Attending public appearances was a regular part of my long broadcasting career. Emceeing, live broadcasts, presenting awards – staple ingredients in the stew of being in the public eye and trying to grow a following. Early on, I would get so nervous that I’d nearly throw up before I went on a stage.
Long before I learned about modeling behavior, I figured out ways to calm myself. Backstage, I’d close my eyes and imagine myself falling on my face as I walked out in front of the audience. My imagination would run through the crowd’s reactions: laughter, concern. And my own humiliation. I’d made myself “experience” the most embarrassing thing I could think of, survive it, and then walk out with my head held high. Teflon. Untouchable. It worked for me.
In later years, I’d ask myself what someone with real self-confidence would do and copied them. Or I’d scan the entertainment calendar for events on the same night as whatever I was doing. “Jann Arden is playing a sold out show at Massey Hall. Almost 3,000 people. Now SHE has something to be nervous about! This is nothing!” Weirdly, that made me feel better, too. I refused to sit in my nervousness and stay there. A beer (or three) certainly helped. Liquid courage. But I stopped drinking in the 90s and therefore, stopped self-medicating.
Then there was a Canadian actress I cohosted a live event with years ago. Her friendly demeanor shifted once she peeked out and saw the size of the crowd. She became incredibly nervous but instead of dealing with it, she went into raging diva mode. Everything was wrong! She melted into a full-blown tantrum. The pens don’t work. She wasn’t happy with the microphone she was given. She threw a full water bottle across the room. How can she POSSIBLY work under these conditions? What are you (including me) a bunch of amateurs? It was a master class in how not to handle stage fright.
Eventually, the confidence that I had faked became real. Butterflies went away and I no longer needed to picture myself splayed flat on the stage after tripping over my feet. So, if confidence can be faked until it’s made, what about happiness? Can you smile your way out of a blue mood? And could I – and others who experience severe depression – improve our disposition by faking it?
When you’re genuinely depressed, not just feeling down, smiling is the last thing you want to do. But a new study published in the journal, Nature, finds that turning a frown upside down can improve your frame of mind. The nuts and bolts of the research is complex, but the conclusion is that a facial expression has an effect on mood.
Does this mean that all of those times an older man told me to “smile sweetheart!”, I should have listened?! I KID. Don’t ever tell a woman to smile. She will despise you for it forever. Seriously. And please don’t tell someone who’s depressed to smile, either. Or go for a walk in nature, or any other advice you think is helpful. You’ll sound dismissive and simplistic, like you don’t understand what they’re going through. But if they decide to try this smiling thing that’s a different story.
Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to stand-up comedy as my preferred art form. It will make me laugh whether I want to or not. Maybe I have been self-medicating all along. I’ve simply traded alcohol for humour.