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Mental health is no joke. It can affect you in more ways than you could ever imagine. It can turn your life upside down if not addressed.
But did you know that many mental illnesses start from anxiety?
Indeed, there are a number of mental diseases that have their roots in worries and fears.
Anxiety disorders can make you feel like less of a person. At first, you may think that it is just a simple worry and there is no need to make a big deal out of it. However, even the smallest of things can make you feel overwhelmed if you don’t pay attention.
In this article, we want to help you keep calm and deal with that anxiety. If you or a friend or family member are coping with stress, then you need something to help you through it.
That’s why we have compiled this list of the 21 best movies about anxiety that you can watch to understand the illness better. Especially during the past couple of years, when we’ve been stuck in what seems like a never-ending pandemic, it has been important to talk and learn more about stress.
Let’s check out our list of movies and see if they can help!
1. Girl, Interrupted
Girl, Interrupted is not just a movie about anxiety, as it tackles other mental health illnesses as well. For instance, some of the characters are diagnosed with depression, anger management issues, and other types of personality disorders.
Based on the bestselling memoir of Susanna Kaysen, the story revolves around a young Susanna who was admitted to a psychiatric ward at the age of 18. While there, she met other women who were also suffering from mental health issues and learned about how these issues affect a person’s life.
Fortunately, with the help of these other women, Susanna learned how to deal with her own mental health problems. She discovered that refusing help and denying her illnesses didn’t do any good, so she started accepting help from doctors, nurses, and her fellow patients.
This movie is perfect for those suffering from anxiety disorders and other mental health problems. It is also for great anyone who wishes to understand what it is like living with a mental health condition.
Adaptation is a semi-fictionalized story about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The story revolves around the time he adapted Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book titled The Orchid Thief into a movie and struggled because of his writer’s block.
The movie is only half true and includes a number of elements that did not really happen in real life. For instance, Kaufman did not have a twin brother and there was no relationship between Orlean and Lorache (the orchid researcher). What was true, however, was Kaufman’s struggles as he tried to adapt the book into a film.
Kaufman’s anxiety in the movie came from his insecurities and social awkwardness. He did not have the courage to explore and receive help, and so he was trapped within his own mind. This is similar to the anxiety he felt in real life while adapting the book.
As the story progresses (in the movie and in real life), however, Kaufman learns how to embrace working with other people in order to overcome his anxieties and finally achieve his goal of writing a film script for the book.
3. As Good As It Gets
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety order that is “characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions).” Some examples of such repetitive behaviors include frequent handwashing, checking, organizing, and cleaning. Failing to do these “rituals” only raises the anxiety of a person with OCD.
Starring Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall, the movie As Good As It Gets is about an obsessive-compulsive novelist who cannot fully determine his desires, so he has a hard time forming positive relationships. With the help of Simon (his gay neighbor) and Carol (his love interest), he is able to slowly heal from his OCD and realize that while forming relationships can sometimes be risky, it is still worthwhile.
If you are looking for a movie that can help you understand OCD and the anxiety that comes with it, we highly recommend watching this film. It will help you understand the circumstances of people dealing with OCD and other mental illnesses.
If you enjoy psychological thrillers, you are in for a treat. Directed by Todd Haynes and starring Julianne Moore as Carol White, Safe depicts how anxiety sometimes breeds more anxiety. It shows how it is often difficult for people with this illness to cope, especially when they are unable to figure out what is causing their worry.
According to movie expert Roger Ebert, the most intriguing part of this movie is the fact that Carol could not pinpoint where exactly the “safest” place is. She grew tired of her environment in the city, and so moved to a retreat camp in the forest. But when she got there, her anxieties grew to the point that she could not control them anymore.
Even at the end of the movie, viewers are left wondering where could possibly be the “safest” place. And what were the sources of her anxiety? As with many of the best films, the ending is open to interpretation.
Safe is a great movie to watch if you want to know how people with anxiety disorders feel on a regular basis.
5. The Aviator
The Aviator tells the story of a man who built his fortune by pioneering aviation and producing films, all while struggling with the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, the main character of the story.
The story focuses on his life from 1927 to 1947. It primarily tells the tale of how his career grew exponentially while his OCD condition worsened. The film opens our eyes to how hard OCD can be and how it can negatively affect our lives and the relationships we have with other people.
This movie also teaches us that success and wealth mean nothing if you don’t have mental health. No matter how rich and famous we may become, we are often weak and powerless in the face of mental illness.
One of the only ways we can overcome such illness is to open our hearts and carefully select the people with who we are going to share our life.
6. Black Swan
Black Swan is the story of a ballerina named Nina (Natalie Portman) who struggles with psychological issues. It isn’t clear what mental disorder the movie is portraying, but most people believe that it is schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder that makes people act, think, and express their emotions through distorted reality.
Some psychology experts disagree, however, saying that schizophrenia involves a lot more than the movie depicts. In their view, Nina showed severe signs of psychosis, a condition that affects the way your brain functions, making it hard for you to distinguish fantasy from reality.
