Kevin Sussman: Weighted Blankets, Actor Anxiety & the Science of Sobbing

Kevin Sussman: Weighted Blankets, Actor Anxiety & the Science of Sobbing

the irony in life i think is that when you are repressing physically emotions whatever it is love pain fear anxiety rather than being fully open to them it’s actually more excruciating hi i’m mayam bialik and welcome to my breakdown this is the place that we break down the things that make us break down it’s mine be alex’s breakdown she’s gonna break it down for you because you know she knows a thing or two so now she’s gonna break down so break down she’s today we’re going to be breaking down i don’t want to call it performance anxiety because i think that evokes being in the bedroom being in the bedroom stage fright also doesn’t seem to sum it up not the right terminology today we’re going to be breaking down anxiety of the actor variety actor anxiety not only for actors though but it’s not only for actors that’s true uh we’re going to be speaking with uh an actor and writer who i really really like very much and we worked together on big bang theory for yeah about a decade kevin sussman is with us uh you know kind of known to be a very you know anxious kind of character and in the characters he plays and uh we get to talk a little bit about what his anxiety looks like as a performer and and also how the anxiety that he’s experienced as a human has impacted his career his acting um and also ways that he’s kind of harnessed that for for uh for better mental health we also get into habitual physical tension which is exciting speaking of habitual physical tension i’d like to introduce you to jonathan cohen hello miami my co-pilot jonathan we’re pretty in purple today aren’t we very nice and if you want to take a look at that you can go to mayan bialyx youtube channel hit subscribe and the bell notification to get new episodes also leave us a review in the audio version of wherever you’re listening 5 stars helps us make more and recommend us to a friend do we have a word of the day we do word of the day today’s word of the day and sometimes the word of the day is a cluster of words a topic an idea but today we’re going simple back to the old school we’re going with rumination rumination this came up as it relates to ruminating thoughts not to be confused with a ruminant stomach not to be confused with that at all ruminating is a term that that is not you it should not be used interchangeably with obsessing but because everybody’s like i’m so ocd i try not to use the word obsessing unless i’m specifically talking about obsessions as they relate to obsessions and compulsions ruminating is sitting on an idea a feeling um turning it over repeatedly so that it continues to cause distress sometimes we turn something over and we process something and um it it can be alleviated ruminating tends to keep us in that kind of stew of whatever that negative emotion is we typically don’t talk about ruminating on positive emotions uh that’s just called feeling them but ruminating is is usually used for kind of words with more of a negative affect um and you know if you’ve had a a friend who like should break up with a dude but she just wants to like complain about it all the time also different than ruminating if you constantly think about how much she annoys you that’s more like ruminating often ruminating there’s like moments or like it’s in an intense time period you don’t normally ruminate intensively over like weeks do you no but uh i i mentor some some lovely young women and sometimes they’ll call and just be like turning something i why why why why why did this happen why did it happen why did it happen it’s like stuck in a thought it’s stuck in it’s stuck in a thought loop and and usually it it it’s serving something um and it’s you know our job as humans to figure out what that something is um a lot of times it you know prevents you from having to come up with a solution it prevents you from having to move on um and if you come from a home or a you know an environment where it’s familiar for things to kind of be like this um you’re doing the turning stuff doing that it’s like a but it’s like a slow painful stab it’s like racing is the yiddish word usually you can feel trapped in rumination yeah but but there’s there that is a loop that can be escaped but anyway that’s rumination word of the day so we’re going to be talking as i said to kevin sussman and we’re going to be talking about anxiety and anxiety is is a word that’s thrown around a lot anxiety is is usually described according to the physical symptoms that we feel when we’re anxious uh jonathan you wanna you wanna choose a couple things that people say happen to them when they’re anxious physiologically increase of tension they can have uh stomach problems ah stomach problems like fluttering heart palpitations right you describe a constriction in your throat at times when there’s anxiousness also sometimes like your your throat gets dry um you can lose the ability to think as clearly and coherently i’d love the science behind that because you’ve explained it to me before everything’s all messed up in your brain and that’s the that’s the answer we’re going with sleep can be disrupted your eating can be disrupted sweaty palms that’ll happen and sweaty palms a great example of something that that you don’t see in depression whereas those you know those other things like disruption and sleep and disruption and eating those can happen in depression but yeah anxiety’s more of that inability to sit still uh you know pacing fidgeting things that some of us do all the time just as our baseline jonathan what do you think some of the evolutionary advantages are for anxiety to stay alive right so if we didn’t have a notion of anxiety uh potentially dangerous sounds smells tastes might not produce any response from us and we wouldn’t know don’t go there don’t eat that don’t kiss him whoops anxiety does serve the purpose of of keeping us vigilant you know with the purpose literally of of surviving so the reason that we have it is because nature she is very redundant she’s not going to create a brand new you know template every single time we have a new species so we have a lot of leftovers from our state of nature and we also have to have a certain amount of vigilance which which can look like anxiety um in our modern life as well so for some people anxiety is more of a concern than others some people have more of a predisposition to having these kind of thought loops um and some people have more kind of anxious chemicals in them you know i have a need to move my body and especially when i’m tired i have a need to move my body but what’s the most frustrating is when someone says like can you stop moving why are you pacing can you stop doing that because the fact is i can but it’s what happens when i stop that’s really unpleasant so a lot of times what we see that we define as markers of anxiety you know i’m i’m i’m a nail biter i’m a cuticle picker um you know some people will pick you know even just like