Vv Magazine’s Lauren Coholan faces her fears at Second City’s Improv for Anxiety.
I pitched an article idea in an editorial meeting a couple of weeks ago – a first-hand account of Improv for Anxiety. The editors and other writers agreed – unanimously, in fact – that readers would be intrigued. Without a single objection to give me the chance to back-pedal, I was assigned the task of discovering both my inner Dalai Lama and Tina Fey just seconds after I’d recklessly mouthed the story suggestion out loud. Just thinking about cracking jokes in front of a room full of unimpressed strangers made my cheeks burn red, and I immediately regretted what I’d done. I’m a writer for a reason — I like having a buffer between my sense of humour and comedic failure.
I’m not alone in this either. Public speaking is one of North Americans’ top fears, even topping the fear of death. That means people are literally more afraid to deliver a speech to a room full of strangers than die a terrifying, untimely death.
While I consider myself to be a somewhat social and outgoing person, I — like many — suffer from moderate anxiety. I’ve allowed to creep into different, not to mention very strange, area’s of my life. Just recently I was caught avoiding an old friend in the grocery store — not because I didn’t want to speak to him, but because I worried I’d get frazzled and clam up not knowing what to say or where to begin. The thought of ducking out of sight from my real-life friends made improv suddenly seem more appealing to me. If getting the nerve back to socialize with my actual friends meant making a fool of myself in front of a room full of strangers, then I was willing to be vulnerable.
After stewing about it for weeks, the day finally came. I arrived at Second City for the 6pm improv class. I gave myself a quick pep talk and I did my best to remain calm. The truth is, once the class started, it wasn’t all that bad. I was surprised to see how many people were there. Some looked and acted like pros, but there were also a few wallflowers, like myself. We were split into groups and given a number of instructions. One game had us replicating strand sounds and then creating new ones; another game asked us to create a story with each person contributing only a few words at a time. The funniest part of the night was when we had to try to make the person beside us get up from their seat by making him or her feel uncomfortable (you can imagine the hilarity that ensued). The improv teacher actually told us that we shouldn’t try to be funny, but that we should be as open and as honest with ourselves as possible.
One of the most important parts of an improv class, it turns out, is that you learn to fail. You try something out, and sometimes it’s awkward and horrible, and that’s okay. The class, like life, goes on. It’s not the end of the world for you or anybody else if you happen to be awesome, subpar, or just plain middle-of-the-road mediocre. We can’t all be Tina Fey, but I’d like to think I would have killed it on Train 48. Did going to improv suddenly cure my anxiety? No. But If I continue to challenge myself to do the things that scare me, maybe one day I’ll actually be excited to run into an old friend in the grocery store.
While my idea for this article started off as a fun way to face my fear, it turned into something much bigger. I know I’m not the only one who notices how awkward it feels to actually dial a phone number these days or knock on someone’s door. We are turning into a generation of people who communicate through a computer screen, and the lack of human interaction is most definitely making it harder to have face-to-face conversations. In order to grow, we need to constantly force ourselves out of our comfort zones. This experience has inspired me to continue pushing myself into situations that are difficult — so that I can become the fearless woman I know exists somewhere underneath the insecurity. So what adventure is next? Well, I’m not going to be skydiving to conquer my fear of heights any time soon, that’s for sure.
Would you try Improv for Anxiety at Second City? Share them with us in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.