and something’s been mentioned that has you scrambling for the news app. I’m not saying bury your head in the sand by any means but give yourself a couple of hours to generate some positive thoughts and set your creative focus for the day. Similarly, choking with rage having just read of the latest administrative “incident” at midnight just before you go to sleep (I’m kidding – please go to sleep before midnight, you crazy kids! Sleep is everything) is also not ideal for restful sleep or waking refreshed.

2)     Take a moment. It’s kind of a segue from the last point but, if you can sit for a few   minutes in the morning (and I’m not even saying meditate, here – I’ll leave that to the experts) before you check your phone and breathe calmly, or imagine your brain and heart opening up to creative possibilities, or go outside into nature, if you’re lucky enough to have that nearby, and contemplate something beautiful and earthy and REAL, then you will have a much stronger chance of becoming and remaining positive as the day progresses.

3)     Do something active. We all know this by now, but exercise in any form sends feel-good endorphins to the brain & body, and significantly reduces stress & anxiety. You have to find what works for you of course, and if yoga bores you or Kayla Itsines’ workouts drive you nuts (No offence Kayla, but I did 2 years, and if I never do another burpee again in my life, it’ll be too soon), then maybe a hike or a walk in nature is the way to go, or perhaps it’s dancehall classes, or a run on the beach. Choose your own adventure. Consistency is key (for me, routine & structure in my workouts is a joy because of the lack of it anywhere else in my creative and work life) and raising the heart rate even just a little can work wonders.

4)     Buy a fridge whiteboard. Yup, you read that right. I recently bought a little whiteboard with a marker and eraser, that goes on my fridge (super cheap from Office Depot). Every day, I write little messages to myself. I know, I know, it sounds like affirmations and I’m not a huge fan of those but actually, they’re more like simple, calming, encouraging instructions and honestly, I feel like my fridge is talking to me and – when your fridge talks, you listen. At least, you do if you’re as big a foodie as me. But, I digress.

5)     Remember that it’s ok to not be ok. Again, we know this by now but old habits die hard and we can never be reminded enough that there’s no shame in admitting we’re struggling, or in asking for help. As someone very wise (Brené Brown) once said, we feel most connected to people when they show us their vulnerability (or, words to that effect – sorry if I just butchered your wisdom, Brené). As artists, we feel things very deeply and that’s just part and parcel of the gift so, honor that and – be kind to yourself, please. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves in the best way we can, and gentleness is a good place to start.

And if all else fails, put on some Janelle Monae and dance around your living room like a wild woman. Sure-fire feel-good vibes, right there.

Francesca Manzi

About Francesca Manzi

Francesca is a British actress and voice over artist. She has worked on stage, screen and in numerous voice over campaigns for companies including South Park, Bank of America, MasterCard, Accenture and Marriott International. Her video game and animation credits include Halo: The Fall of Reach, The Unspoken, Enchantimals, and a soon-to-be-released virtual reality project that she’s desperate to talk about, but can’t! She is a proud member of 2Cents Theatre Company and works on stage regularly at their home base, The Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. Their annual festival “Acting Out Ink Fest”, a celebration of female playwrights, is one of her favorite events of the year. She lives on the eastside and is obsessed with 85% dark chocolate and cheddar popcorn.