Practical Lessons from Theatre: Creative Ways to Deal with Stress


Folks in theatre know a thing or two about stress and stress relief–it’s our primary excuse for playing all of those silly games. Since there is a lot of tension inherent in meeting multiple deadlines, collaborating with a team, and performing in front of people, a lot of theatre training involves cultivating awareness and practicing relaxation. Academic atmospheres hold similar tensions—especially at this time of year. What are your strategies for moderating the physical and emotional effects of stress?

Colorful CrayonsIn Interactive Theatre Carolina’s scene on stress management (Coloring for the Chronically Stressed by student ensemble member, Noel Thompson), an overburdened protagonist meets a fellow student in Davis Library late one night and flips out when he realizes his new friend is coloring.

Victor: NO! This is an important point! Why are you coloring?

Sunny: (Sighs) Ok, if you really want to know. You know how when some people need to unwind, they run? Or some people do drugs, some people play music, some people get as far away from the library as possible? I don’t adhere to that structure. As some form of cosmic middle finger to the universe, I come to Davis, the place where I do all my work, and I do the least productive thing I can think of.

Victor: So you come here, and you…color?

Okay, but really: have you tried this lately? Coloring is way better than you probably remember. Furthermore, there have been numerous studies showing the benefits of music, expressive writing, and art for mental and physical health. Engaging in these activities has been shown to lower heart rate and boost the immune system. Also…they’re fun.

Maybe you don’t consider yourself an artistic person. It doesn’t matter. When you’ve been toiling in a performance-driven academic environment, part of the beauty of taking on a creative endeavor is that it can be valid and helpful no matter the “quality” of the product.

If you’re someone who already engages in a creative pursuit, consider switching mediums. It can be liberating to get back to a beginner’s mind where the stakes are low and your identity isn’t tied up in the work.

So sometime in the coming weeks, take a break, find some crayons, and color. Or sing, and sing off-key. Finger paint. Invent a game. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a collage. Try to draw a portrait of your cat or a representation of your brain. Pull out that old Casio keyboard and make up a tune.

Here are some links that might help get you started: http://journalingprompts.com/ http://www.happyhealthyher.com/mind-spirit/art-therapy/

Allowing your brain some variety and opportunity for expressive outlet shouldn’t be considered a waste of time—it’s an important, healthy release. If you need a little more convincing, check out this study: http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/5/338.full

Of course, we recognize that crayons aren’t a cure-all.  If your stress or anxiety levels escalate, you can always find support at Counseling and Psychological Services

This blog post was originally published on April 16, 2013 and was written by Sarah Donnell. It has been updated and reposted for clarity.

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