Panic disorder is one of the least understood anxiety disorders available. Unlike other forms of anxiety, panic disorder is filled with primarily physical symptoms that mimic serious diseases, and contrary to popular belief they are extremely difficult to control. Most people think that the "panic" is the person overreacting to a situation. In fact, it's a flood of adrenaline and brain changes that cause physical symptoms that are nearly impossible to control and can be emotionally and physically debilitating.
That's why it may come as a surprise that many of the world's most famous people have dealt with serious panic attacks and panic disorder. The following are several celebrities and famous men and women that have suffered from panic disorder.
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Famous People Are Still People
Anyone can suffer from panic attacks. If you think you want relief, take my free anxiety test now. From eras past to the modern day, famous people have had panic disorders. Famous actors, singers, writers, inventors, psychologists, artists, and royalty all struggled through their panic disorders to change the world, making it a more inspiring, diverse and wonderful place.
Even better, they have had some things to say on the matter that may help you do the same. If people who are constantly in the spotlight and the center of attention in spite of not being born for it with the kind of confident personality you would expect, still manage to impress the world with their talent, then there is no reason why you can't do it too and maybe create your own fame in the process.
Read on to find out how these 10 stars of the past and present shone on in spite of their panic disorders to reach their full potential.
Princess Diana While suffering from depression for many years and from post-partum depression after the birth of Prince William, her first child, Princess Di was also reported to experience panic attacks. Her bodyguards later reported that during her first royal tour she cried and shook uncontrollably as she travelled to her various destinations, but always managed to compose herself before she arrived. She valued the grounding power of a supportive family, saying:
Family is the most important thing in the world. -Princess Diana
David Bowie It is hard to believe that this flamboyant rock star ever felt nervous in his life. But it's true: the main reason he so rarely gives interviews is due to his shyness in face to face confrontations. Onstage he is able to inhabit an entirely different persona and draw strength and power from it. He has explained (in one of his rare interviews) how his music and lyric-writing is his medium for confidence and clarity in speech:
I had to resign myself, many years ago, that I'm not too articulate when it comes to explaining how I feel about things. But my music does it for me, it really does. -David Bowie
Oprah Winfrey Oprah, the ever-present talk show guru, is a celebrity whose traumatic past resulted in struggles with anxiety for many years. Sexual abuse at a young age and a teenage pregnancy that resulted in a baby who died soon after his birth resulted in severe nervousness and difficulty relating to people for many of her early years. However, learning to cope with her anxiety problems gave her the strength she would later use to make important life decisions, such as creating her own television show.
Turn your wounds into wisdom. -Oprah Winfrey
Johnny Depp Social anxiety has been a struggle for actor Johnny Depp all his life. Shy in person, he has found that the way acting allows him to become someone else liberates him and allows him to explore all the potentialities of his character. His character Edward Scissorhands, a terrified misfit who struggled to fit in allowed him to embody a role reflecting his real life struggles. But does Captain Jack Sparrow ever seem socially nervous? Not so much. Johnny Depp has been very open about his social phobia. He has stated publicly that I'm shy, paranoid, whatever word you want to use. I hate fame. I've done everything I can to avoid it. It is also worth noting that his life's work has been to send a message about people like him, namely:
If there's any message to my work, it is ultimately that it's OK to be different, that we should question ourselves before we pass judgment on someone who looks different, behaves different, talks different, is a different color. -Johnny Depp
John Steinbeck Writing is a popular choice for people with social anxiety: it allows them to work in solitude, but occasionally has the unexpected consequence of widespread fame and public attention. In dealing with his, Steinbeck was treated for anxiety by a psychologist friend of his literary agent Elizabeth Otis named Gertrudis Brenner. In a quote that can be directly applied to the struggles of his life as a famous person with anxiety, he eloquently noted the necessity in life of going with the flow:
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. -John Steinbeck
Sigmund Freud Freud, the psychologist who shocked (and continues to shock) the world with his revolutionary theories and ideas, was not very comfortable in social situations. In his professional mode he could come at people from a very technical and impersonal standpoint, but when it came to being confident in regular interactions, he would falter. Being a psychologist, Freud had a lot to day on the matter of anxiety, but believed that everyone has at least one experience of anxiety in common and that it is often a similar experience for people, hypothesizing that:
"The act of birth is the first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety." -Sigmund Freud
Scarlett Johansson A gorgeous movie star and a part-time singer, Scarlett Johansson surprises a lot of people when they find out she sometimes experiences social anxiety and panic. In discussing her films, she has revealed that she often experiences panic attacks before having to get in front of the camera. However, she has also shared a hopeful story of overcoming one of her worse anxiety experiences, a movie set where she was feeling nearly dead from anxiety:
"I told myself, there's no way this can go on for the next five weeks, so I'd better learn to calm myself. And that's exactly what I did. The rest of the filming was the best experiences ever on set after that." -Scarlett Johansson
Edvard Munch Edvard Munch, the famous Norwegian painter responsible for the famously anxiety-evoking painting The Scream, was inspired to paint that particular work by one of his own severe panic attacks. Turning his traumatic panic experience into art was a big part of what led to his immortality as an artist. He was once quoted as saying that for him, as with many famous people with anxiety:
For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art. -Edvard Munch
Nikola Tesla Tesla, the mechanical genius who discovered the uses of energy and robotics that played fundamental roles in creating the world we live in today, suffered from panic disorder from the age of 5 onward. After the death of his brother, the genius developed many phobias and compulsions that actually made him the prolific perfectionist inventor that he became. He also experienced panic attacks marked by bright flashes of light before his eyes that none of the students of psychologyВ… could ever explain satisfactorily. He supposed that his mental attitude allowed him to think deeply rather than clearly, believing that:
The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane. -Nikola Tesla
Adele Singer and pop sensation Adele has to overcome her anxiety every time she sets foot onstage to perform. She has stated that in large venues she is terrified of panicking and having to rush offstage to the disappointment of her fans. In a show in Amsterdam the musical icon experienced nerves so severe that they led to acute nausea, and at one show she actually snuck out through a fire escape to get away from all the pressure. Despite suffering from panic attacks she has performed all around the world, and even managed to meet her biggest idol (Beyonce) in person, which she says gave her some much-needed self-confidence and greatly decreased her anxiety (as a result she now uses an alter ego like Beyonce's Sasha Fierce to compose herself and fight her panic attacks):
(Beyonce) popped in looking gorgeous, and said, В‘You're amazing! When I listen to you I feel like I'm listening to God.' -Adele, quoting Beyonce
Amazing, talented and beautiful people from every walk of life and from all over the world experience panic disorders, and yet you wouldn't know it to look at them and see the incredible things that they have accomplished.
Some people look within themselves and realize how they can manifest their inner star. Others just need to hear that they can do it from people they admire. Hopefully now that you have read these inspiring words from famous people just like you who struggle with panic disorders, you will find the courage to look within yourself and find the bright star waiting to light up the world.
If you're someone that suffers from severe panic attacks, make sure that you take my anxiety test now. The test will go through your symptoms and provide you with information on how to control them.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.