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How Taking an Improv Class Is Actually Helping My Anxiety

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.” For me, it’s true.

As someone who has depression and generalized anxiety, you’d think improv would be one of the last things I would want to do. But I recently surprised myself when I decided to take an improv class, specifically for people with social anxiety, through Second City Toronto.

I’ll be honest — at first, I was terrified at the thought of doing improv (especially since my anxiety has stopped me from facing many social situations.) But by the end of my first class, to my surprise, I saw the benefits and I didn’t want to leave.

Some might wonder how something as anxiety-provoking as improv can actually help with anxiety. Now, being halfway through the course, I’ve realized that improv is actually a great tool for therapy. Here are five ways I’ve realized improv actually helps with anxiety:

1. You learn how to stay in the moment.

A constant struggle for people with anxiety is staying in the moment. I mean, it’s hard to keep your focus when you’re constantly worrying about something. One of the first games we played in class, a popular improv game called “Red Ball” incorporated the need to stay mentally present. But improv teaches you stay in the moment.

2. You learn to cope with – and embrace – uncertainty.

Improv is about dealing with the unexpected. After all, everything said and done is made up on the spot. And you can’t anticipate reactions. When you struggle with anxiety, this might be your worst nightmare. But trust me: it teaches you to tolerate and even welcome uncertainty. Uncertainty keeps things interesting and improv teaches you to have fun with it.

3. Your presence alone is enough.

One student expressed their concern about saying the wrong thing or misinterpreting the situation. Our instructor’s response: “There’s no such thing as saying the wrong thing.” In improv, it doesn’t really matter what we say or do, so long as we’re there to keep things moving – even if it moves in another direction. While we may doubt ourselves or question our worth in our daily lives, I think in a lot of cases, our presence is enough.

4. In fact, it’s OK to make mistakes.

Failure isn’t just encouraged in improv; it’s celebrated. “I want us to celebrate our mistakes,” our instructor told us in our first class. “Be wrong. Be silly.” In improv, every mistake is an opportunity. This is a great rule to bring into our daily lives. After all, mistakes do happen. It’s how we learn and grow.

5. You also learn self-awareness.

Improv teaches us to be in touch with our emotions. After all, it’s not about thinking – it’s about listening, observing, reacting and adapting. In our very first class, we started off by simply walking around the room and paying attention to our breathing. Then our instructor asked us to make eye contact with other students as we’re walking. Then, she asked us to wink at them. Finally, she asked us to stop and scream (yes, literally, scream) to each other. With each layer added, we paid attention to how our breathing changed and how we felt. She asked us how to embrace our anxieties and our vulnerabilities.

As our instructor says, when we’re nervous, it means that we care When we’re anxious, it means that we care. And that’s OK.

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Thinkstock photo via Nastco

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