Stephen Colbert Opened Up About His Anxiety & The One Thing That Settles His Nerves

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Stephen Colbert has made a huge impact on pop culture — that's something most people can agree on, right? He totally revitalized political satire in America, and he's had not one, but two wildly successful late night shows (not to mention, he's a children's book author and a dad). Now, while a performer like Colbert is pretty on top of his stuff, his recent comments in an interview with Rolling Stone about how creativity can help with anxiety show that mental and emotional health issues can impact anyone, no matter how successful or productive they happen to be.

Colbert's conversation with interviewer Brian Hiatt also beautifully articulates that there are always ways to find healthy coping mechanisms for your mental well-being that work for you. As evidenced by Colbert's own experiences with anxiety, it can sometimes just take a little trial and error to find what works best. In his interview with Rolling Stone, the 54-year-old comedian described how it took him a while to figure out that performing onstage was the one thing that really helped him maintain emotional balance, and how he had to experiment with methods that he later learned just didn't suit him:

Xanax was just lovely. Y’know, for a while. And then I realized that the gears [of my anxiety] were still smoking. I just couldn’t hear them anymore. But I could feel them, I could feel the gearbox heating up and smoke pouring out of me, but I was no longer walking around a couch.

Colbert also admitted to Rolling Stone that he had "a bit of a nervous breakdown" after he got married, and that that seemed to be the time in his life when his anxiety really spiked:

My wife would go off to work and she’d come home — because I worked at night — and I’d be walking around the couch. And she’s like, “How was your day?” And I’d say, “You’re looking at it.” Just tight circles around the couch.

While performing nightly comedy shows in his late 20s, he explained to Rolling Stone, Colbert realized that performing was the real key to maintaining his emotional well-being. For him personally, he said it worked better than anything else he'd ever tried to help treat his anxiety. Colbert described that being onstage seemed to be the one place where he felt most safe, and it was the one environment in which his anxiety totally vanished — and, he soon learned, things seemed to stay that way after he would perform, too. He told Rolling Stone,

And then one morning I woke up and my skin wasn’t on fire, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I wake up the next morning, I’m perfectly fine, to the point where my body’s still humming. I’m a bell that’s been rung so hard that I can still feel myself vibrating. But the actual sound was gone [because] I was starting rehearsal that day to create a new show. And then I went, “Oh, my God, I can never stop performing.”

For Colbert, he told the magazine, "creating something is what helped me from just spinning apart like an unweighted flywheel. And I haven’t stopped since."

BTW, the comedian definitely isn't alone in finding solace and emotional balance through creativity. While Colbert finds peace via comedy and performing specifically, there's actually a formal method of psychotherapy developed around this general concept, called — you guessed it — art therapy. According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), this type of treatment is an integrative mental health practice that involves "active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship."

And yes, art therapy been shown to be pretty effective in reducing stress and anxiety. A study published by the AATA's research journal showed that when researchers gave arts and craft materials to 39 healthy adults with the instruction to basically make whatever they wanted for 45 minutes, the participants expressed that the creative activity was "relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, freeing from constraints," and saliva samples taken after the art-making session showed that their physiological stress levels had dropped as well. In other words, you don't have to be a professional comedian to feel the anxiety-relieving effects of art and creative activities. Pretty cool, right?

Of course, it's important to note that creativity isn't the one, end-all-be-all solution to anxiety, or any mental health issue for that matter, and it won't necessarily be helpful for everyone. Figuring out what works best for your mental health is always going to be a personal journey, but Stephen Colbert's experiences show that sometimes, the things you're most passionate about in life can also be the things that are best for your health.