Celebrities Talk About Anxiety — And Show Us How to Deal With Ours
A constant nervous feeling, sweating palms, a rapidly increasing heart rate and a vague sense of impending doom. These are just some of the common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Many of us have felt anxiety and dealt with its symptoms to some degree. But for more than 40 million Americans, that vague sense that you might’ve forgotten to feed the cats before you left for work is a lifelong issue. Anxiety disorders manifest themselves in various ways, from GAD to obsessive-compulsive disorder to panic disorder. While symptoms range in terms of severity, in its more extreme forms, anxiety can affect every aspect of your life, from work to dating to merely going out in public.
While an estimated 18% of adults live with an anxiety disorder, there’s still a stigma associated with having one. However, there are people seeking to normalize the public perception of anxiety disorders, and they’re not all doctors and researchers. Celebrities are also bringing the conversation about anxiety into the mainstream by talking openly about their own experiences with anxiety disorders. Here are just a few of them.
1. Jennifer Lawrence
Your celebrity BFF Jennifer Lawrence is pretty effing fearless, especially when it comes to talking about her battle with anxiety. Like many others who grapple with it, Lawrence began dealing with anxiety as a teen. At first, she didn’t know what it was.
“When I started school, the light went out. It was never known what it was, a kind of social anxiety,” she told Madame Figaro. She finally went to a therapist who gave her prescription medication.
For Lawrence, the combination of therapy and medication has helped her deal with the stress of being a public figure. “I find a certain peace by thinking of me in public as sort of an avatar self. You out there can have the avatar me. I can keep me. And I just try to acknowledge that this scrutiny is stressful, and that anyone would find it stressful,” she recently told the New York Times.
2. Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham has been open about living with an anxiety disorder, telling People in 2014 that despite her enormous success, she has “kind of worn anxiety grooves into my brain. It just doesn’t always sound good in there.” But Dunham doesn’t just talk about living with anxiety. She also shows people what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder through her character Hannah Horvath on Girls, who, like Dunham, has OCD. (Remember that Q-tip scene?)
Although Dunham sees a therapist and takes medication, she’s also talked about how exercise has been a godsend in helping her treat her anxiety disorder.
“To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.” (She may be on to something: According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise is a vital part of keeping mentally fit and warding off symptoms of anxiety by reducing feelings of stress and stabilizing mood.)
3. Emma Stone
The Academy Award-nominated actress has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks since she was a kid. “The first time I had a panic attack I was sitting in my friend’s house, and I thought the house was burning down,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “I called my mom and she brought me home, and for the next three years it just would not stop.”
So what has helped her deal with panic disorder? In one word, acting, which helped Stone focus her mind so that she wasn’t able to dwell on her feelings of anxiety. “There’s something about the immediacy of acting,” she said. “You can’t afford to think about a million other things. You have to think about the task at hand. Acting forces me to sort of be like a Zen master: What is happening right in this moment?”
While the 6 million Americans who deal with panic disorder might not be able to follow Stone’s lead, that advice can be applied to the practice of mindfulness, which encourages people to take deep breaths and live in the moment. Mindfulness can be an important tool in fighting anxiety: In fact, it’s been suggested that regular meditation can make us more compassionate and resistant to stress.
4. David Beckham
While women are 60% more likely than men to suffer from anxiety disorders, men aren’t completely immune. Soccer star David Beckham, for instance, has revealed in the past that he has OCD, which can manifest itself in repetitive, ritualistic behavior involving sorting or cleanliness.
“I’ve got this obsessive-compulsive disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs,” Beckham said in a 2006 TV interview. “I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere … Everything has to be perfect.”
At the time, Beckham was praised for coming forward with his struggles with the disorder, which is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. “There is still a lot of stigma about the condition and even GPs are not very good at picking up on it,” a representative for OCD U.K. told the Independent. “Young men in particular are often reluctant to come forward and ask for treatment, so to have someone like David Beckham come out and talk about it is very good.”
5. Whoopi Goldberg
For years, the View co-host grappled with a specific form of anxiety: an airline travel phobia, or fear of flying. In 2011, she told CNN that she had avoided flying for nearly 30 years, after witnessing a mid-air collision on the balcony of her hotel room. For decades, she traveled cross-country by bus or train until she opted for a form of exposure therapy, a common treatment for phobias: an airline program targeted at anxious flyers. “Some people are meant to fly,” she said. “And I don’t know if I was meant to fly, but I do it now.”
While Adele might seem like a natural on stage, the singer has an extreme form of stage fright. In 2011, at the height of her fame, Adele told Rolling Stone that she regularly suffered from anxiety attacks, which are often prompted by her demanding performance schedule.
“I’m scared of audiences,” she told Rolling Stone. “One show in Amsterdam I was so nervous, I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile-vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.”
Like so many of us, it was Beyoncé who helped Adele overcome her problems. After having a panic attack before meeting Queen Bey, Adele took a page out of the Sasha Fierce playbook and developed her own alter ego: Sasha Carter, a combination of Sasha Fierce and June Carter who exhibits grace in the face of anxiety-inducing situations. This helped Adele build her confidence and get through some of her anxiety attacks.
7. Oprah Winfrey
Even if you’re basically the Queen of All Things Media, that doesn’t mean you’re impervious to the occasional anxiety attack. That’s what Oprah taught us when she described what it was like to have a panic attack back in 2012, on the set of Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
“In the beginning, it was just sort of speeding and a kind of numbness and going from one thing to the next thing to the next thing,” she told Access Hollywood. “I will tell you when I realized that I thought, ‘All right, if I don’t calm down I’m gonna be in serious trouble.’ I was in the middle of doing voiceovers, you know? And I remember closing my eyes in between each page because looking at the page and the words at the same time was too much stimulation for my brain.”
8. Chris Evans
The action star has discussed his battle with anxiety in numerous interviews, claiming that he finds it difficult to live in the public eye without crumbling under pressure. “I… struggle with anxiety sometimes, especially when promoting films like this,” Evans told ShortList Magazine while promoting Captain America. “Just the life of doing what I do, being in the public eye, it’s a stressful environment.”
After winning the role of Captain America, Evans went into therapy, which seems to have helped him learn that “it is really good just to talk about what you’re struggling with,” he told the New York Times. “It’s not like I had any massive breakthrough, but for some reason this feels more manageable.”