Emma Stone, star of the upcoming film The Amazing Spider-Man, recently revealed in an interview with Vogue that she has battled panic attacks since she was a child. The 23-year old, who has also appeared in such hit movies as The Help and Superbad, tells the magazine she experienced her first panic attack when she was only eight years old.
“I was just kind of immobilized by it,” she explains. “I didn’t want to go to my friends’ houses or hang out with anybody, and nobody really understood.”
Panic disorder — a type of anxiety disorder marked by panic attacks — occurs in approximately five percent of adolescents, and is less common in children, according to Massachusetts General Hospital statistics. Panic attacks are unexpected periods of intense fear or discomfort, accompanied by symptoms such as a racing heartbeat or feeling short of breath. Panic attacks can last from several minutes to hours and often develop without warning.
What Emma describes is typical of how some children respond to panic, in that they focus on the physical symptoms (“feeling immobilized”), rather than psychological symptoms. Children may recognize that they feel intense fear, but try to assign it some external source (i.e, it started after I saw the big dog). Children experiencing a panic attack may appear to be suddenly frightened or upset with no easily identified explanation. This behavior is often confusing to others. Adolescents are often better able to verbalize the psychological symptoms of a panic attack, including fear of dying, a sense of unreality, and the feeling of losing control.
Emma’s parents sought treatment for her and she entered therapy for the next several years. As a way to come out of her shell, Emma joined an improve theater group at age 11. By age 14, she was ready to pursue acting full-time (and convince her parents to let her drop out of high school), partly because being on stage helped keep her anxiety at bay.
“[Being on stage] gave me a sense of purpose. I wanted to make people laugh,” she tells Vogue. “Comedy was my sport. It taught me how to roll with the punches. Failure is the exact same as success when it comes to comedy because it just keeps coming. It never stops.”
Stone says she still gets panic attacks on occasion, but has acquired the ability to cope. For example, when her anxiety levels began to creep up during the filming of The Amazing Spider-Man, Emma turned her attention to baking.
“I think I felt really out of control of my surroundings,” she says. “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.”