In a recent interview for a New Zealand newspaper, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire star, Jennifer Lawrence, spoke out about her struggles with debilitating anxiety and hyperactivity as a child. Lawrence, not one to shy away from talking about mental illness, spoke openly about her social anxiety which interfered with school and eventually caused her parents to seek help from a psychologist. “When my mother told me about my childhood, she always told me there was a light in me, a spark that inspired me constantly”, Lawrence said. “When I entered school, the light went out. We never knew what it was, a kind of social anxiety.”
I can completely relate to this. As a free-spirited child, I came and went as I pleased. When I went to school, I started acting out for reasons I didn’t understand. I started missing school because the anxiety I was experiencing caused physical symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, nervousness and tension. This eventually led to my first suicide attempt when I was 9 years old.
“I don’t think we’re going to stop until we get rid of the stigma for mental illness… It’s so bizarre that in this world if you have asthma you take asthma medicine. If you have diabetes you take diabetes medicine. But as soon as you have to take medication for your mind there’s such a stigma behind it.”
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), social anxiety disorder (SAD), is the most common form of anxiety disorder in the country, affecting about 15 million adults annually. Although, it often starts in early adolescence, most people see the full effects of it by the time they are 20 years old. It’s more than just shyness. It is characterized by negative self-talk and the extreme fear of being evaluated by other people. These factors make it hard for people to be in public, hold a job, or have a healthy social life. The ADAA reports that 36% of people with SAD have had symptoms for 10 or more years before they seek help. However, a recent study at Stanford University suggests that mindfulness techniques have proven to be very helpful in coping with the symptoms of social anxiety, especially when paired with exposure therapy techniques.
It is no surprise, then, that Jennifer Lawrence noticed a drastic reduction in her anxiety when she began her acting career. “As soon as I was on stage, my mom started to see the change in me. She saw my fears disappear. She found her daughter again, the one who had this light and joy. I finally found my path in life and something that made me happy, because I felt capable, whereas before I felt useless.” As any actor will tell you, you have to be focused on “the moment” when in front of the camera. This is as much a mindfulness technique as you will ever find. Also, acting provides a different “character”. You are no longer the person in your head that you fear others will look down on.
When asked for advice by young girls on the subject of body image and her opinion of people who made judgments about others based on appearances, “Well, screw those people,” said Lawrence genially. “I experienced that in school. You see this airbrushed, perfect world, but if you don’t look like that, what are you going to do? Be hungry every day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.”
I look forward to seeing Jennifer Lawrence’s fire and hunger continue in this ongoing saga in the battle to end stigma.
So, I’d like to hear from you. There are lots of types of anxiety.
What are some of the things that have made you anxious in the past?
How have you dealt with them? Good or bad.
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