• Erica Chestnut

Anxiety and your acting. Fight or flight and the amygdala.




We all know that feeling – frozen in a moment, unable to move – muscles go tight and eyes wide. It can feel like everything freezes – or you suddenly get the impulse of a ninja cat and hotfoot it out of there or alternatively, you think and act quickly to catch that falling object. Your anxiety and your acting can be impacted in many ways, from fear, to stage fright to panic attacks and social anxiety.


Have you tried to remember your own phone number (or your lines for a scene) whilst a tiger is standing in the corner?  It’s unlikely, I know. It’s also unlikely there’s a tiger in the corner, but you get my drift. When the brain and body think it is in danger, the ability to recall information in your brain is not the highest priority. The brain send a message to your body to fight, fly, freeze and survive.


We have the limbic system and amygdala to thank for this primal brain function. The Amygdala is an almond-shaped set of neurons, located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. Think of it as being in the centre of your skull, between your ears and nestled each side of the brain stem. It’s part of your limbic system and it’s hard-wired from creation.


The Amygdala plays a key role in the processing of memory and emotions – rational as well as the other, murky, illogical emotional responses we have to certain stimuli, for seemingly unexplained reasons.


It is primal and instinctive as opposed to our cortex (the part of the brain we use for thinking).

Often referred to as the fear or stress centre of our brain, it’s where our fear response is controlled. An overactive amygdala puts your brain and body into a fear response – fight/flight/freeze/survival. Leading to feelings of stress and anxiety. It is present in every mammal on Earth.


Does the thought of standing in front of an audience or audition panel fill you with fear? Your life may not be in danger, but to your limbic system, it doesn’t know the difference. Your heart rate raises, you may be short of breath, dry mouth, rigid body – all signs of fight or flight engagement in the brain, taking it out on our body and nervous system.


The feeling of anxiety is our body’s response to perceived threat, putting your nervous system into ‘high alert”. People can become so used to being on high alert from real or imagined threat, that stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) flood into your system. They wind up feeling emotional, irritable and exhausted with a body and brain that thinks it’s always in danger, at risk of inflammation and disease.


For actors, perhaps you can see the link between the potential dangers of the use of emotional memory and the real (and imagined) stress and anxiety this then places on your mind and body. You may also see the link between stress, anxiety, emotion, and memory – hence why we can find it so difficult to master learning lines quickly.


Kinesiology’s innate intelligence to get to the root of an issue – be it a deeply-rooted unconscious emotional response, nutritional stress, pathogen or spiritual block, can relieve the stress on your nervous system and switch that Amygdala response from fight or flight back to safety.


A mind, body, spirit in balance and flow allows the space for growth, happiness, and overall wellbeing.


If you are looking for some holistic support to move through your anxiety as an actor you can contact me below.


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© 2020 Erica Chestnut

Holistic Acting Coach

Erica Chestnut

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