Anxiety of any measure is uncomfortable. From tangled webs of worries about things that may not even happen, to navigating the physiological symptoms of nausea, butterflies and rapid breathing, the condition is common amid even the most seemingly put-together women amongst us. Here, five famous women share their very different experiences with anxiety – from its socially debilitating nature to hiding it at work – and GRAZIA’s resident psychologist Gemma Cribb weighs in on how to deal with each.
IF YOU TRY TO CONTROL EVERYTHING LIKE KRISTEN STEWART
“Between ages 15 and 20, it was really intense. I was constantly anxious. I was kind of a control freak,” says Stewart. “If I didn’t know how something was going to turn out, I would make myself ill, or just be locked up or inhibited in a way that was really debilitating … At one point, you just let go and give yourself to your life. I have finally managed that and I get so much more out of life. I’ve lived hard for such a young person, and I’ve done that to myself — but I’ve come out the other end not hardened but strong. I have an ability to persevere that I didn’t have before. It’s like when you fall on your face so hard and the next time, you’re like, Yeah, so? I’ve fallen on my face before.” – Kristen Stewart.
ADVICE: “Inability to cope with uncertainty is one of the corner stones of anxiety,” says Cribb. “When they don’t know ‘how things will turn out’, people with anxiety tend to assume that the worst thing will happen. They also doubt their ability to cope with that worst case scenario, which is what fuels the anxiety. What Kristen says is very true: if you can remind yourself of times when you have coped after ‘falling on your face’ when you are worried about something, your confidence will improve and your anxiety will decrease.”
IF YOUR ANXIETY IS SOCIALLY DEBILITATING LIKE LENA DUNHAM
“I’ve always been anxious, but I haven’t been the kind of anxious that makes you run ten miles a day and make a lot of calls on your Blackberry. I’m the kind of anxious that makes you be like, ‘I’m not going to be able to come out tonight, tomorrow night or maybe for the next 67 nights.’” – Lena Dunham.
ADVICE: “When people are anxious one of the ways they can cope is to avoid the things that trigger their anxiety,” explains Cribb. “Particularly people who experience anxiety in social situations and those that experience panic attacks can tend to hermit themselves. There is even a condition called agoraphobia which comes about after continued avoidance where people can feel unable to leave their house! If you experience anxiety the best thing you can do to conquer it is to ‘face your fear’ and do the things that make you uncomfortable.”
IF YOU PRESENT AS A HAPPY-GO-LUCKY PERSON BUT INSIDE YOU FEEL INSECURE LIKE KRISTEN BELL
“I present that very cheery bubbly person, but I also do a lot of work, I do a lot of introspective work and I check in with myself when I need to exercise and I got on a prescription when I was really young to help with my anxiety and depression and I still take it today. And I have no shame in that because my mom had said if you start to feel this way, talk to your doctor, talk to a psychologist and see how you want to help yourself. And if you do decide to go on a prescription to help yourself, understand that the world wants to shame you for that, but in the medical community, you would never deny a diabetic his insulin. Ever.” – Kristen Bell.
ADVICE: “A lot of people feel that having anxiety or depression makes them a ‘bad’ person and feel ashamed of it,” says Cribb. “A more helpful way to think about it is that having these conditions just represent a lack of skills or natural bodily aptitudes in a certain area. Just like some people need help learning languages or becoming skilful in playing sports, whether you need help in managing unhelpful thinking patterns, building interpersonal skills, coping with strong emotions, the key to overcoming anxiety and depression often lies in learning how to help yourself in your particular problem area.”
IF YOU WORRY EXCESSIVELY ABOUT THINGS THAT HAVEN’T HAPPENED LIKE EMMA STONE
“My brain naturally zooms 30 steps ahead to the worst-case scenario.”
“When I was about seven, I was convinced the house was burning down. I could sense it. Not a hallucination, just a tightening in my chest, feeling I couldn’t breathe, like the world was going to end. There were some flare-ups like that, but my anxiety was constant. I would ask my mum 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? Feeling nauseous. At a certain point, I couldn’t go to friends’ houses anymore–I could barely get out the door to school. It’s just how I’m wired.” – Emma Stone.
ADVICE: “Emma is describing a condition called Generalised Anxiety Disorder,” says Cribb. “People often have this anxiety disorder from a young age and it is characterised by excessive worry and fear of uncertainty. People who have this condition like to seek reassurance as it makes them feel better (for example, Emma asking her mother ‘where will you be?’), they like to try to control things to minimise the uncertainty, they also can try to avoid things (for example Emma avoided going to her friend’s houses). Even if you think this is ‘how you are wired’, the good news is that our brains are neuroplastic which means you can change your ‘wiring’ and learn skills to overcome your anxiety.”
IF YOU SUFFER PANIC ATTACKS LIKE ELLIE GOULDING
“I was skeptical at first because I’d never had therapy, but not being able to leave the house was so debilitating. And this was when my career was really taking off. My surroundings would trigger a panic attack, so I couldn’t go to the studio unless I was lying down in the car with a pillow over my face. I used to beat myself up about it.” – Ellie Goulding.
ADVICE: “Ellie is describing a condition called Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia,” explains Cribb. “People who experience panic attacks often don’t want to leave the house for fear that they will have another panic attack. This fear of having such an attack makes them more anxious and sensitive to the first signs of anxiety, which when they feel those first signs makes them panic. This is how it gets into a vicious cycle. The good news is Panic disorder is very curable as soon as you learn how to manage your anxiety and has a really great recovery rate so there is no reason to beat yourself up of feel like you are broken or bad.”