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This week (5 – 12 October) is Mental Health Week, and it got me thinking about improv and my mental health, and how the two are connected.
They say that one of the best things for improving your mental health is to exercise. Well, ok, but I don't really like exercise because it usually involves sports. Or lycra. What I DO like is improvising! Fortunately it seems to be good for me and as a bonus there's zero lycra involved.
Sure, when I first started improvising I probably went backwards anxiety-wise, because I was so hung up on whether I was doing a good job, being an idiot (read: myself) in front of a room full of strangers, and most of all I was terrified of letting go of control.
For most people, but particularly if you have general anxiety and a tendency for depression, the vulnerability felt when improvising can be scary. But once you move past that and realise it's making you stronger, it can be kind of addictive.
Over time, I've realised that regular improv goes a long way to keeping my anxiety at bay and contributing to my happiness. However, I don't do improv for therapy, I do improv because I love it.
For one, it's opened up a network of amazing and supportive friends. Every Improv Conspiracy show is a social occasion, full of laughter, warmth and words of encouragement.
Also, improvising takes you completely out of your head. As someone who spends a lot of the day with a myriad of anxious thoughts circling through my brain, it's good to know that for the hour or two I'm improvising I can escape that. Sometimes I really don't feel like performing or training, because for whatever reason I'm having a tough day. However, I know I feel better for it, so I pull myself off the couch and throw myself on stage – again and again and again!
As for the control issues, improv has taught me that having no idea what will happen next is something to be excited about. A lot of my anxiety revolves around the eternal “what if...”, in improv there's no time for thinking, just doing.
This is not to say that I'm completely anxiety free and always happy and improv has fixed me. It hasn't, and it won't (because anxiety and depression are complicated and there's no single solution). But there's no denying that attending that first ever improv class was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
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