Stephen Colbert Shares His Struggle With Anxiety, And How Performing Helped

"I have to perform."

Late-night host Stephen Colbert is getting honest about his history with anxiety in a new interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Colbert says that performing helped him cope with his mental health, and the rest is history.

Colbert says he used to take medication, explaining how he had a "nervous breakdown" and "panic attacks" after marrying his wife in 1993. "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," he recalled. "And she's like, 'How was your day?' And I'd say, 'You're looking at it.' Just tight circles around the couch."


Colbert found that performing with the improv group Second City in Chicago helped him through this difficult time. "I would go to the show, and I would curl up in a ball on the couch backstage and I would wait to hear my cue lines," he said. "Then I would uncurl and go onstage and I'd feel fine. Which occurred to me at the time: Like, 'Oh, you feel fine when you're out here.' And then as soon as I got offstage, I'd just crumble into a ball again. Nobody ever asked me what was wrong!"

The host says he stopped taking Xanax after "nine days," explaining, "I'd sometimes hold the bottle, to go like, 'I could stop this feeling if I wanted, but I'm not going to. Because I know if I stop the feeling, somehow I'm not working through it, like I have got to go through the tunnel with the spiders in it.'"

"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," Colbert continued. "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.' "

While Colbert found that forgoing medication worked for him, everyone is different. Kristen Bell said in 2016 that she has been on a prescription for anxiety and depression since she was young, and has "no shame" in it. However, other celebrities have shared a similar experience to Colbert's.

Emma Stone has opened up about the panic attacks she experienced growing up, and how participating in youth theater helped her cope. Ariana Grande, meanwhile, has said that her choice to take care of herself after the Manchester attack (including through therapy) helped her creatively.

"Creating something is what helped me from just spinning apart like an unweighted flywheel," Colbert told Rolling Stone. "And I haven't stopped since. Even when I was a writer I always had to be in front of a camera a little bit. I have to perform."

(H/T: Entertainment Tonight)

Cover image: Kathy Hutchins /


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