Psychosis is a symptom, while schizophrenia is a disease, but uncontrolled psychosis may eventually lead to schizophrenia or other types of psychotic disorders.
If you enjoy psychological suspense films, we suggest checking out Black Swan.
7. The King’s Speech
Colin Firth plays King George VI in this historical drama film written by David Seidler and directed by Tom Hooper. He has a speech disorder (stuttering/stammering) that prevents him from achieving his dream of ruling the country.
Because of this speech defect, he suffers from anxiety and a great fear of failure and rejection. With the help of a speech pathologist, however, he overcomes his stuttering problems and ultimately achieves success.
It is worth noting that, in this movie, the speech therapist (Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush) focuses on the psychological background of the main character to solve the problem. It is later revealed that his stuttering is caused by his social anxiety disorder, which in turn is the product of childhood traumas such as not being treated fairly by the people around him.
This movie teaches us that the anxiety we feel sometimes has its roots in past traumas. There are certain experiences in our childhood that significantly affect the way we deal with things in the present. It is important to realize what these experiences are in order to cope with them and overcome our fears and worries.
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. It is the story of a teenage boy who struggles with a mental condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His anxiety date back to the death of his aunt (who had an accident) and his friend (who committed suicide).
The movie summarizes how love and affection can help people with PTSD heal. It is highly praised by movie critics and regular movie-goers alike because it accurately portrays what patients with PTSD experience. It also educates people on how to treat these patients and help them overcome their trauma.
We recommend this movie to those who are looking for ways how to care for their friends or loved ones who are suffering from anxiety and PTSD. It might give you a better idea of what patients with anxiety disorder feel and experience when they have anxiety attacks.
9. What about Bob?
If you are curious about the different phobias a person may have, What about Bob might be the film for you. It portrays a number of mental illnesses, such as agoraphobia, hypochondriasis, and dependent personality disorder.
This film stars Bill Murray as Bob Wiley, a patient suffering from a lot of psychological disorders. He is, as described by his psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin, an “irritating patient” who continuously annoys and aggravates his doctor. He seeks treatment because he believes that the only way to cure his psychological illnesses is by getting help from his doctor.
If you want to laugh (a lot!) while trying to understand the different types of phobias, What about Bob is the right prescription.
Amelie is an excellent choice if you want to learn more about how people with social anxiety deal with their surroundings. Although considered a feel-good movie, the film clearly depicts what it is like to be anxious over the littlest of things.
What is rather interesting about this movie is that Amelie learns how to let go of her social anxiety as the movie progresses. With love and friendship as the core of her personality, she is able to overcome her shyness and social awkwardness, despite growing up isolated. She eventually learns how to let people in her life.
Considered one of the best French movies of all time, Amelie is a classic film that can help you better understand those who exhibit symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
11. Lars and the Real Girl
The story of Lars, played by Ryan Gosling, and the real girl, played by a doll named Bianca, is very similar to Greek mythology’s story of Pygmalion. Lars falls in love with Bianca, a sex doll he orders on the internet, except that he never uses it as it was intended. Instead, there is only love.
According to experts, Lars is suffering from schizoid personality disorder, a psychological condition in which a person shies away from others, avoiding interactions at all costs. People with this disorder avoid social activities and express little to no emotions at all.
With the help of Bianca, however, and the community around Lars, our protagonist is able to overcome his fear of interactions. It is revealed that his anxieties come from the guilt he feels over his mother’s death.
Lars and the Real Girl is a feel-good romantic comedy with a bit of drama. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Academy Awards), and Gosling was nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Golden Globe Awards).
12. Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is a movie about bipolar disorder. However, there is a fine line between the stress that a person experiences with bipolar disorder and the symptoms of anxiety disorder. It is worth noting that both mental illnesses may occur to one person at the same time.
The movie is about two people, both diagnosed with bipolar disorder, who find each other and fall in love. The story shows that everyone deserves a chance at love, regardless of the mental state they are in.
But there is more to this movie than just an unexpected romance. While it is a love story on the surface, most critics praise it for being family-oriented. It depicts what a family has to sacrifice and endure when one member is diagnosed with an illness.
We highly suggest watching Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It will help you understand what bipolar disorder is and the anxiety that comes with it.
13. A Fantastic Fear of Everything
A Fantastic Fear of Everything is exactly what it sounds like—a movie about anxiety. It stars Simon Pegg as Jack Nife, a children’s book author who wants to shift his writing career to something more daring—murder crime novels.
Jack develops his anxiety while trying to write a murder novel. In his attempt to make the scenes realistic, he starts experiencing them in his wild and vivid imagination. He becomes afraid of literally everything—the laundrette, ringing telephones, toilet paper, etc. His anxiety grows as his novel progresses.
If you are looking for a film that can help you understand the inner workings of a paranoid mind, then this one’s a good choice.
14. Punch-Drunk Love
Punch-Drunk Love follows the story of an entrepreneur suffering from social anxiety, but who is in love with his sister’s friend. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, it stars Adam Sandler as Barry Egan and Emily Watson as Lena Leonard.
