What It's Like to Be a Celebrity With Social Anxiety Disorder

by Sarah Ellis Health Writer

Living with social anxiety can feel extremely isolating and lonely. This is especially true in the social media age, where one quick scroll through Instagram reveals countless filtered photos of people socializing with their friends. However, you never know what's going on behind the curtain, even in people who seem to have it all. Over the past several years, a few celebrities have spoken up about their battles with social anxiety and other mental health concerns.

It may be hard to imagine that someone whose job is to be in the media spotlight could have anxiety in social situations, but this can and does happen. By opening up, these stars are helping to end the stigma around social anxiety, and prove that you can be extremely successful despite it.

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme anxiety or fear of everyday social situations. Each person is unique in what social situations may trigger their fear response. In some cases, conversing with others in a group may cause great anxiety. In otheres, the act of eating and drinking in front of others may produce panic and dread. In extreme situations, the anxiety may be present during any social activity, making life exceptionally difficult to navigate. There is a common fear among most people with social anxiety disorder that they will somehow be judged or humiliated, and that they may do something embarrassing in front of others.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 15 million adults (over the age of 18) have some sort of social anxiety disorder in the United States. Social phobia often begins in childhood and early adolescence and may last throughout your life, though therapy and medications can really help.

Which Celebrities Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka at the French Open 2021
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The 23-year-old Japanese tennis player is known as an icon in her sport (she has even beaten Serena Williams, so that's how you know she's legendary). On May 26, Osaka tweeted that she would not be doing press interviews at the 2021 French Open tournament, citing the need to protect her mental health. Tournament officials fined Osaka and threatened to remove her from the tournament, and on May 31, she announced that she was dropping out. "The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and have had a really hard time coping with that," she wrote. "Anyone that knows me knows I'm introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety." Following Osaka's announcement, she received an outpouring of support from fellow athletes and celebrities, including other champion tennis players.

Kim Basinger

Kim Basinger
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Most people know Kim Basinger from her many movie roles, including playing a Bond girl in Never Say Never Again, or for her performance in films such as The Natural or 9½ Weeks. Basinger speaks openly about suffering from social anxiety and can recall feeling fear when asked to read out loud in class. Her fear was so extreme that teachers believed she was having a nervous breakdown. When Basinger accepted her Oscar for her role in the movie LA Confidential, she was struggling to find her words despite having rehearsed her speech for days.

Basinger took part in discussing her social anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia in an HBO film called Panic: A Film About Coping. She has been quoted in the media about her fears: "When I came to Hollywood, I could wear a bikini, but I was in misery because people were looking at me. So I wore baggy clothes and watched other girls get the big parts and awards. I used to go home and play piano and scream at night to let out my frustrations. And this led to my agoraphobia." It is reported that therapy has helped Basinger but that she is still susceptible to panic attacks and symptoms of agoraphobia.

Barbra Streisand

Barbara Streisand
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We tend to think of Barbara Streisand as a fearless and multi-talented celebrity. Most people know that she has sung in front of millions of people and is an award-winning actress. But what we may not know is that this mega-star also suffers from social anxiety disorder. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Streisand opened up about her decades-long battle with performance anxiety. Her social phobia began in 1967 when she forgot the lyrics to one of her songs during a live performance in New York's Central Park. As a perfectionist, Streisand could not forgive herself or find the courage to get back on a public stage to sing. As a result, she did not give a live performance again for almost 30 years.

Streisand talked about her underlying fear during the interview when she confessed, "I didn't sing and charge people for 27 years because of that night ... I was like, 'God, I don't know. What if I forget the words again?" It wasn't until 1994 that she returned to giving concerts, but she used a teleprompter so she would not have to worry about forgetting lyrics.

In an interview with Oprah, reprinted in the October 2006 issue of O,The Oprah Magazine, Streisand talked about using medication to help with her anxiety: "One reason I can perform now is that they have pills for stage fright. I wish somebody had told me about these pills years ago."

Donny Osmond

Donny Osmond
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There is something very likeable about Donny Osmond. Despite his great fame as a pop star, he still comes across as approachable and humble. In a 2000 interview televised on the CBS's 48 Hours, Osmond revealed that he had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. He traces his disorder back to his pre-teen years, and despite his many public appearances since then, he still has extreme stage fright. Osmond confessed during the 48 Hours interview, "There are times I remember before I walked on stage where if I had the choice of walking on stage or dying, I would have chosen death." The underlying reason for the fear was the extreme pressure to be perfect.

When Osmond's panic attacks became severe, he got help from a therapist. The treatment helped him find a method to deal with his fear. "I know when I walk out there, I'm not going to give the best performance," he said. "I'll make a mistake. I'll trip. I'll do something stupid. But it's OK; you pick up and just move on."

Theese celebrities, adored by millions of fans and living what we might consider "perfect" live, still battle anxiety and fear. Their stories prove that social anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of, and there is help out there when you need it. And by sharing what you're going through (if you're comfortable doing so), you never know whose life you may touch.

Additional reporting by Anne Windermere

Sarah Ellis
Meet Our Writer
Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a wellness and culture writer who covers everything from contraceptive access to chronic health conditions to fitness trends. She is originally from Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in NYC. She has written for Elite Daily, Greatist, mindbodygreen and others. When she’s not writing, Sarah loves distance running, vegan food, and getting the most out of her library card.