Ryan Reynolds opening up about his anxiety has the power to help millions of sufferers

Ryan Reynolds gives off the air of a fun-loving, easygoing guy. But in a new interview, the Deadpool star reveals that he struggles with anxiety — a condition he’s had for years.

“I have anxiety, I’ve always had anxiety,” he tells the New York Times. “Both in the lighthearted ‘I’m anxious about this’ kind of thing, and I’ve been to the depths of the darker end of the spectrum, which is not fun.” Reynolds says that to this day, he becomes incredibly nauseated and nervous before any talk show appearance, and when he was on the ABC sitcom Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, he used to warm up the audience to help redirect his panic.

Ryan Reynolds attends the press conference for a premiere of <em>Deadpool 2</em> on May 2, 2018, in Seoul, South Korea.
Ryan Reynolds attends the press conference for a premiere of Deadpool 2 on May 2, 2018, in Seoul, South Korea.

Reynolds also revealed that in his 20s, he often woke up in the middle of the night “paralyzed” by anxiety and worrying about his future, which he got through by self-medicating.

Now, he says, he copes with his anxiety in a few ways. While promoting Deadpool 2, he’s been doing a lot of interviews in character to help calm his nerves. He also uses the meditation app Headspace and reminds himself that as soon as he walks onstage, he won’t feel anxious anymore. “When the curtain opens, I turn on this knucklehead, and he kind of takes over and goes away again once I walk off set,” he said. “That’s that great self-defense mechanism. I figure if you’re going to jump off a cliff, you might as well fly.”

Reynolds isn’t the only male star to open up about mental health lately: The Rock recently revealed his struggle with depression in an interview with the Express. After a fan thanked him on Twitter, the Rock responded with this:

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (18 percent of the population), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anyone can develop anxiety, but a person’s genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events can put that person at a greater risk, according to the association.

Having an anxiety disorder is different from having “regular” anxiety, which everyone experiences, Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s the same thing, but on a spectrum,” he says. Everyone has to deal with anxiety as an emotion, and it can be helpful when it alerts people to danger and helps them prepare for situations. But anxiety becomes a disorder when the level is so intense that it disrupts or interferes with someone’s daily activities, he says. “You can’t work, you can’t socialize, you can’t function at all.”

Both men and women struggle with anxiety disorders, but it can sometimes be more difficult for men to admit they need help and seek it, licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “That’s true for probably all mental health issues,” she says. “While I do see men, I have much more women in my caseload. That’s pretty typical.”

Clark says it probably comes down to a few things: Men, in general, don’t tend to be as willing to see doctors as women, and the stigma of mental health issues and seeking treatment can be stronger for men.

It’s important for men (and women) to realize that it’s OK to struggle, Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Mendez is a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif. If you have a loved one who you suspect is grappling with anxiety, Mendez recommends validating the experiences (don’t dismiss the person with sayings like “it’s no big deal!” or “don’t worry!”). When there is evidence that your loved one’s anxiety is interfering with that person’s life or work, look for treatment options together. Ultimately, people will have to seek help on their own, but you can help guide the process and be supportive about it, she says.

Luckily, there are treatments available. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that helps people change negative thoughts and behavior, is considered the best treatment for anxiety, licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. With CBT, people are taught long-lasting coping mechanisms to help them deal with their anxiety, he says. The treatment is, generally, short-term and can help people move on with their lives, Rego says. In some cases, medication like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be helpful as well, Rego says.

If you struggle with anxiety, seek help and don’t wait. “Anxiety can escalate and stay escalated if you don’t know how to de-escalate it,” Clark says. That can lead to health issues like heart problems, nervous system issues, and headaches, to name a few, Mayer says.

Clark applauds Reynolds for speaking out about his anxiety. “One more celebrity out there being honest helps so many other people be brave,” she says.

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