Stressing and Acting Out

It seems lately that the path to rehab is paved with fallen stars.

After a one-day stint in a rehabilitation program, Britney Spears took an electric razor to her locks, shaving herself completely bald. In the latest bizarre twist, she voluntarily checked into rehab again Tuesday, Spears' manager, Larry Rudolph, tells People magazine.

"We ask that the media respect her privacy as well as those of her family and friends at this time," Rudolph was quoted as saying.

Rehab has been the new vacation destination for other stars. Lindsay Lohan admitted that she had a drinking problem late last year, and Mary-Kate Olsen, another star who is no stranger to the spotlight, has publicly battled an eating disorder.

Could the stress of stardom be responsible for these high-profile meltdowns? Many wonder whether the tabloid antics of a number of high-profile stars could be manifestations of the effects of long-term exposure to ... well ... exposure.

A Life in the Spotlight

It is, of course, impossible for anyone to say conclusively that stress is the only factor -- or even the main factor -- in the behavior and choices of stars who have experienced long-term stardom.

But one thing is for certain -- the life of a star is a stressful one.

"These are people like you and me, but they need to be perfect," says Dr. Scott Kessler, a New York physician who has treated a number of musical celebrities.

"These people are living life on a level of psychological and emotional stress that are higher than most."

In addition to a breakneck schedule, many stars may find that they also have to contend with near constant public scrutiny of their every action.

"It's unhealthy, I think," Kessler says. "They've been taught that they are not human. You can't live your life like that.

"The scrutiny has gotten way out of hand."

Stress and Child Stars

The stress of fame may also have unique consequences for those whose stardom begins at a young age.

Dr. Paul Miller, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, says "I think it's a fascinating topic how these kids under these experiences manage to maintain equilibrium."

Miller, an expert on how stress can impact a child's psychological state, says stardom presents an additional challenge to younger individuals who are developing into adulthood.

"Kids are still going through the process of determining, 'what is the limit?'" he says. "There is a huge risk factor for these kids, because they are part of a very precocious industry.

"This may call for early maturation -- socially, emotionally and sexually, perhaps -- because of the world that they're in."

Additionally, certain behaviors that seem outrageous may appeal to young stars, as they lead to additional attention.

"They may see differential rewards for people who engage in out-of-bounds behavior," Miller says. "Being the bad boy or the bad girl may get you more press."

But could stress be the reason behind Britney's self-induced scalping?

"That's the $64,000 question," says Miller, adding that he cannot comment specifically on Spears' unusual behavior.

"There's really no way to tell what she's going through. Everyone can speculate, but it's hard to know what's driving these choices."

Hope for Recovery?

Yet another intriguing question is whether a young star who has gone into a tailspin can recover from the psychological effects of stress.

Miller says that many of the stresses put on young stars would start out as acute -- that is, they would come in the form of short bursts of stress.

If whatever is causing the stress is eliminated, it is likely that the individual will rebound and return to normal psychological and emotional health.

But the glare of the spotlight can take a more severe toll if it is sustained.

"Then the child will continue to experience the effects of stress," he says. "How they cope with the strong feeling that comes with it can lead to other behaviors that are problematic.

"It's a tough business; it is very hard to compete and succeed in show business. If you put together all of these risk factors, it is easy to see how these kids have been socialized into a different kind of lifestyle."

Stardom Does Not Always Lead to Rehab

But while some celebrities appear to have succumbed to the pressure of their fame, others seem to thrive both during and after their time in the spotlight.

"Not all of these kids crack," Miller says. "Not all of them engage in this self-destructive behavior. Only some do."

One example of this principle is Mayim Bialik, star of the early 1990s sitcom "Blossom," who is now completing her doctorate in neuroscience at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Danica McKellar, who played the character Winnie on the hit TV series "The Wonder Years," also attended UCLA to pursue studies in mathematics. And though she eventually decided to return to acting, a physics theorem now bears her name.

"Nothing in these experiences is preordained," Miller says. "It's case by case, and a constellation of risk factors put together over time defines the outcome."

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