Reese Witherspoon experienced panic attacks in the weeks before filming the 2014 adventure movie Wild. And, as the actor explained in a recent interview, she turned to hypnosis to help manage them.
Witherspoon told Tracee Ellis Ross in Interview magazine that her role in Wild was the one that changed her the most. The film centers around Witherspoon’s character, who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail on her own while recalling experiences of casual sex and drug use. “I was having panic attacks for three weeks before I started. There was the nudity, sexuality, and drug-use aspect, but also being alone on camera with no other actors,” Witherspoon said. “I hadn’t ever been alone in scenes for days and days. There were probably 25 days of the shoot where I had no other actor opposite me. It was just me and a camera and a backpack.”
She continued, “I was so scared to do that, Tracee. I had hypnosis, I was so scared.”
Different people may experience different panic attack symptoms, but they usually come with a sudden, intense feeling of fear. Panic attacks can also come with physical symptoms, such as sweating, a rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, chest discomfort, and shortness of breath. Some people describe panic attacks as feeling like a heart attack and, sometimes, they can cause an impending sense of doom or death. Overall, they’re pretty darn unpleasant.
Many people experience a panic attack every once in a while. But for some people, panic attacks can become so frequent that they qualify as panic disorder. People with panic disorder also have attacks without a specific trigger and, after having a panic attack, typically feel extreme distress about the idea of having another one.
Treatment for panic attacks usually includes psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy. Some people also benefit from taking certain medications that can reduce the symptoms of panic attacks.
And, for some, hypnosis can be a helpful add-on to therapy. Hypnosis is a legitimate therapeutic technique, but real hypnotherapy is a little different from the way it’s typically portrayed on TV and in movies. In reality, hypnosis is less about mind control and more about creating a state of deep relaxation and calmness that can help facilitate other types of treatment or therapy, the American Psychological Association (APA) explains. Although not everyone responds to hypnosis in the same way, it can be a useful part of treatment for people dealing with anxiety, phobias, depression, pain, some gastrointestinal conditions, and some skin conditions, the APA says.
For Witherspoon, filming Wild was clearly an intense situation—and it changed her “on a cellular level,” she said. Hypnosis was just part of the experience.