How Emma Stone Battled Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Photo: James McCauley/REX Shutterstock.
We already have a huge friend crush on Emma Stone, and her Wall Street Journal profile last week intrigued us even more. When speaking about her childhood in Arizona, she revealed a little more about her inner workings, including her experience with anxiety and panic attacks:

"The first time I had a panic attack I was sitting in my friend’s house, and I thought the house was burning down. I called my mom and she brought me home, and for the next three years it just would not stop. I would go to the nurse at lunch most days and just wring my hands. I would ask my mom to tell me exactly how the day was going to be, then ask again 30 seconds later. I just needed to know that no one was going to die and nothing was going to change."

For those who have had their own experiences with panic attacks — the pounding heartbeat, shortness of breath, and intense fear — this is a familiar and frightening scenario. These symptoms usually heighten to a peak over the course of a few minutes before subsiding. And they're often accompanied by feelings of losing control or a fear of danger when there isn't any real threat.

Having occasional panic attacks can be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. But when the attacks become more regular, they can be considered a condition on their own: panic disorder, which affects up to 6% of the U.S. population over their lifetimes. Adults who have panic disorder usually experienced their first attack during childhood or adolescence (often before age 25). After the first attack, the disorder is characterized by severe anxiety over having another attack. Generalized anxiety during childhood is also associated with developing other disorders down the line, including social phobia and depression.

When Stone discovered acting, thankfully she says the "immediacy" of it kept her mind off of anxiety-provoking thoughts. "You can’t afford to think about a million other things," she explained. "You have to think about the task at hand."

That's exactly the mindfulness-based strategy that some anxiety sufferers have found helpful. No, performing in front of a bunch of people probably isn't going to help everyone with anxiety. But learning to focus on what's happening in the moment seems to help many of us gain perspective and realize that we're going through something difficult — and whatever it is doesn't define us. Staying in the present can help keep us from worrying about what might happen down the road. And that's why it's a big part of finding a way to be comfortable being you.

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