Five ways to protect your Mental Health for Voice Actors
Acting is a weird business. As a performer on stage, screen or in a recording booth you are subject to the strange forces of unfair rejections, unexpected triumphs, and almost overpowering insecurity. In a capricious, fickle, and oversubscribed industry maintaining good mental health for voice actors can feel like an uphill struggle at the best of times.
The thing is the business is unlikely to change much. As long as there are thousands of artists absolutely desperate to succeed there will always be little motivation on the part of employers to treat us anything other than cattle. Unions like SAG-AFTRA and Equity are wonderful institutions who work incredibly to support mental health for voice actors and their other members. But they can only do so much to protect performers from the vicious emotional crosswinds of the performing arts industry.
So, it falls to the performer themselves to take charge of their own mental health. Never underestimate the importance of this task. After all, if your mental health is taking a battering is any potential success worth that kind damage to your soul in the long term?
At Flying Pickle, we specialise in working with voice actors on all aspects of their art. So, given the vital importance of wellbeing, here are five suggestions to protect mental health for voice actors.
1. Recognise what you can control
You’ve probably heard some variation of this old expression:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s terribly easy to focus on the part that invites us to change what we can’t accept. This makes us feel powerful. It allows us to believe that sheer force of will can bend a situation to our liking. While it’s true that sometimes you can make a difference by effort and energy, sometimes you can’t and you can hurt yourself trying.
For the sake of mental health for voice actors, it’s the other part of this phrase that is more helpful. Learning to understand what we truly can’t control can release your mind from many a damaging demon. Because when we know and truly accept what is beyond our power to influence, we turn our energy to the much more rewarding task of that which we can control.
So instead of screaming in frustration at a casting decision that didn’t go your way and ruminating over it endlessly try a positive action. Polish up your skills with a particular accent, work on your breathing or take the dog for a walk and forget about your job for an hour. Think of it like opening a door instead of banging your head against a wall in the hope it will fall down.
2. Be careful how you use social media
Social media is a potentially fantastic tool. As an isolated voice actor, it can allow you to connect with your peers and find camaraderie, support, and friendship. It can also help you connect with possible clients and even secure bookings.
If we’re talking about mental health for voice actors that sort of positive usage can very easily degenerate into an exercise in pointless self-criticism. Uglier still it can encourage an entirely useless and unhelpful feedback loop of self-aggrandisement and scorn for others.
Neither of these practices help your career. And both can easily be ruinous to mental health. Beating yourself up for your own self-perceived failures via misinterpreting others’ posts is a fast track to pointless misery. But trying to make yourself feel big by belittling or dismissing the efforts of others will only succeed in inhibiting your own potential for growth.
Use social media to make connections and gather intel. But reject FOMO as soon as you feel it start to form. Resist the urge to bitch or complain about others. Above all with social media (to borrow a phrase from the betting world) when the fun stops…stop.
3. Learn the art of not taking it personally
Not taking rejection personally is simply one of the hardest lessons for any human to absorb. We are all hardwired to overreact to rejection. We tie it into our innate need to seek out and neutralise threats to our existence. Being rejected for a job, a party or a date makes us feel seriously threatened. This sense of threat usually then leads to a negative self-appraisal of our own capabilities, looks or even smell.
But how often is rejection an absolute indictment of our valid right to exist on the earth? The answer is, not very often if ever! This is especially true when we are talking about professional matters. For a well-trained, conscientious professional voice actor the rejection when it comes is usually nothing to do with your quality or personality. It’s just that they picked someone else…that’s all.
The great producer and chairman of SOVAS, Rudy Gaskins, has a lovely way of visualising this. He talks about Armani suits. If you have a wardrobe full of beautiful Armani suits and you pick one to wear, you’re not specifically rejecting the others as not being beautiful suits! Have confidence in your own ability and perfect the art of not taking rejection personally.
4. Connect with other people, ideally in person
Voice acting, especially if you work primarily in a home studio can be a very lonely life. For performing artists who began their journey on a stage, entertaining actual people in person, being locked in a booth all day can be very disorientating. Narrating an audiobook that might not find its audience for years is a major challenge. So is voicing a video games character without ever meeting the rest of the cast or your director in person.
We all know how hard it has been to connect with others socially during the Covid-19 pandemic. But connecting with other people is of immeasurable benefit to your mental health. This is especially true for voice actors, where common experiences feel unique and horrible because you never get to share them with anyone!
Online video chat isn’t ideal but much better than being alone. If possible, get out to a networking event or go for dinner with a mate in the industry. Share your professional story with the people who are going to get it. Most people will find this type of socialising nourishing and centring. Try it and see how much better you feel.
5. Never compare yourself to anyone else
This is the big one. The single most important thing you can do to protect and support your mental health. In a way everything else in this article has been building up to this point. This concept is both simple and elusive. Perfectly sensible yet so often hard to embrace.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Sounds simple to say. But every voice actor knows it’s hard to do. Problem is, comparing yourself never, ever helps your mental health. Or your career for that matter. Why? Because whether you compare yourself to others positively or negatively you will always arrive at distorted conclusions. And succeeding in a very tough business requires clarity of thought about your own attributes.
The truth is you’re never as bad or as good as you think you are. In fact, how good or bad you think you are is often irrelevant to your mental well-being and your career progression. Comparing yourself to others is always unhelpful and usually distracting. The only thing that matters is your own personal progression. Have you made progress today? Are you bit better in comparison to myself than I was before?
Practising good Mental Health is as important as any other skill you have
If your head is in a good place everything else works better. If your head is in a bad place everything you do will be dragged down by the weight of that. Practising good mental health is probably the most undervalued skill in a voice actor’s toolkit. Learn to believe in yourself and to help yourself when things get difficult. And remember there is never, ever any shame in asking for help.
If you are struggling with mental health problems in your voice acting work and you are working in the UK, you can reach out to Equity. They are leading a superb initiative into supporting the mental health of all performing artists. If you need them they will be delighted to hear from you.