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Emma Stone has long used her platform to raise awareness and speak openly about mental health issues, including the debilitating anxiety she suffered from as a child. The Oscar-winning actor started having panic attacks at age 7, and while acting and therapy helped her manage the condition, she still experiences symptoms to this day. In a new interview with NPR on Thursday, the Poor Things actress revealed the roots of her childhood anxiety — and why she now sees it as a “gift.”
Stone experienced her first panic attack at a friend’s house, and recalled being certain that “the house was on fire… despite all evidence to the contrary,” she told NPR. Her chest got tight, a common physical symptom of anxiety, and she called her mom, who came to pick her up.
As her anxiety persisted, Stone struggled to leave the house or go to school and started seeing a therapist around age eight. “I sort of lived in fear of these panic attacks,” she said. Now, she believes that a trigger for the issue was her “massive separation anxiety” when away from her mother. “For some reason, I convinced myself that if I wasn’t watching out for her, that something terrible could happen to her… as if I was the parent and she was the child,” Stone said.
She knew her anxiety was irrational, but “you’re convinced of certain things with anxiety,” and especially as a child, it was hard to talk herself out of the feelings until she had the “tools” and the “understanding” of the condition, Stone explained — tools she eventually gained through therapy.
It’s not the first time Stone has talked about her experience in therapy. Speaking on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2017, Stone explained that “I benefited in a big way from therapy,” as well as acting and participating in improv. “I was a very, very, very anxious child and I had a lot of panic attacks,” she recalled. “I still have anxiety to this day.”
Stone now serves on the board of directors for the Child Mind Institute, a children’s mental health organization that she’s been involved with since 2017. “[Anxiety] has always been something that I’ve lived with and it flares up in big ways at different times in my life,” Stone said her first video campaign with the organization. “Sometimes while it’s happening, like while I’m in a phase of big turmoil, it feels like it’s never gonna end — but it does.”
In the NPR interview, Stone also opened up about the flip side of her anxiety and why she sees it “as a kind of superpower.”
“If you can use it for productive things, if you can use all of those feelings… for something creative, or something that you’re passionate about, or something interesting, anxiety is like rocket fuel because you can’t help but get out of bed and do things,” the La La Land star explained. “You’ve got all of this energy within you. And that’s really a gift.”
The knee-jerk reaction is to see anxiety and other mental health conditions as a negative. And while these conditions can certainly be serious and difficult to deal with, Stone wanted to challenge that assumption and the stigma that comes with it. Just because people with anxiety “might have a funny thing going on in our amygdala, and our fight-or-flight response is maybe a little bit out of whack in comparison to many people’s brain chemistry, it doesn’t make it wrong,” she explained. “It doesn’t make it bad. It just means we have these tools to manage.”
A version of this article was originally published in 2017.
Before you go, read about more stars who shared their health issues to end stigma: