Some actors demonstrate a remarkable ability to speak volumes with a single gaze and The Crown’s Claire Foy is certainly one such woman. But what to us might be a career marked by one success after another has been, in reality, a bumpy road of anxiety and childhood trauma carried heavy on her shoulders. Here’s how Foy has used this as a tool and what we can all gain from accepting our anxious brains as they are.
With an Emmy for The Crown and roles in two movies that are sure to be big hits, savvy and well-spoken Foy could be considered a model actor of our time. No scandals to speak of, articulate and intelligent, Foy comes across as a delight. But bubbling beneath the surface is a hot pot of anxiety, she recently told the Guardian.
Her parents separated when she was only eight and for fear of upsetting anyone, she decided to keep her real feelings to herself and adopt the “everything is fine” facade (I think we’ve all been there!). But inside, she was full of turmoil and doubt. “It’s purely about that feeling in the pit of your stomach, and the feeling that you can’t, because you’re ‘this’ or you’re ‘that’…It’s lots of thoughts about how shit I am,” she says.
Foy’s anxiety worsened as she transitioned into adulthood. It didn’t help that her career path as an actor isn’t the one paved with security: “It definitely magnified when I started [acting]. Exploded.” Still, anxiety came to be something she identified with as a tool to stay safe. Before she landed The Crown, she had numerous near-misses for big, career-making parts for years–but she “didn’t mind missing out, because it seemed safer.”
If we’ve always got our eye on the game, planning every possible eventuality that might occur, we can surely evade hurt and danger, right? Only, we have no control over anything other than the decisions we make. Much hurt comes from things that happen outside of ourselves as a result of our reaction to something that we feel shouldn’t have happened. Or should have happened and didn’t. Trying to swim against the current in the desperate desire to control everything never has a happy ending, so it’s simply better to let go. This is the ethos she now adopts and feels has helped her immensely.
I’ve had my own dealings with anxiety this year, marked by insomnia, adrenaline surges, racing thoughts and the inability to sustain focus. In fact, there were a couple nights I experienced–after a period of extreme, chronic sleep deprivation–that I actually lost control over how to maintain a constant heart rate and suffered an endless stream of heart palpitations from dusk until dawn, by which point I felt depleted of every ounce of energy I had going.
So you see, it can strike at any time and in a multitude of ways that you aren’t expecting. It can leave you feeling powerless and dejected and truly isolated. Especially if the lack of sleep is anything to go on! But an action plan can really be your saving grace. Writing down some self-care steps that have done the trick for you in the past, and resetting your body are wholly worth following, even if you have lost hope. Within a week or so I went from being essentially incapable of getting a mere 1 hour of sleep to getting a solid 8 hours; no mean feat, and it only as a result of prioritizing my wellbeing over every other commitment I felt I had to scrupulously uphold.
When you’re totally out of whack and can’t cope, here’s a suggested action plan. It worked for me and it’s worth a try if you’re sick of feeling like a zombie:
- Accept that you need to cut back on everything except the bare minimum commitments. This is only short term, so think of it a bit like taking a vacation. If you have paid time off accrued, take it. If not, do your day job to keep paying the bills, but take a break from your side hustle that you sweat over before and after your 9-5.
- Stop rushing. Anywhere. Plan your time well and there’s no need to rush. All rushing around does is cause your body to release cortisol (the stress hormone) and further the anxiety. Consciously decide to spend a week moseying and remind yourself that you can’t kick ass on any of your work or personal commitments until you’ve straightened yourself out. Think about what it would be like hanging out with someone who was drunk all day. Not the best, right? Did you know that being chronically sleep deprived induces effectively the same results in the body? Unless you take some time sorting your sleeping habits out and getting in some much-needed R&R, you can’t be your best self.
- Do nice things for yourself. You know when you’re in a new relationship and you go out of your way to do nice things for him or her to make them feel special? You need to put yourself on the receiving end of that kind of fawning. Cook yourself nice food. Take plenty of long baths or showers. Take yourself to a movie or allow yourself to binge watch a series you’ve been meaning to devour. Let yourself spend the hours of your day dictated by what you want – not what someone else is expecting you to do or what you think you should do to please others.
- Introduce meditation and yoga; two practices that place heaps of focus on our breathing, which really works to bring us into the present moment. Remember, anxiety is caused by a fear or dread about a hypothetical future. Something that hasn’t even happened yet! You need to start getting into the habit of focussing on the here and now and these two practices can help immensely.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to unwind for bed. Several hours before you intend to get your snooze on, turn all the lights down low and activate a blue light filter on any screens. Then, for at least an hour before bed, ditch the phone and/or hunched-over-laptop position and opt for things like a hot, candlelit bath, reading a book by the fire, journaling with a dim, bedside lamp or a gentle nighttime yoga sequence.
If there are two things I’ve learned this year while overcoming my own struggles with anxiety, they are the following:
- Accepting it is there is the quickest way to make it dissipate
- It is not a sign of weakness and can, actually, be harnessed for good
Foy is just one of many examples of how it really is all about perspective when it comes to mental health. She also highlights how invisible our struggles can be to the world at large. But more than anything: she embodies the truth that anxiety does not need to limit you or prevent you from striving for your dreams; you just need to learn how to speak its language.
Do you struggle with anxiety? What tried and trusted techniques for managing it can you share?
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