How to Treat Anxiety with Improv Comedy

By April 21, 2017 Self-Help

There is a concept in improvisational (“improv”) comedy called “yes, and.”

Basically, you immediately accept any statement or thought that comes your way (“Yes”) and then you add something new (“and”). On stage it would sound like this:

Actor A: “I love your new big red and white shoes!”

Actor B: “Yes, and I just took up clowning.”

This has been a useful tool for famous comedians such as Melissa McCarthy or Will Ferrell who trained in using improv as a vehicle for creating comedy. Improv teaches actors to stay in the here and now and use non-judgment towards themselves and their fellow actors.

When these techniques are used correctly, the actors are allowed to enjoy whatever senseless, silly, and beautiful moments occur, because they are not blocking each other’s ideas but instead move forward in the scene.

Improv comedy can be used as a cure for anxiety

“Yes And’ing” to Treat Anxious Thinking Patterns

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a famous comedian like Melissa McCarthy to use these techniques in your day-to-day life. In fact, these skills can be therapeutic for many people struggling with anxious and fearful thinking patterns. Saying “yes, and” can be a great way to break through the barriers of anxiety. What can fuel anxiety? Fear. What can eliminate anxiety? Non-judgment.

Here’s how it works: Let’s think of an individual who is afraid to talk to or meet new people. They may have any or all of the following anxious thoughts:

  1. “I’m worried I won’t know what to say when I meet someone new.”
  2. “I’m afraid the new person I meet will think I’m weird.”
  3. “I’m scared the person I meet won’t like what I have to say.”

Now let’s picture that the same individual uses the improv concepts when thinking about meeting someone new.

  1. “I’m worried I won’t know what to say. Yes, and then I’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to say.’”
  2. “I’m afraid they will think I’m weird. Yes, and I’m going to have a conversation anyway.”
  3. “I’m scared the person won’t like what I say. Yes, and I’m going to say the first thing that comes to my mind, like, ‘apple bottom jeans.’”

If they say “apple bottom jeans,” will their head explode? No.

Will the other person look at them funny? Yes maybe, and then they will probably laugh with the other person and now they have an inside joke.

These skills help keep us in the moment, similar to a mindfulness practice. They help us realize that the worst thing that can happen is not always that bad. They help us get out of our heads with thoughts like “I should” or “I won’t know” or “I can’t.” Thoughts similar to these only block us and don’t help anyone move forward. When we listen to them we are no longer present with ourselves and the people around us.

Laughing and comedy can help relieve anxiety

 

Anxious Thoughts Rarely Appear in the “Now”

When we have anxious thoughts they usually occur with past or future tenses. There is usually no real threat or danger and we keep growing the same fears. Before we know it, we are frozen in our own thoughts or we are running away from experiencing our lives to the fullest.

The limbic system within our brain is activated and there are steroid hormones firing at full capacity. Minutes or hours later we are exhausted and can’t find the energy to take care of ourselves.

I propose that we work towards saving this energy for situations in which there is a real danger or threat, and take appropriate action. And when we are stuck in our repetitive anxious thoughts with fake or perceived threats we use these simple and effective improv techniques as a vehicle to create a different story. To help remind us to live in the moment and appreciate that we have the ability to shift our thinking by saying “Yes, and….”

Laughter and the brain

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Russell is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) at Well Clinic. She is passionate about assisting people gain awareness of their own individual creativity in life.

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