Do Musicians Deal with Anxiety?
I’m totally excited about an event I will be attending later this month.
This opportunity came about somewhat unexpectedly, but it looks like I will have the opportunity to see the Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson live and in concert.
While, unlike my husband, my knowledge of the golden age of 60’s music is somewhat limited, my understanding is that many of the prominent musicians of the times were inspired and competitive with each other’s works and the creative musical boundaries that were being pushed.
I remember learning about how Brian Wilson was so struck by hearing the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album, that he was inspired to write and record the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which was further inspiration for the Beatles to mastermind the creation of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
And while it can be easy enough to imagine that during this renaissance of some of the most memorable musical accomplishments of the last century, it can just as easily be assumed that these musicians were equally creatively, emotionally and psychological strong individuals.
That they were exquisitely talented artists composing, taking inspiration and living their best meaningful lives, it turns that, at least for Brian Wilson (and other accomplished performers, it turns out), that wasn’t necessarily the full picture.
There is no doubt that the Brian Wilson was the creative tour de force for the Beach Boys, and that their albums and songs are still memorable and important to rock and roll history to this day because of his work and contributions.
However, despite his accomplishments, Brian Wilson has suffered.
His life in the 80’s have been described this way:
When he weighed 300 pounds and subsisted on steaks, crème de menthe cocktails and cocaine. “I was so lazy I pissed in the fireplace,” he says. “Can you believe that?”
He discussed ways in which he manages his mood issues in more recent times:
He does this circuit — deli, park, home — two or three times a day, what he calls “my daily regime,” to keep in shape and to quiet his mind. “I’m anxious, depressed, I get scared a lot,” says Wilson, who turned 73 on June 20th. “It’s been that way for about 42 years. The park helps keep me straight. I show up feeling bad, and I leave feeling good. It blows the bad stuff right out of my brains.”
If you are interested in learning more about Brian Wilson’s experiences and struggles with mental illness, I would highly suggest watch the biopic Love & Mercy from 2014.
Wilson says of the film:
“It was hard to watch the first time,” Wilson admits. “I felt exposed. But it’s a factual film. Whatever the film shows, it was much worse in real life.”
(Original article: Rolling Stone)
And Brian Wilson isn’t alone.
As a talk therapist who have had the opportunity to work with creative folks in a number of fields, it does not surprise me that many well-know artists in the public eye have shared their experiences of dealing with anxiety.
(It is not lost on me that Brian Wilson was unfortunately taken advantage of by an unconventional psychologist who grossly misused his practitionership to abuse Wilson. And while unethical and unfortunate situations have and do happen in therapeutic situations, it is my subjective belief that the majority of healthcare practitioners are those who act in the best interest of their clients.)
According to an article published on Billboard online, it claims that 70% of musicians reported issues with anxiety and depression.
However, because one of the things I hope to accomplish with this site is for readers to come away having a more nuanced understanding of anxiety, in this post, my focus is on musicians who have shared their experiences of generalized anxiety (also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD).
In a future post there will be a more specific discussion and focus on performance anxiety, anxiety heightened by the prospect or requirement to perform in front of others.
Other professional musicians with generalized anxiety
Below are a list of 13 other musicians who have publicly discussed dealing with anxiety.
While I do not wish to distill her life experiences to a few paragraphs, I felt it important to note here that she had been transparent in a 2017 documentary, Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated, that the treatment that she had previously undergone at a treatment facility had not been entirely successful.
In mid-2018, she released a single which spoke to relapsing after six years of being sober, and a month following the release of the single, she had been admitted to emergency due to an overdose.
We are often a society as a whole who may idealize the ‘one and done’ mentality (‘if there’s a problem, deal with it and move on’) or at times, have very little empathy for those who struggle with ongoing mood disorders.
But if even a little of Demi Lovato’s story shows, managing anxiety and mood disorders requires consistent attention and work.
“When you don’t know what’s happening, why you’re feeling certain ways, and you don’t have the answers yet, people tend to self-medicate, which is exactly what I did.”
– Demi Lovato
As an artist who has been publicly vocal on many social issues that are true and relevant to herself and her fans, Lady Gaga has also discussed her experiences with anxiety, depression and trauma frequently and often.
She spoke in some detail to Billboard Magazine in 2015 about her consistent and daily struggles with anxiety and depression.
In the article, she emphasizes the importance of sharing her experiences and through her establishing her non-profit so that her fans, particularly those who may feel alone and disenfranchised, can have the opportunity to ask, “How did you overcome the issues you had?”
“I need my mantra to help keep me relaxed. ‘You are brave. You are courageous.'”
– Lady Gaga
After years of being in the public spotlight as a well-known country singer since the age of 11, in 2012, LeAnn Rimes checked into a treatment center to help manage her stress and anxiety.