little things on their on their arm or on their face i mean really on any part of your body um a lot of people will eat anxiously it’s because there’s a feeling or set of feelings or state that comes up and the things that we see are the things that we do to try and make it go away so when i bite my nails i don’t bite my nails because i’m anxious i bite my nails because there’s a feeling that i’m having that i’m trying to dissipate i’m trying to give it a place to go so for me when i have movement and when i create movement it creates a sensation that is more pleasant than the feeling i was having before when i was anxious are there times when i’m more anxious than others of course before i perform you know before i have to go on stage uh really anytime someone’s yelling roll camera you know i feel it like it’s like something turning over you know like uh it literally feels like something flipping over and that’s putting me in this in this new state of you know a vigilance where i’m using as as much of my faculties as possible to do the task at hand and for me that task is you know trying to get as much blood to this here brain to remember pages and pages and pages of words and movements and continuity and props and and all those sorts of things so we need anxiety but for some people it does run you know a little bit rampant and um one of the things that that actors experience is sort of a constant state of potential rejection which can be very anxiety provoking um you know i think of kind of auditioning it it’s not unlike having to have a very painful first date every single time you want a job like it it’s it’s a it’s a big first date kind of experience you’re you’re walking in to a room full of people you don’t know you’re going to be judged on how you look it’s a group date it it’s a weird weird group date and many people are surprised that like with practice you don’t get less anxious no i just don’t and people are like why not and i’m like i i don’t know but the proof that you don’t is that i don’t so there are some people who say like oh i’m nervous at first and and sure the beginning of a taping is more anxiety provoking than the end of a taping but um i you know even though i’m a i’m a brain scientist like i don’t always know why that is it often has to do with other things that are going on in my life if if i’m texting with a friend or i’m having a you know a uh an upsetting this is me texting an upsetting text exchange it doesn’t look like texting i don’t know who texts quite like the first motion also goes into a little beegee’s action um but if i’m having an upsetting interaction or if i’m worried about my kid or if i’m not feeling well that’s gonna raise my you know my anxiety and then everything will feel harder exactly the reason we started this podcast because during the quarantine what many people have have noticed during really this whole year of experiencing kovid many people have noticed that i mean they don’t always call it this but i like to point it out to them that’s what it is if your baseline’s normally here for anxiety everybody’s baseline has been bumped up a little bit and for those of us who already have anxiety like everything just gets dialed up even more so that when anything happens i’m like right here ready to cry you miss my action i’m right here ready to cry or like if my kids do something that like i just like like they’re yelling at each ot i can’t take the sound of your voices stop it it’s like that and that’s why we are yelling more at each other that’s why we’re butting heads with each other more it’s why i’m crying a lot more during quarantine than ever before i’m gonna say it out loud because it’s nothing to be ashamed of my menstrual cycles have hit me much much harder during the quarantine because my entire baseline system of anxiety is like it’s up here i’ve had it up to here i don’t know that we can say that there are ways to make anxiety completely go away however there are a lot of very simple things that we’re going to talk about kevin has some really interesting experience with this um and also we’ll wrap up you know in the conclusion and talk about some other things um we’ll also put resources on our website of course um with that let’s welcome kevin sussman let’s have a good time talking anxiety with kevin sussman kevin [Music] lyon be alex breakdown is supported by better help online therapy you know as we begin to see light at the end of the covet tunnel a lot of people are still feeling down and emotionally out of sorts how about you jc i only see light when i look at you my you may not feel depressed or at a total loss but a lot of us are feeling a little bit off maybe our relationships are suffering it could be a sign i’d like to think it is a sign that you should talk to somebody and online therapy is here it is in our lives and it can help and that’s where better help comes in it’s not a crisis line it’s not self-help this is professional therapy that is done 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what your folks did and um what order you are in in the siblings i’m last in siblings and in life um i have three older brothers my parents had license plates on the car that said four sons um that was before any of us had brought shame to the family and uh yeah i grew up on staten island i’m the only one that has sort of a creative vibe going on the rest of them all have normal jobs and lives uh my parents were both teachers my mom was a nurse slash teacher my my dad was a teacher and then an assistant principal for english at a high school on staten island that i went to i took advantage of that at every point um you know getting out of class and and taking the the the hall room pass to to cut classes i would hide in the book room i wasn’t a great student so i really didn’t have a choice i had to go into the arts how old are your brothers how much older than you are they they’re all a year apart and they’re the the youngest of them is three years older than me what what’s that story i think we could all take a stab at what that story means the license plate used to say three boys exactly it’s crossed out yeah no and then they updated it whoops four boys hold on before we move on i’m curious with the boys and their age grouping did they pick on you as the youngest or you were enough younger that they were like oh you’re a cute little thing that we should not beat up you know they would pick on me um sometimes but at the same time if someone from outside the group picked on me they would you know then become my protectors yeah i think that’s probably pretty common there’s a lot of specialness to you one of your your features as a performer is you know you have this this very kind of self-deprecating kind of nebushy you know quality about you as an actor and in in real life in the real world um i find you a very charming you know a kind of playful version of that um you know i think the real kevin is a lot more um you know a lot a lot more dimensions than obviously the the character that that you played on the big bang