Although Emma Stone is known for her outgoing and confident female roles on the screen and being calm, collected, and always quick to laugh when she’s out on the red carpet or goofing around on late night talk shows, she has recently opened up about the fact that she’s struggled with serious anxiety and panic since childhood. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Birdman, Zombieland, and Easy A actress recalls her first ever panic attack, experienced at the age of eight. “I was sitting in my friend’s house, and I thought the house was burning down,” she admitted. “I called my mom and she brought me home, and for the next three years it just would not stop… 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.”
The Actress’ Childhood Problems with Panic Attacks and Agoraphobia
As many people who have suffered through panic attacks know, it’s the terrifying, overwhelming fear that something bad and unstoppable is about to happen that has your heart racing and palms sweating as you struggle to take in each breath. For Stone, her need for constant reassurance kept her at her mother’s side. “I was just kind of immobilized by it,” she revealed in a 2012 interview, “I didn’t want to go to my friends’ houses or hang out with anybody, and nobody really understood.” The debilitating worry of a possible attack occurring at any time was so strong that, from the ages of 8 to 10, Stone was diagnosed as borderline agoraphobic, a person who fears and avoids places or situations where help or escape is hard to find. She would often be found at the school nurse’s office during lunch, just sitting there, wringing her hands with worry.
Coping with Anxiety through Comedy and Acting
Fortunately, Stone’s parents were able to find a therapist who, over the years, helped her work through her fears. However, she mentions that what really helped calm her anxiety was getting involved in improv comedy, which is a form of expressive therapy. Expressive therapy uses creative expression, alternative communication approaches, and physiological intervention to lessen the impact of anxiety. In other words, it allows those with anxiety to express their worry in a creative way, providing valuable forms of release. “It gave me a sense of purpose. I wanted to make people laugh,” Stone recalled, “comedy was my sport. It taught me how to roll with the punches.”
Stone’s foray in comedy, which started around the age of 11, eventually lead to her pursuit of acting, another form of expressive therapy. She talks about how acting helps her achieve a sort of mindfulness, stating: “There’s something about the immediacy of acting. You can’t afford to think about a million other things. You have to think of the task at hand. Acting forces me to be a zen master: What is happening right in this moment?” By 14, Stone’s passion for being on stage had her hooked. She put together an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, complete with soundtrack, as a means of convincing her parents to let her to drop out of school, move to Hollywood, and pursue a career in acting. They agreed, and now, years later, despite a rough start and numerous rejections, her natural talent and affability has not only made her a favorite to watch, but also one to work with. As famous director Woody Allen has said, “My God, this girl is remarkable.”
Dealing with the Pressure One Day at a Time, and Continuing to Manage Anxiety
These days, the 26-year old actress admits that she still suffers from some anxiety and knows she’ll always have certain issues, like overthinking or second guessing herself. However, her panic attacks have lessened and she has been able to cope with stress by rechanneling her feelings into other activities she enjoys, especially creative endeavors like baking. “I was just baking all the time. It seemed like it made me feel, if I put these in, I’ll know what the outcome is,” she said when asked about how she dealt with pressure on set of The Amazing Spiderman. Stone’s continuing success in being able to refocus her anxiety and panic is a great reminder that although your anxiety may never completely go away, it doesn’t have to. Some anxiety is normal, and there are always productive ways to overcome it and live a positive and rewarding life.