Alyssa Manages Stress with Life Lessons Learned from Hollywood

VARIETY – Alyssa Milano refuses to allow stress to take control of her life. Since she was 11 years old, the actor has faced the pressures of show business — and she says she had little or no guidance on how to handle it for four decades.

Now, the actor is sharing her personal experiences and championing the American Heart Association’s initiative to inform the public about chronic stress management and the impact of poor mental health on physical health.

“I can only imagine — and being through the amount of therapy that I’ve been through in my life — how scared [that] little girl was,” says Milano in a video interview with Variety, while reflecting on her “Who’s the Boss?” years from 1984 to 1992.

As a child actor, she says she had a “really good support system” of family and castmates, but she nevertheless lacked the tools to address her chronic stress and mental health. “I think a lot of those uncomfortable feelings that every child has [were] squashed and pushed down, and [I was] made to feel like I didn’t have the time to feel those things as a working child,” says Milano, who penned a 2018 op-ed about her anxiety disorder that she expanded upon in her 2021 memoir “Sorry Not Sorry.”

By her mid-20s, Milano did 40 episodes of “Melrose Place” and then booked the supernatural series “Charmed,” which went on to become a hit and solidified her stardom. “‘Charmed’ was a very exciting time for me,” says Milano.

Though she felt “much more prepared for success” in her adult years, she says the stress of auditioning and learning dialogue was doubled due to dyslexia. “I had a very hard time reading,” she recalls. “My dyslexia was always worse when I felt anxiety. The idea that I had to perform under that kind of stress was really difficult. The only way I felt that I could manage that was to be overly prepared. That’s a lesson that I still keep with me to this day.”

Milano, who advocates on a large number of issues and has spoken in front of Congress, says she continues to educate herself about what’s happening in her body. “Anxiety feels to me like I have a knot in my stomach that is just churning,” she says. “It’s a very physical manifestation. Now, of course, we’re finding that there are all sorts of connections between the stomach and the brain. And sometimes it can be totally debilitating.”

While everyone experiences stress to varying degrees, constant or chronic stress can lead to unhealthy habits like overeating, lower levels of physical activity, smoking and not taking medications as prescribed, all things that are linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Looking back on her younger years, Milano says, “That’s probably part of the reason why, as a grownup, my anxiety was so severe. I was really conditioned, as so many people were from my generation, to just march on and put on a smile. We never talked about mental health issues or anxiety or any of it.”

Being a mother to her two children, Milo, 11, and Elizabella, 8, (their father is Milano’s husband, talent agent David Bugliari) changed everything for Milano, who is focused on giving her kids a different experience than her own. “I know now what not to do when my children are stressed,” she says. “The beauty of parenting is you get to be the person you needed at that time. So, I am a very empathetic and compassionate mom when it comes to stress and mental health, and that makes me happy.”

Milano reaffirms that “one size does not fit all” with stress management, and each individual needs to find what works for them. “What works for my son is sports. What works for my daughter is breathing and painting. [They’re] two very different kids,” she says, stressing the importance of “meeting them where they are.”

And what works for Milano? The primitive nature of gardening, breaking out of her “perfectionist instincts” with watercolor painting and enjoying “some me-time” by watching reality shows that “take my mind off of the everyday struggles that we are facing.” (The American Heart Association notes that positive psychological health is associated with a lower risk of developing and dying from heart disease.)

Milano encourages anyone who struggles with chronic stress to seek help, “whether it be having lunch with your best friend once a week or finding a therapist that works for you.

“Reducing stress in my life has made room for more good moments, more joy, more happiness, more appreciation. Worry — this idea that we can control or manipulate the outcome of something — leads to so much stress. When you take out the what-ifs, you’re able to be in the moment and enjoy every moment as it comes.”
Read at Variety