theory and um i guess i’m wondering were you what was what was young kevin like like were you a small woody allen child i identified with woody allen i you know when i was in high school i watched i was a big fan of woody allen this is pre-scandal there was no shame involved in appreciating woody allen it was just his funny silly movies um and i identified with that a lot um his neuroses before i was a working actor one of the mistakes that i made as an actor sometimes was i was a little too woody alan esque i almost like delivered stuff with his cadence and stuff um because you know i enjoyed him so much and then as i got as i guess if you can say i matured a little as an actor i sort of realized oh wait i the the best thing to do is to just be as me as possible people have described my comic sensibility as dry and a lot of that i chalk up to being the youngest in a group of four boys all vying for attention and they were always sort of you know they were older they were more mature they were funnier um and i i developed an ability to pick my moments because i couldn’t sort of barge my way into affection i had to develop a sense of at least i think this is what happened i had to develop a sense of timing um so that you know when there was a lull in the conversation i could snipe a joke you know i’m not i’m not sure it was that a defense mechanism to to get in there and grab the love well i can of love sneak attack through comedy um maybe i think maybe that was partly what informed that sort of dryness that people sometimes um you know credit my my comic sensibility with do you remember being an anxious child like was there anxiety in your home because what i picture like i picture the sussman house i want them all exactly like you like i picture that there’s like four different you know versions of you as the children and then i picture that you know you’re all a smaller version of your dad but also your mom’s like that too because it’s just like the image that i want to have of this kind of personality i mean i’m sure there’s differences there but do you know like you know uh there is there’s a um an anxious energy about you there’s an anxious energy about me so i guess i’m wondering if you remember that as a child or if it’s something you you know picked up from your parents or if it was just you like maybe all of your siblings are like very suave charming models i’m the only char i’m the only suave one i’m um no actually uh we’re very different um the we we have a very different vibe all four of us and in in a lot of different i mean they’re all of my brothers are funny but in different ways and i’m definitely the most neurotic um and the most anxiety prone um and we’re different also physically where we’re so different when did you start acting i was in plays in high school and stuff does that count and then um i went to the american academy of dramatic arts uh after high school and and then studied uh continued studying after that it was just a two-year program and then i i studied i i got it was like just enough time to get me completely confused miam famously has not had formal acting training i think about that a lot keep you up at night because i think so much of acting training is like counterproductive gets you in your head screws you up even good training sometimes day i think it takes like years and years to figure out the difference between like acting training jargon and actual like being able to actually incorporate that as an artist so you actually trained with one of the most famous people you can train with udahagen yeah after school i trained with her and and she actually and i would i was like at that point i was so confused and i would say yes but we learned from your book in acting school that you know yadda yadda and she would be like no you have nothing you’ve learned nothing and she’d put down her little poodle and get up and explain why all of the training where they they you know misinterpreted her work and and thank goodness i got a chance to do that because the main thing that i learned from her that nobody in the act in school really talked about the like the the main difference with her training was that if it doesn’t work if these tools aren’t you know helping your imagination if they’re getting in the way then then don’t use them like she would always frame the stuff that she was telling us in terms of this is what works for me what i try doing is you know that that type of thing so one of the things that um is hard for me about formal training i mean i can’t help it that i’ve never had formal training but i’ve had many opportunities you know in my life to take up you know formal training one of the problems that i have and i’ve actually never spoken about this i mean i’ve talked to you about it a little bit with acting stuff my level of anxiety surrounding performing is um very very high that’s a high level of anxiety and when i’ve tried to do things like improv you know things that are very kind of free form i i mean i freeze like i literally i freeze and it’s like an instant um it’s like that instant knot in your throat as if your esophagus has been like taken and you know like it’s stuck and there are tears there like i want to cry and what i’ve also noticed is it’s not that i don’t like being told what to do there’s something about that interaction with instruction also that kind of does the same thing for me i’ve had this a handful of times when working on big bang theory when there was a certain way they wanted a line delivered and i was like oh okay i got that i’ll do that in the next take and i do it but still not right and sometimes it’s that like the audience isn’t laughing like you know it’s not funny and sometimes it’s just that like that our director mark sandrowski or chuck laurie or bill prade they would want something different but that i can usually do about like four takes or five takes before like the throat starts doing that thing so i wonder if you can speak to that a little bit kevin because you and i are both kind of you know anxious performers uh but we have a very different kind of method around it like we’ve won like more than once we’ve had plans we play dungeons and dragons together just in case anyone’s like shocked that that that happens shocked that two nerds have played dungeons and [Music] alex dragons is supported by away away is a modern lifestyle brand that creates thoughtful products for every traveler and every kind of trip they started with a perfect suitcase crafted with features that make travel more seamless and now travel looks more different than it ever did before so you can count on a waze range of suitcases bags and accessories whenever you take your next trip i’m excited to take a trip with jonathan where are we going away whether it’s a trip to the corner store a weekend away or extended stay with friends and family we’re 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game because you had an audition like the next day and i remember like both of the times this has happened in recent memory i’ve said