Social anxiety is also known as social phobia. It is a type of anxiety disorder that causes a person to feel extreme fear and shyness whenever they are surrounded by lots of people. They find it hard to talk to people and attend social gatherings because they feel like they are always being judged.
In the movie, Barry’s anxieties go back to how his sisters have always treated him. They would often bully him, invade his privacy, and put him and his dreams down. All of this emotionally damaged Barry, so he started feeling anxious around other people.
Punch-Drunk Love teaches us to be kind, especially to mentally and emotionally weak people. We never know what will affect a person, so we should deal with them in the kindest and most generous way possible. This way, we can help them with their fears and anxieties whenever they are in a social setting.
Elling is a Norwegian film starring Per Christian Elllefsen as Elling and Sven Nordin as Kjell Bjarne. It is the story of two men who meet inside a mental health care facility and both explore the world after being given a chance to live on their own. It is directed by Peter Næss and is part of Ingvar Ambjørnsen's four-part novel called Blood Brothers.
The main character Elling suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, which prevents him from functioning well within society. His symptoms include dizziness, anxiety, and neurotic tendencies, all of which combine to prevent him from living independently. His roommate, Kjell Bjarne, has been institutionalized for as long as he can remember and has a habit of daydreaming about sex and women in other worlds.
This movie focuses on how people diagnosed with anxiety disorders are supposed to help themselves through the healing process. If you want to learn how it is possible to overcome mental issues, then this movie is for you.
16. Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade is a relatively new coming-of-age film that depicts how the new generation tries to cope with mental illnesses like anxiety disorders. It was written and directed by Bo Burnham in his attempt to share his own thoughts and experiences on dealing with anxiety and panic attacks.
The movie stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla, a teenager who is suffering from anxiety and struggles to attain social acceptance. The film delivers a message both to children and parents about how teenagers should be dealt with.
If you are a parent who has a teen undergoing physical, mental, or emotional developments, we suggest checking out this film. It will help you realize what you should and should not do in order to connect with your children.
17. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
In this film, Walter Mitty is mentally stable but has a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy. He often daydreams about being a different person who is involved in an adventure. Eventually he is able to come out of his shell and have a real adventure, connecting with other people in the real world.
18. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller does not need a day off—Cameron Frye does. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of those movies that doesn’t necessarily focus on only the main character’s development. If you have watched the film, you know that Cameron’s circumstances are integral to the story as well, and provide a great opportunity to learn how to deal with anxiety.
As KQED states, Cameron wasn’t “just a sad sack—he was depressed and anxious.” He didn’t need a friend to have fun with, and he actually needed professional help to get over his feelings of fear and anxiety.
This film shows us that anxiety is not just something you get from major traumatic experiences. It can also come from being treated like someone of lesser status—for instance, like a child whose parents are dismissive of his feelings and ideas.
19. A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind is an award-winning film directed by Ron Howard under the screenplay of Akiva Goldsman. It is a true story based on the life of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Nash. The film stars Russell Crowe as Nash and Jennifer Connelly as his wife.
John Nash suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, which is a condition in which a person experiences symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, making it hard for them to distinguish what is real from what is not. In the movie, for instance, Nash believes that he is a Russian spy receiving coded messages from the military.
Nash’s anxiety comes from his hallucinations and delusions, and it seems like there is no way for him to escape them. However, through counseling and medication, he has hope of someday recovering.
20. It’s Kind of a Funny Story
This movie is about a boy who admits himself into a psychiatric hospital after attempting to take his own life. Throughout the process of therapy and healing, he meets two friends who help him realize the value of life and the joy of living for the sake of friendship and companionship.
Although many have said that this feel-good movie is simply about “being yourself” and “finding who you really are,” some agree that it is more than that. The movie tackles depression and anxiety disorders in a very subtle way and provides a glimpse into what teens experience today, like peer pressure and the potential for self-harm.
21. The Breakfast Club
Talk about classic teen movies—there’s no beating The Breakfast Club. This is the story of five teenagers with different personalities and upbringings who meet each other during detention. Despite their differences, they eventually realize that they all have a lot in common.
There is so much to learn from this movie. First and foremost is stereotyping and how it affects the way people behave. We expect so much from teenagers, but we often fail to take the time to understand their circumstances.
The Breakfast Club is a highly recommended film not just for teens, but also for parents and other adults (e.g., teachers, counselors) to understand children better. It focuses on how the circumstances surrounding teens affect their behavior.
Final Words on Movies about Anxiety
We hope that this article was able to help you find movies that will help you understand anxiety better. Remember that mental illness is no joke. If you know a person who may be suffering from anxiety or any other mental health issue, we hope that you will reach out to them and offer your support.
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.
See more movies about dealing with different types of mental illness:
- 21 Best Films That Explore Mental Illness
- 13 Movies About Dealing With Depression
- 25 Movies with Autistic or Asperger's Syndrome Characters