Keira Knightley spoke this week about battling mental health issues during her early years of fame.
On an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast, she described the psychological toll that celebrity and press bashing took on her as a young actor—and one of the unconventional ways she managed to deal with the anxiety.
Knightley said the aggressive paparazzi and negative coverage of young female celebrities was particularly difficult to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
"If you weren't breaking down in front of them, then it was worth their while to make you break down in front of them," she explained. "So suddenly there was a level of violence, it felt, in the air, that is not a thing that anybody would react to well… I think I've always had a 'fuck-you button,' and it was so obvious that they wanted me to fall, and I had such, like, a 'I'm not gonna give you what you want.' So there was a sense of battle every day leaving the house."
As Knightley's fame grew with her work in award-nominated movies, such as 2007's Atonement, so did her inner turmoil. "It was still very confusing," she said, "because you're getting all these nominations for all of these things, but press-wise, when I'm going into interviews, people are still saying, 'Everybody thinks you're shit,' or focusing on your looks, or focusing on what's wrong with you. And, again, I was 19—you can only hear the negative stuff […] I felt pretty much like actually I didn't exist and I was this weird creature with this weird face that people seemed to respond to in quite an extreme way, and I couldn't quite figure any of it out."
When Knightley received a big nomination for her role in Atonement, she was so anxious about attending the awards show that she sought out an uncommon tool to prepare herself.
"I hadn't been out of the house for three months when the BAFTA nomination happened, and I remember having conversations with my agent and going, 'I can't get there,' and everyone going, 'If you don't get to the BAFTAs, the heat on you is going to be 10 times more,'" Knightley recalled. "So I actually did hypnotherapy so that I could stand on the red carpet at the BAFTAs and not have a panic attack."
The heightened fame and intense pressure culminated in what Knightley described as a mental breakdown—and, ultimately, a diagnosis of PTSD. "I did have a mental breakdown at 22, so I did take a year off there and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of all of that stuff," she said. "I went deep into therapy and all of that." Knightley decided to take some time out of the spotlight, which she now looks back on as "one of the most important years of my life."
She said she felt better after learning how to stop caring about other people's opinions of her. Today, Knightley feels more confident in herself and her career than ever. "I can really enjoy things now," she said. "I look back and I just sort of want to give myself a hug and be like, 'Oh, you're doing alright, you'll be alright.' You know?"
Despite the term "hypnotherapy," hypnosis is not actually a type of psychotherapy or a standalone treatment, as SELF previously reported.
Rather, hypnosis may be utilized as an additional tool to help facilitate other established treatments and therapies for a wide variety of mental and physical conditions, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
The procedure involves having a trained clinician (such as a licensed therapist) make suggestions to elicit changes in the client's thoughts, perceptions, sensations, and behaviors (changing their smoking habits, for instance), per the APA. Although research on its efficacy in regards to various conditions is spotty, hypnosis has been used (in conjunction with other treatments) to help manage pain, nausea and vomiting, stress, phobias, depression, and anxiety, as the APA notes.
People respond to hypnosis to varying degrees and different ways, but most people for whom the procedure works experience a sense of calm and relaxation. The APA reminds people that hypnosis may not be for everyone, and that the decision to use the procedure as an adjunct treatment should always be made with the help of an accredited health care professional who understands both its potential uses and limitations.
In other words, it won't help everyone in every situation. But if you're curious, you should first talk to a qualified therapist to discuss whether it might be right for you.