to to our friend eric kaplan like he’s so perfect he’s so good why can’t he come out and play tonight and you do have a level of kind of discipline surrounding your craft which um i wonder is it related to to performance anxiety like what is that for you i just didn’t want to play with you no no i’m kidding i’m kidding i’m kidding no it’s a great ques that’s a great question and yes it is that’s exactly why i i you know tenaciously guard any time any uh preparation time that i can get one of the the wild things about the big bang theory that i think most people don’t realize is how little time we actually got to rehearse because our work took the last five years or whatever we didn’t even work on fridays and one day of the week was set aside for like tech rehearsal so you’re not really rehearsing so that’s three days because we also didn’t work on weekends three days we would go over each scene twice maybe a couple of times when you think about like a broadway production right they have at least what a solid at the very least month two months absolutely every day all day yeah and we have for these scenes like a solid go over them a couple of times and then boom where we’re do doing and so i always wanted more uh rehearsal time and yeah so for and you know one of the things that creates anxiety for me with uh for an audition is or for any performance it’s just not feeling prepared that’s it’s less getting up in front of people you know that’s not what creates the anxiety for me it’s feeling unprepared where is that anxiety you know anchored is it in wanting is it the producers is it your fellow actors is it yourself almost all of the anxiety is unnecessary and counterproductive the uh you know the i if i thought it through it probably doesn’t even wind up in a logical place uh uh probably like the big picture what is the anxiety about is about not doing well enough it’s screwing it up so that i won’t continue to i won’t be able to continue doing the thing that i love and the irony is that the anxiety makes it not pleasurable to begin with the whole thing is counterproductive reminds me of uh when i did the one time i did um i was doing a pilot for fox and it was i was you know it was one of my first like big jobs and it was the table read for the pilot episode and there are like all these people and executives and and gary shandling was a guest of the you know he was friends with some of the producers and he was there and i was sitting at the table i didn’t know anybody and and uh gary shandling took a look at me and he came over and he said don’t uh don’t uh worry about anything ever that’s that’s my advice to you in life because he saw that i had anxiety and he and this is a man who if you’ve ever seen that there’s like a multi-part documentary series on gary chandling so much uh he was a very philosophical super talented comedian and actor so much of the things that he thought about were about anxiety and worry and stuff like that and at the end of the day it’s rarely helpful i i i remember reading i read or saw something i don’t i don’t remember the source once but i believe it to be true that most worrying that we do is like the the issue that you’re worrying about it any solutions that you presently can come up with you’ll come up with in about five minutes and and anything beyond that is just a waste of time and energy um and it’s just where we’re hardwired to have this fight-or-flight response that is evolutionarily so old and antiquated and the things that we worry about like getting up in front of people and being funny is not a thing there’s no real reason to trigger your f your fight or flight response um and so it’s just a waste of time it’s a total head trip to get yourself it’s one thing to know that intellectually it’s something completely else to ex you know to to experience that when you’re having that level of anxiety when you said oh you could come up with the answer in about five minutes sometimes if you’re stuck in that anxiety loop you can’t come up with the answer so you maintain that and what you really need to do before you can get any other positive solutions is quell the anxiety and calm it down a little bit so that you can think and mime you could explain the brain science of why that is yeah well i think um you know that’s actually you know kevin when you were talking about this that’s sort of what i was thinking like if we take you or me i’m not a person who is selectively anxious only when i need to perform right like i’m a person who a lot of anxiety i have a lot of anxiety i mean i’m a person who has a baseline level of anxiety which um you know has been really coming out in my body meaning like i’ve been a nail biter my whole life we’ve talked about this a little bit here this is a notion of of course mind over matter is a thing but also some of us are born with a predisposition to a more anxious state and that’s not a choice right that’s not a choice any more than the other things about us you know our eye color and you know we’re born with a set of coping mechanisms we’re born with you know a set of genes that are expressed for for particular reasons and in particular you know in certain gene pools the eastern european jewish gene pool being one of them um there there’s a lot of favoring evolutionarily of vigilance genes and and high high uh hyper vigilance when people hear that i’m shy or that i’m socially anxious or that like parties make me cry um you know people are surprised to hear that i have people tell me all the time like how do i get your confidence i’m like i no i don’t i don’t consider myself a confident person and for me like a very safe place is being on stage um i was never intimidated by the audition process you know i started in school plays um you know in elementary school but mostly other kids didn’t really get me and i didn’t really get the things that other kids were interested in it hasn’t really changed much as an adult honestly but what i knew is that there was something about that approval system like really that that feedback loop worked for me um and you know for me my anxiety with performing like it’s really no different than it was when i was 10 years old standing in front of miss drake it was it’s my job to make you happy with what i do and i don’t even need to be entirely happy like how many times on on big bang theory right do we deliver a line because they told us to deliver it that way and we don’t want to deliver it that way but it gets the job done they’re happy and we move on like for me that’s what’s satisfying so when people are like oh you don’t like to watch yourself no that’s horrible like i look funny i sound funny i walk fun everything about me does not work for me that’s not my job like of course i have anxiety about all those things but that’s why it’s not my job to watch myself like that would be a curious job to have your job is to perform and then watch yourself i’m curious kevin if if you have a similar experience to anxiety if if you’re nervous on the stage or if it’s just in auditions does it like