An Improv a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

A scene from my indie team “Bell Curved” during the Laugh Index Theater Summer Improv Medley

You stand there in line waiting to get your picture taken for your passport or license. In your head you can’t help but judge your own looks through the minds of others that you believe are staring at you criticizing your every flaw that you feel that you have. Your hair isn’t perfect you think. Your clothes are wrinkled. You have some crow’s feet at the corners of your eyes. You end up ruining your image of yourself because you are so fearful that others are judging you that you end up running out of line to go look at yourself in the bathroom mirror.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can be debilitating when it’s at its peak, at the minimum it causes fear that may cause nerves to kick in and you shake through whatever it is you are doing that is causing the anxiety.

I know very well what it is to have this SAD way of life. I experienced it growing up and I experienced it until I started improvising. I didn’t know at the time that this would help my anxiety in any way, I started this craft in order to just be more spontaneous and outgoing. I didn’t connect those two things to having anxiety. But now I realize that anxiety directly affects your spontaneity and outgoingness.

I took some time off after about two years of improv to really focus on the skills I learned in class. I need to apply it to my life and not just with the people I improvise with. I needed to apply being fearless at work, speaking my mind with friends, taking control of situations in every aspect. I found over the years that I gained a ton of confidence, I was able to further my career in work and have been in managerial positions for the last 15 years.

Just over a year ago, I jumped back into improv to pick back up a hobby I loved and to meet new people. Since then I have created some great friendships, learned so much more about being fearless and spontaneous and have even formed a local indie improv group that has actually found success in the local scene. In doing all this I have come across a number of people who have inspired me to be better. I have come across people who admire me the way I admired others for doing something that is so scary at first. I mean, let’s be real — as an improviser you have to make up stories, characters and locations in order for the scene to be successful. You have to listen to others, you have to respond, you have to willing to fail.

That was the biggest lesson: be willing to fail. As I navigated my way through the improv world in DC, I learned more and more about the whys people had for joining improv. Not everyone wanted to perform or be on a team. A lot of them join to conquer a fear.

In Chicago there is this therapy firm that pairs with a very prestigious improv theater there, The Second City, to help those who need to overcome Social Anxiety Disorder. They focus on the various elements of improv in order to help those with SAD live normal lives free of fear of the social setting. They focus on group cohesion, play, humor and exposure in order to break the fears.

I have discovered over the last year that paired with my passion for teaching and education, I can use improv theater as a way to help those who suffer from the same social anxiety disorder that I suffered for years. I want others to feel less fearful when in public and I have learned such an important craft to be able to help. Improv actually can be therapeutic.

For more information about The Second City’s Improv For Anxiety check out Their Website.

For more on the study of The Second City’s Program check out their study.

Works Cited

The Second City. By understanding how earlier stand-up comics…. (n.d.). Wellness. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from

Sheesley, A. P., Pfeffer, M., & Barish, B. (2016). Comedic Improv Therapy for the Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 11(2), 157–169. Retrieved from Improv Therapy for the Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder.pdf

Picture of Child with Curtain

All other media is my own work.

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