Jada Pinkett Smith Opened Up About Her Anxiety, and How Her Daughter Helped – Self

Actor Jada Pinkett Smith recently came to the realization that she experienced “some anxiety” while growing up, and it was her daughter, Willow, who helped her notice it.

During the latest episode of Red Table Talk, released Monday, Pinkett Smith said her daughter’s behavior helped her examine her own. “In having to deal with, and learn about [Willow’s] anxiety, I’ve had to look at some of my own behaviors and the behaviors of my mother, and go, well of course I probably have some anxiety in regards to how I grew up,” Pinkett Smith said. 

The latest episode, which centered on mental health, included Pinkett Smith, her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, Pinkett Smith’s 21-year-old daughter, Willow Smith; plus actor Kim Basinger and her daughter, Ireland Baldwin. Pinkett Smith went on to reveal that when she was younger, she would bite her nails right “down to the cuticles,” but it was dismissed as a habit. According to Cedars Sinai, nail-biting can indeed be a sign of anxiety. The repetitive behavior helps some people cope with stressful emotions.

Pinkett Smith’s mother cited that at the time she was growing up, there was less candor in discussing mental health and there was a greater stigma attached to it. “I think in our world, I almost saw it as a weakness. We just couldn’t afford to be anxious,” Banfield-Norris said. “I escaped through my drug abuse. Which I think numbed me to whatever was going on with you. I just didn’t want to face it, deal with anything in my life.” Their collective struggle with mental health is something Pinkett Smith referred to as “a cycle of generational anxiety” during the show.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions in the country. Around 19% of U.S. adults have experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year. An estimated 31% of adults will experience anxiety at some point in life. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of anxiety can fall under three main categories: physical, mental, and behavioral. Physical symptoms can include nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, muscle tension, numbness or tingling in hands or feet, cold or sweaty hands, and dry mouth. Mental symptoms can include intrusive thoughts of traumatic experiences, obsessive thoughts, nightmares, panic, and feelings of fear. Behavioral symptoms can include difficulties sleeping, ritualistic behaviors (like nail biting), or an inability to stay still.

Smith also opened up about facing anxiety as a child, and how she’s had to do the emotional work of forgiving her mother for not knowing how to help her. “It was rough. I feel like when I was growing up, [Pinkett Smith] didn’t understand my anxiety,” Smith said. “That was very frustrating for me as a child. Because I was like, ‘How can you not see my internal and emotional struggle?'” She also shared that the two of them recently dived deeper into Smith’s struggles as a child, with Pinkett Smith admitting that she didn’t know what her daughter was going through. “[My mom] was pushing it down for so many years like she had no idea. So, I had to forgive her a little bit,” Smith said of her mother.