always happen for you or do you find a comfort spot you were just saying that when you’re watching yourself that’s what leads to anxiety me as a performer it’s similar if i’m thinking about myself uh then i get distracted and then i start watching myself in the moment robbing the audience of the opportunity to see me as the character and and that that’s when everything starts to go downhill when i am the most i don’t want to say confident but outside of my head when i when i’m not being self-conscious um it’s when i am able to put my attention on someone else usually if you know it’s in a scene i’m able to put my attention on one of the other actors um barring that um putting my attention on something about the imaginary circumstances that i’m in and this goes back to me that’s why i want a lot of time to prepare because i know that i need to make what’s going on in the scene more interesting than what’s going on in my head about in terms of like how i’m doing in the performance and i feel that this like most things that i believe to be true about acting are true about life i think that in life outside of performing when i become anxious it’s almost always because i’m in my head uh rather and thinking about myself rather than putting my attention out there in the world on somebody else or something else that i i think that that is to me that feels like a universal truth how do you pull yourself out what strategies techniques both on stage and in real life because i love that connection that this your anxiety and experience of anxiety is very similar in both places there was a time while we were on big bang that i had an alexander technique coach that i was seeing seeing and alexander technique is um basically it’s a it’s a way of getting rid of bad physical habits in term mostly with your posture and your alignment a lot of people carry a lot of tension in their head and neck and back and one of the fundamental principles of this technique which isn’t you know necessarily uh alexander technique isn’t just for performers but it’s great for many famous actors have endorsed it though yeah it’s basically just body mechanics and and the the the print the main principle is that you know all of us go through our lives um sort of resisting having uh both emotional responses and also habitually uh giving ourselves physical tension because we get into these like minor fight or flight responses on a daily basis throughout our day and and like a natural fight or flight response for most people is sort of like you your shoulders go up and your head goes back and i think i’m not an expert on alexander technique this may even be wrong but you know whatever it’s worth actually looking into it if if you’re interested but i i i think what winds up happening is when you do this you shorten your your rib cage you you tense up your you know your your body and your uh you know you’re you can’t really breathe no it’s not you’re not getting correct oxygen well and the reason that i brought this up um and the reason that i was so fascinated by it when you and i talked about it um well first of all the this is not an endorsement for the alexander technique in particular but what fascinated me was that the alexander technique is a perfect example of what jonathan and i really are so fascinated by which is the integration of the body and the mind and the fa the notion that the way you physically hold yourself and that when you hold yourself in certain ways that you get accumulations of you know muscle fibers doing what they have to do to support the structure of your body being held a certain way it affects things like the amount of oxygen that’s going to get to your organs it is like that that’s a real thing and once different organs and organ systems and and cells have different amounts of oxygen than your normal state it’s going to affect your mood it’s going to affect your coping it’s going to affect how you deal with things and when you had started this i had just started doing some very interesting mind-body somatic work typically mine was falls more into the category of of like ptsd therapy and and trauma work but what struck me was that so much of what you were doing and what i was doing had a similar language it was like checking in with your body knowing where your body is in space like having that awareness and mindfulness and it just got me thinking like there’s so many different ways we’re all trying to get you know at serenity lack of anxiety you know all these things um so many similar roads but also and we don’t have to get into detail but you and i also have had you know some similar ups and downs um you know in our personal lives so i also remember you know i got divorced and and i dated someone after that and had a really hard breakup and you know my father passed away during um you know during our time on the show and like we got we also all of us you know we got to be together through learning about everybody’s lives and you know we learned about each other’s relationships and and each other’s home lives and um so also i know that you know i ended up in your dressing room a lot like i may have cried once or twice in your dressing room um no but but also just really was so grateful um you know and am so grateful to know you because you understand those things about me and having people who are going through and who kind of have your kind of brain is very important especially when you have an anxious brain um because so many people i mean i don’t know what suggestions you’ve gotten in your life but you know the suggestions i’ve gotten of like you need to eat meat that’s the problem oh okay you know like you need to do a past life regression or you need to get an astrology reading or you need a full blood panel workup or you and i also share allergies right like we have a lot like we both had full panel workups we’ve we’ve both had like there’s been times when it’s been like a which skin ailment is one of us going to talk about with the other person this week in life in general i’m i don’t want to say that i’m not a spiritual person but i like evidence-based stuff one thing that i will say about alexander technique which is essentially just being aware of habitual physical tension that you have so that you can let go of it so that your body can process whatever emotion that you’re going through fully so that you can get past it rather than having some emotion come up and then squeezing it you know squeezing it down that makes sense to me in a non-spiritual way like you’re physically pres preventing yourself from from experiencing whatever emotion so like i if you’re trying to perform you can’t fully be relaxed or fully be expressive in an emotional way because you’re literally holding on to the muscles that you need in order to have a level of relaxation in your breath and physicality so that you can be fully present and i and i think that you know the reason why i started um studying alexander uh wasn’t because of a performing thing it was because i i you i don’t know if you remember this mayan