In a new interview, Emma Stone has opened up about her struggle with debilitating anxiety as a young girl.
Stone appears on the cover of the January 2017 issue of Rolling Stone. (Incidentally, she’s the first woman to appear alone on the front of the iconic magazine since Kim Kardashian in July 2015, to which we can only say – come on, Rolling Stone.)
Speaking about her childhood growing up in Arizona, Stone says that she used to suffer from regular panic attacks which felt like “my brain naturally zooming ahead to the worst-case scenario.”
“When I was about seven, I was convinced the house was burning down,” the 28-year-old actor continues. “I could sense it. Not a hallucination, feeling I couldn’t breathe, like the world was going to end.”
Although these dramatic “flare-ups” of panic would happen from time to time, generally Stone’s “anxiety was constant”, she says. “I would ask my mom a hundred times how the day was gonna lay out. What time was she gonna drop me off? Where was she gonna be? What would happen at lunch?”
As well as emotional symptoms, such as feelings of dread and a fear of losing control, acute anxiety can also have very real physical indicators – including dizziness, nausea and stomach cramps.
Stone says that she experienced both the mental and physical impact of anxiety as a child, with “feeling nauseous” a regular part of everyday life.
“At a certain point, I couldn’t go to friends’ houses anymore,” the star of La La Land says. “I could barely get out the door to school.”
Eventually Stone’s parents sent her to see a therapist, which she says helped enormously.
“I wrote this book called I Am Bigger Than My Anxiety that I still have,” she explains. “I drew a little green monster on my shoulder that speaks to me in my ear and tells me all these things that aren’t true. And every time I listen to it, it grows bigger.”
Stone’s imaginary anxiety monster was powerful, she says, but it was also conquerable. “If I listen to it enough, it crushes me. But if I turn my head and keep doing what I’m doing – let it speak to me, but don’t give it the credit it needs – then it shrinks down and fades away.”
Watch: What not to say to an anxiety sufferer
Taking part in improv and sketch comedy at a local youth theatre also acted as a release for the youthful Stone. “You have to be present in improv, and that’s the antithesis of anxiety,” she says.
In speaking about her anxiety, Stone joins a growing list of stars who have opened up about their mental health. Earlier this year, Selena Gomez announced that she would be taking a career hiatus after experiencing panic attacks, depression and anxiety as a side effect of lupus, a disease which affects the body’s immune system. Fearne Cotton recently spoke for the first time about struggling with depression, while Amanda Seyfriend has been frank about using antidepressants to help her manage the symptoms of her OCD.
The most recent figures from the NHS show that one in five women in the UK have reported a mental illness in recent years, but many people who experience mental health problems still face significant stigma and discrimination, according to the charity Mind. As more celebrities speak out about mental health, the more the issue becomes part of our everyday conversation – and that can only be a good thing.
Images: Rex Features