London Film Academy

Tips for looking after your mental health as a filmmaker

20 September 2021

Filmmaking is the industry that makes magic happen, creating new worlds, exploring new stories and making the impossible possible. To realise ones’ imagination, a lot of hard work, sweat and determination is needed behind-the-scenes. The reality is: having a career in the screen industry often means long days, tough working conditions, a lot of stress and unexpected challenges.

The pressure that the filmmaking lifestyle puts on an individual’s mental wellbeing has been spoken about more loudly than ever in the last two years, following a report commissioned by the Film and TV Charity, The Looking Glass, as well as the attention that was brought to the difficulties of freelancing during the COVID pandemic and lockdowns. The Looking Glass report interviewed 9,000 industry professionals working in the UK’s media sector and found that almost 90% of off-screen filmmakers had experienced some form of mental health issue on the job. This figure is significantly higher than the 65% average in the rest of the general population, who had experienced mental health issues at work. The problems that the report raised were relentless long hours, a lack of work-life balance, social isolation, work stress, and even drug and alcohol dependency. Speaking with Variety, Alex Pumfrey, the CEO of The Film and TV Charity, said:

There isn’t sufficient support for people in the right place at the right time and in the right way. There are big, seismic shifts that need to happen, and they are certainly not going to happen overnight.

Alex Pumfrey, Film and TV Charity

At LFA, we equip our students with the practical, hands-on skills and experience that they need to get on the right road towards the film industry. Alongside those creative skills, we’re keen to ensure that the next generation of filmmakers are fully prepared for the reality of the industry that they’re about to step into, so that we can foster positive change within our sector. We believe that, as an educational institution, we have a responsibility to train our creatives in mental resilience and self-care, as well as creative expression, so that their wellbeing need not suffer alongside their creative success.

Look below at our top tips for maintaining your wellbeing, as a practitioner within the film industry. At the bottom is a list of resources and helplines to reach out to for further support, should you need it.

Stay well fueled

No matter what industry you are a part of, maintaining healthy levels of sleep, nutrition, and hydration are key to supporting your mental wellbeing. Putting in place these foundations are essential to remaining calm, collected, and focused on set.

  • Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and establish a night-time routine to encourage a stable sleeping pattern. This could include reading or taking a bath before bed, or simply turning off your phone 30 minutes before sleep!
  • Eat regularly throughout the day, and try to maintain a balanced diet. Drops in blood-sugar can cause mood swings and a slump in energy, so make sure to keep eating!
  • Dehydration can cause adverse mental, as well as physical, health effects. When you’re on set, your body needs to consume enough water to keep you energized. Always take a refillable water bottle to set, and make sure to get your recommended 2 litres per day!

Take breaks

Research undertaken by the Wellcome Trust suggests that taking regular breaks from focused work can reduce your risk of mental health issues, as well as enhance productivity. Of course, with tight schedules on set, and limited shooting time, taking regular breaks isn’t always easy. As little as 2-5 minutes' worth of fresh air, walking, or sitting down for a cup of tea or in a new environment can make a huge difference to your stress levels throughout the day. Communicate with your AD on set to ensure that you’re getting the breaks that you need; everything will look a little brighter when you return!

Practice mindfulness and breathwork exercises

Mindfulness and breathwork exercises are simple, yet effective, ways to calm the noise in your head and set you back on track. The practice of mindfulness can be as minimal as taking notice of the rhythm of your breathing and noticing the thoughts that arise unprompted. A useful anxiety management technique is a body scan, where you move your attention slowly to the sensations felt through different parts of the body, starting in the feet, and moving up to the top of your head. This is a great opportunity to calm down, if taking a break from a busy set is not an option, since mindfulness and breathwork can be practiced anywhere and are unnoticeable to anybody else around you. These practices can help us to manage difficult or explosive emotions in the moment.

Make time and space for your own wellbeing

In order to avoid acute anxiety, mood swings, and emotional stress in difficult moments, we can put in place a support system for ourselves which will help ensure that we are grounded and fulfilled in our spare time. Physical exercise is a great way of relieving stress and clearing your mind. Exercise doesn’t have to be a marathon or a weight session; it can be as simple as a short walk, quick yoga stretches, or a dance around your bedroom! Exercising releases endorphins which improves our mood and revitalizes our brain chemistry.

Another simple self-care practice is journaling; simply writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to understand them more clearly, as well as remove them from your head, where they can spiral into unhealthy self-talk and negative assumptions. Don’t worry about writing a memoir! Even 10 minutes of writing about your feelings can help you feel like a load has been lifted.

Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate; it can be as simple as putting on your favourite film, cooking yourself a healthy meal, reading a good book or simply tidying up your room. Start small, and you’ll see the benefits in no time!

Help others

It might seem counterintuitive but sometimes when we need help, we can find benefits from reaching out and helping others in need. Volunteering to help those less fortunate than ourselves can boost our mental wellbeing by giving us access to social interaction, a sense of purpose and meaning, as well as the gratitude to appreciate what we have in our own lives. Volunteering can help us connect with those around us and make us feel more of a part of our local community, whilst empowering us with the knowledge that our actions have made a positive difference in someone else’s life, even if we aren’t in the most positive place ourselves.

Take a look at the link below to scout out volunteering opportunities in the LFA local area, in Fulham.

Click here for Hammersmith and Fulham volunteer centre

Help yourself

Only 7% of the respondents to the Looking Glass survey said that they would speak to a superior or head of department about an issue they were having with their mental health. A problem shared is a problem halved, and reaching out for help, even if it’s just for a 5-minute conversation or a quick check-in, can put our minds at ease and help us feel like a weight has been lifted. If you’re feeling anxious on set, or struggling with your mental health in your personal life, try to talk to your head of department or producer, or if that seems too intimidating, speak to another crew member who you feel confident confiding in. You could also speak to your support network in your personal life, your personal tutor or course leader at LFA, or the LFA counsellor, Denise Winn, for long-term support.

If you’re looking for immediate crisis support, here is a list of helplines below:

 

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