but the reason why i started doing it is because i was going through a very difficult thing in my personal life and i’m not a big crier and this thing was so you know it was i was going through such a hard time that i i started crying the floodgates opened and it was like in a way it was a relief i’m used to holding back the tears and my body was like [ __ ] okay we’re going we’re doing this and i wept for like days like i was that that emotional thing in my guts was closer to the surface and i even i can’t remember if i had an audition or something i did some kind of performance related thing in that period and i realized oh there’s a whole like there’s a whole big chunk of my palette that i have not been using because it hasn’t been available to me because i always like you know sit on it and that’s when i realized oh yeah okay so the the this very difficult emotions in my real life and in my professional life have been holding me back because i’m not allowing myself to fully experience them and the irony in life i think is that when you are um repressing physically emotions whatever it is love pain fear anxiety rather than being fully open to them it’s actually more excruciating so when you are trying to like if you’re sad like you should cry because that is the body’s natural way of dealing with pain both emotional and physical but if you after a lifetime especially for a guy being told that you know don’t cry oh don’t cry even people that love you when they see that you’re upset they say don’t cry sometimes not not as like a macho thing but as uh they think that it will hurt you more it’s actually their discomfort that’s why i say don’t cry yeah yeah if they wanted you to feel better they would say cry because that’s the body’s that’s the you know you don’t need that’s the body’s way of dealing with difficult stuff and it works better than drugs and whatever weird you know you know uh coping mechanism people usually skip past the natural one of the more um uh you know reliable ways to to deal with that with that kind of thing you know my my father died um you know five years ago and i remember that the first time i had to act like the first time i had to well i mean i had to act a week later on the big bang theory you know um and i remember that for like the first year which you know i i said cottage for my father for a year and i remember it was about that timing when like all of my notes from chuck laurie were like not sad you’re not supposed to be sad you’re supposed to be angry like you know whatever the scene was like i was always fighting with sheldon that year whatever it was and he was just like why are you sad like why are you acting sad and i was like right right and so that was just an indication like oh that’s seeping through but like god knows what else seeps through all of us all the time right all of our grief that just like comes pouring out everywhere but i remember that when i i did um something that wasn’t big bang theory i think it was later that summer and i had to be sad in a scene and like i could conjure tears like that like i’ve never been able to cry on on command you know as an actor it’s not you know there’s those like soap opera actresses and they can just like instantly like pretty tears no um and i remember i used to like try and practice like looking in the mirror when i was you know younger i couldn’t do it but when my father died it was like everything was right here you know and i thought boy is that is that what it’s like you know to have that access to those emotions and i remember my therapist said to me like what you’re feeling now like in the most acute phase of grief she said hold on to it because it is the closest you’ll ever be to him and i think about that with the emotions that we have to have especially when we’re doing dramatic work you know like they have to be available you know there have been times in my life when i’ve taken medication and there have been times in my life when i haven’t taken medication and what i’ve noticed is that you know for those of us who are double triple or quadruple winners anxiety is not my only thing like it should i should be so lucky that my only thing is anxiety um but for me you know depression can get much more dangerous you know um i’ve made an active choice that even in times like now when i when i am on a medication i don’t specifically additionally medicate for anxiety and the reason is a lot you know i’m a you know i’m a person who doesn’t like to be on medication i don’t like any medication and you know but there’s a certain amount you know of anxiety that i kind of um it’s kind of with me all the time and you know if you speak to any kind of classic western psychiatrist or or really even most therapists and and if you were to go down the list the checklist of the things that you know i mark off as you know anxiety features they would be able to say like there’s a pill for that you know oh and if that one doesn’t work we got six more you can try you know and you know one of the things that they often give to us anxious people are things like xanax you know like which are essentially they’re you know they’re sedatives yeah i i was on for a little while uh i can’t even remember the name of it now it’s another really popular one well it made me really sleepy and that’s the reason why i stopped taking it not that it wasn’t effective in terms of making me less anxious but it was you were less awake it’s less time to be anxious you’re sleeping more yeah and it was just um for the type of stuff that i have to do for my job it was just this that that particular side effect didn’t didn’t work for me right and sometimes those just for the for our audience at home sometimes those side effects well those side effects affect different people differently um not everyone will have the same side effects um sometimes they go away sometimes it can be months i like to point out that there was a medication i won’t say the name of it but this medication that other people have a lot of success with people really like this drug within 36 hours of me taking it i was markedly violent wow and it was like it was a wow feeling i was like what is this feeling and i i remember i left my psychiatrist a message at the time and i said uh i’m feeling really really not okay i described to her what i was feeling and she called me right back and she said okay please stop that medication immediately so that was just a little you know note on side effects but um you know i i also have have known people who have taken medication for the first time often in their 20s or 30s and have said oh my god like i i didn’t have to live the way i was living and you know even with therapy and even with all the other things in in the world um we really you know we have a culture that that has evolved this kind of convenience you know to be able to say you’re behaving and perpetuating behavior in a way that you are deficient in certain chemicals you know yeah no i i i do think that everybody’s like biochemistry is you know it’s like everything else