Emma Stone has always been very open about her anxiety. Way back in 2011, when she was first becoming known for her work in Superbad and Easy A and long before she became an Academy Award winner, she told Glamour about her mental health journey. “I had massive anxiety as a child,” she said at the time. “I was in therapy. From eight to 10, I was borderline agora-phobic. I could not leave my mom’s side. I don’t really have panic attacks anymore, but I had really bad anxiety.”
Ever since, she’s continued to speak openly and frankly about mental health. The latest example? On Monday, October 1, she appeared alongside Child Mind Institute cofounder and president Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., for a discussion on mental health disorders and the stigmas that surround them. Titled “Great Minds Think Unalike,” the panel worked to shed light on the challenges of living with anxiety—which, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, affects 40 million adults each year (making it the most common mental illness in the U.S.).
Onstage Stone described the moment she had her first panic attack at seven years old. “Before I went into second grade, I had my first panic attack,” she said. “It was really, really terrifying and overwhelming; I was over at a friend’s house and all of a sudden I was absolutely convinced the house was on fire and it was going to burn down. I was just sitting in her bedroom, and obviously the house wasn’t on fire—but there was nothing in me that didn’t think we weren’t going to die.”
Suffering from what she and her mother later learned was a panic attack, Stone explains that these feelings of anxiousness continued for the next two years. “I couldn’t go to friends’ houses, I had deep separation anxiety with my mom…. I was so paranoid about everything,” she explained. “We truly thought I wasn’t going to be able to move out of the house and move away ever. How would I go to college? How would I do any of this if I couldn’t be at a friend’s house for five minutes?”
As she grew older Stone was able to better manage her anxiety, a skill she attributes to her supportive family and years of “transformative” therapy. It helped her realize that while the disorder was a part of her life, it did not define her. “It’s so normal,” she said. “Everyone experiences a version of anxiety or worry in their lives, and maybe we go through it in a different or more intense way for longer periods of time, but there’s nothing wrong with you.”
In fact, the Maniac actress said anxiety can be viewed in a positive light. “To be a sensitive person that cares a lot, that takes things in in a deep way is actually part of what makes you amazing, and is one of the greatest gifts of life,” she said. “You think a lot, you feel a lot, you feel deeply—it’s the best.”
When asked how she continues to manage her anxiety every day in the midst of her hectic production schedule, Stone explained that she sticks to a routine that works for her. “I go to a therapist, I meditate, and I talk to people very quickly now—instead of isolating I reach out.” Most of all, Stone said pushing herself outside of her comfort zone (as in: today’s panel) proves to be wholly restorative, especially if it means she’s able to help others. “[It’s] healing to just talk about it and own it and realize that this is something that is part of me, but it is not who I am,” she said. “And if that can help anybody…if I can do anything to say, ‘Hey, I get it, and I’m there with you, and you can still get out there and achieve dreams and form really great relationships and connections,’ then I hope I’m able to do that.”