it’s on a sliding scale and and uh if you can if there’s a drug that that helps uh i i think that’s a that’s a great thing uh like i said the the one that i was on i just had to weigh the side if i mean it worked it served its intended purpose but just the side effects were were too like i wasn’t able to well and there are also there are other ways to manage anxiety you had a spell as a pretty avid cyclist yes i still spin i do my i broke i was i was a cyclist um and i broke my femur and now i have a spin bike that i got at the beginning of the lockdown the exercise thing not only does it create like a natural high but for me more so i think is that when i’m exercising regularly it puts me to sleep at night and getting more sleep is again another one of these natural anti-anxiety things that is huge and like many people with anxiety i have sleep issues oh boy when it’s time for me to go to sleep forget it turn okay let’s review everything i did that day that you know i have anxiety about and then weigh it against everything i’ve done in my past going back to you know when it we went from three sons to four sons i mean uh so yeah exercise if for nothing else the even without all the other great benefits of exercise just the fact that it helps you know knock me out at night is it’s great i have nothing no nothing bad to say about exercise in terms of controlling anxiety except for the fact that it’s hard um do you do you meditate you know i ha i’m not i i think meditation is great but i don’t have the discipline for i would actually rather get on my spin bike and knock myself out and then like get more sleep that night just for me everybody has their own thing i like i wish that i were more disciplined in terms of meditation when i have meditated you know it’s it’s never a bad thing uh but for me like i just it’s easier for me to get my ass on a spin bike or or like you know do push-ups or something like that um where like i can feel it easier and it doesn’t like i just i know people every therapist that i’ve ever gone to has recommended that i meditate it’s just i i don’t do it as much as i probably should i also don’t exercise as much as i probably should if i’m gonna do one of those two things it’s gonna be exercise tell us about uh the therapy that you’ve tried um yeah i mean over the years i’ve been to many different therapists and let’s see the two most helpful things were probably [Music] exercise um the and um uh meditation they the therapists are always big on meditation and i usually try it a little bit and i’m like oh yeah this is good i should do this more and before i stop and um also another big one one of my therapists at one point was like next time you get oh because one of my anxiety things that i do is i will obsess and i will like roll something over in my mind over and over and over and over again yeah and one of them was like what you should do is like take you know when you have the thing that you’re obsessing about write it down on a piece of paper so that you can you know like um not ignore it and then crumple up the piece of paper and throw it away you’ve dealt with it and now move on which goes back to the thing about like so much time that we spend like worrying and obsessing is a waste of time and and at mine i saw you make that face crumble up the piece of paper and throw it away and here’s the thing i i i set my agree with the face that you made because that for me falls under the category of sometimes that could work that there are things you and i i think we’ve talked about this as well probably in terms of like auditioning and stuff the head fake sometimes you can right psych out your brain there have been times where i’ve freaked out about an audition because i really wanted it which is like the king of anxiety when you want some you know like when the opposite of attachment leads to anxiety for example one when i auditioned for liberty heights i remember i was waiting outside uh with uh someone who would help me with this audition and uh and i said and i was waiting there and i felt the anxiety mounting and i said just to like stop obsessing about like the anxiety because i had done the work i had a lot of time i i knew that i’d done the work at this point the only thing that was going to get in the way was myself and i and to get myself out of that place i turned to the person next to me and i said you want to play a game and and we’re going to play some kind of like improv game or something and right at that moment just coincidentally the casting director said uh kevin sussman and my and because i was about to play a game my head just by accident was in sort of a playful state and i walked into the audition and i was able to play which is like the best place that you want to be however that falls under the category of like uh you know sort of a mind trick that you’re like that’s the type of thing that you can get away with once and the next time you try it your mind is like yeah no i’m on i’m on to you another example of that um i had another audition i don’t remember what it was for but i was doing the thing again where i had done the work and i felt like oh my god i can get this which is a whole like anxiety thing in itself like oh like the fact that i knew i had done good work and i could possibly get this created its own anxiety and i had done this to my screwed myself a bunch in the past with this way of thinking where like i i i know i’m good i know i’ve done the work i freak myself out i go in i have anxiety that gets in the way of me fully being great and then i i screw up the audition i’m in my car on the way home and it’s like i you know there’s no more anxiety and i do it perfectly and this one time i had done the work i was about to go in i felt myself getting anxious and i sort of like tricked my mind into in by saying you know what i know this feeling this is the feeling of you’re about to go in and screw it up so why don’t we skip that and go straight to like what you would do if you were in the car on your way home that feeling of liberation where there’s nothing at stake because you’ve already [ __ ] it up and and they called me in and i went in in that car ride on the way home mindset of complete liberation and nailed it booked the thing of course next time i auditioned i tried to get my head right in that same end and it didn’t work the loops that we get in though the fact that you can know you’re getting in a loop and so i love that idea of oh you’re about to play a game and then that tricks you like we are looking for those self tricks and we were talking about this the other day mine where one thought leads to the other leads to the other and when we’re used to allowing those thoughts to just run anxiety loops it’s very very hard when i was working on um burn burn after reading uh with uh george clooney i was talking to him about this about auditioning and nerves and he said that before er he what you know he was like a guest star on things here and there uh i worked with him on facts of life he was a regular he and i worked together on facts of life in 1988. we gotta find the pictures of that oh there is a picture i believe i would love to see that um but anyway yeah he he said that he was in a place where he’s getting like facts of life getting guest star roles and every time he went in for a lead role in a pilot he freaked himself out and would screw up the audition and then one day he basically came to terms with himself and told himself that there’s nothing when he goes in for this pilot auditions these pilot auditions for these lead roles he keeps freaking himself out and he learned to think of it like there’s he doesn’t already have the job going in so there’s nothing he has nothing to lose because he doesn’t have it already and he said that he had that that epiphany about like realizing he doesn’t have it already so there’s literally nothing to lose and he said he went in right after that epiphany auditioned for er and boom okay but everybody everybody needs to relax because here’s the thing here’s where mime’s going to ruin all of our phone everybody’s good time this is why i no longer am dating the actor i was dating because you can also be so good you can be so prepared you can be so right for it you can also kill the audition and still not get the job and this is the ultimate anxiety and neurosis of the actor and for me i go into every audition assuming i’m not gonna get it i’m a piece of [ __ ] i’m uglier fatter and less desirable than everyone else and then you just see what happens but maybe that’s what you need in order to free yourself up to just go in and do what you have to do getting yourself out of your own way is essential to see how the cards play out i get myself out of my way because i’m so distasteful that i shouldn’t even be in my own way no one should have to be that close to me i don’t know if there’s an alexander [Music] he’s very thoughtful he’s very very intelligent and um [Music] a lot of times anxious people make me very anxious but i actually feel very at home with him talk to us about the science of crying cortisol has been found to be released in tears cortisol is a stress hormone which you know the the most simple explanation of that is that crying is one of the ways that we release stress from the body we release that hormone crying is um also it is a physical process and when you think of kind of the shape that you take when when you’re racked with sobs is what they say um i cried like this just the other day you saw it it’s like you sure did your body gives out at my father’s grave i was brought to my knees with tears because like all of your energy goes towards producing these sounds um and and which can be whales you know and of course there’s cultural aspects to this you know um uh different ways we cry in general in our culture men are not encouraged to cry i remember the first time i noticed that my older son needed to cry and was holding back tears and he was probably a tween you know um and i remember thinking well well where the heck did he learn that like how does that happen it’s culture you know there’s nothing about boys that means they don’t deserve to or need to cry i’m gonna go out on a limb and i’m gonna just pick a number which is not a scientifically validated number by and it’s my favorite part of the show i would say that there is a very high percentage of men in north america who are absolutely cry constipated they just don’t know how to do it i think that’s a very very true statement y’all don’t even know how to do it it’s like you’re still like holding it in and it’s coming out here but it has to it has to come out the whole body like if you don’t hyperventilate it’s not a good cry part of this absolutely it is cultural there’s cultural aspects this but women tend to be more verbal in general women tend to be more socially um enmeshed in general we we are talking more and talking is going to lead i think to crying i am going to go on another limb and say that when you experienced that depth of crying and it literally looked like your entire soul was being wrung out i i’m not joking it were like the sounds that were coming out of you the body posture the intensity i yeah that while you couldn’t fend off an animal or protect yourself in that moment so you could have gotten like my bank account passwords at that point no you were incoherent you wouldn’t have shared anything the point here is that yes in an evolutionary standpoint you are weak from immediate predators but what you’re able to access in that moment to as a cleanse as a release of that stress hormone the depth of that ringing out i think is exceptionally powerful i don’t know i slept really well that night also everybody’s wondering why did jonathan make her cry jonathan didn’t make me it wasn’t me despite that look it still wasn’t me anyway um crying is something that that is done out loud as a way to let others know i’m hurting the cry of a newborn is supposed to be one of the most astonishingly disturbing sounds there is because it’s supposed to make you sit up out of a dead sleep and say i better tend to that thing right quick or it might die or it might die please go to my website bialik bialikbreakdown.com bia lik breakdown.com for more resources about anxiety uh about crying there you can also ask mime anything and we haven’t asked mayam anything ask thank you alyssa from los angeles asks how do i manage anxiety when i’m trying to fall asleep this actually is a great question this came up a little bit in our chat with kevin the reason that i asked him about meditation is because one of the things i started implementing which absolutely for me worked is doing guided meditations to fall asleep and there are free guided meditations that literally are designed to put you to sleep i usually start with a body scan when i’m when i’m newish or just getting back into evening meditation um it’s a very very calm voice not annoyingly calm you i use insight timer it’s a free app and you can just select you want a five minute one a ten minute one fifteen whatever you want um and that makes that makes me think about something other than what i wanna think about a lot of people also swear by uh in in 12-step programs they call it a tenth step where you review the day what what did i do that i didn’t like what did i do that went well um and sort of putting it aside overnight um you know in the jewish tradition we there’s a prayer you say which which asks god or you know something bigger than you to guard your soul while you’re sleeping and it brings there’s definitely a mantra quality to the prayers that we that we say um at night in the jewish tradition um but often working out or taking a walk um is a good idea nothing too activating i i don’t mean like you know get your sweat on for three hours but an evening walk is is something really good also really good for digestion not eating too close to the time you go to sleep
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Kevin Sussman: Weighted Blankets, Actor Anxiety & the Science of Sobbing

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