A few years later, in advance of releasing a new album at the time, she spoke with the Sun about some of her struggles with anxiety and depression.
“I lost my mind in private. I’ve gone through a lot, every transition and every feeling that goes along with being a child star.”
– LeAnn Rimes
Lana Del Rey
For the feature cover article in 2014, Rolling Stone referred to Lana Del Rey as “The Saddest, Baddest Diva in Rock.”
While she said that she has not spoken a lot about her anxiety, she had shared in an interview with Billboard in 2015 that she suffers with death anxiety and mentioned that she manages her anxiety, much like her mother does, making lists and rewarding herself when accomplishing tasks “to calm myself down”.
“I haven’t spoken that much about my anxiety over the years, but one of the cool things that’s come up is the focus on self-care. I do meditations for joy and happiness and try not to spread myself too thin.”
– Lana Del Rey
The 1975’s well-received second album, I Like It When You Sleep Because You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, discusses addiction, depression, cocaine, among other things in the realm of mental health and mood disorders.
Matt Healy is also now open to discussing his heroin addiction and what led to him seek treatment. He reportedly said to his bandmates as reported in Billboard:
‘Listen, everyone has to get onboard because I’m the f****** main deal. If you want songs, we’re just going to have to get on with it’.
The next morning, he woke up mortified. “I realised that was absolute f****** bullshit. So I went downstairs and told George I should go to rehab.
He goes on to mention that he speculates that his openness to discuss his anxiety allows his fans to relate to him:
“The manicness seems to resonate with people, because they know how it feels to be like…” He struggles to sum up the generational condition. “I don’t know. It’s just… a lot.”
Pete Wentz of American band, Fall Out Boy, discusses his experiences and challenges with mental health and mood disorders, also how his work, art and therapeutic interventions have been supportive for him.
Yet, when she started to experience in her own words:
“It was beginning to get fuzzy – I couldn’t even tell which day or which city I was at,” her mother was insistent that she focus on taking care of her mental health and ultimately took a year off to do so in 2011 following the break-up of Destiny’s Child.
Even if you are not familiar with Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and songwriter for 1990’s band Nirvana, it was pretty clear just from seeing him in a video clip perform or listening to him in an audio interview that he was not a conventional individual.
While anxiety is not discussed directly in the 2015 documentary based on Kurt Cobain called Montage of Heck. It does feel like a very intimate and revealing look inside his life, mental and emotional state with many of the source material coming directly from Cobain’s personal notebooks.
Trigger warning as some of the images and discussions are quite candid about mental health. Below is a trailer for the documentary:
“If my eyes could show my soul, everyone would cry when they saw me smile.”
– Kurt Cobain
In an interview Taylor Swift gave to NME in 2015, she discussed how it is a necessity for her to speak with her mother on a regular basis to get a perspective on her life when the constant scrutiny due to the combination of fame and social media can be overwhelming.
“And it can feel, at times, if you let your anxiety get the better of you, like everybody’s waiting for you to really mess up – and then you’ll be done.”
– Taylor Swift
In 2017, Selena Gomez was diagnosed with Lupus and even underwent chemotherapy to treat the condition. Selena recently revealed that the stress of the diagnoses (along with releasing an album and touring) made her want to slow down and take some time for herself.
“I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks, and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges,” she said in a statement. “I want to be proactive and focus on maintaining my health and happiness and have decided that the best way forward is to take some time off. Thank you to all my fans for your support.”
– Selena Gomez
Barely in his 20’s, Shawn Mendes has three successful albums. He started by sharing his covers and music online and has accomplished in commercial success what many artists twice and three times his age may wish for.
However, in the video below, he talks about his experiences with anxiety disorder as he also wrote about in his song, In My Blood:
In the video below, Ariana Grande talks about how she can feel guilty for feeling anxious for being the “luckiest girl in the world”.
But only being in her mid-20’s with all of her accomplishments, in addition to surviving the suicide bombing attack that killed 22 people during a concert in Manchester, England in 2017, it is not surprising that there are moments of anxiety she experiences.
She speaks more about her feelings about the Manchester Bombing incident here:
British Vogue, August 2018.
“My anxiety has anxiety. I’ve always had anxiety. I’ve never really spoken about it because I thought everyone had it.”
– Ariana Grande
Olly Alexander has spoken openly about how the still current difficulties around societal acceptance of sexuality and associated bullying can be combined to create distress in an individual, leading to difficulties with anxiety.
“It’s not only something that affects me but also affects my family and some of the people closest to me too, which I’m sure many people can relate to. I’ve spent the last few years really working on my mental health, trying to get better support.”
– Olly Alexander
He has discussed how CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) has been a tool that has been helpful for him to dealing with panic issues and anxiety.
“All throughout school I really struggled with mental health problems, loads of different things, and I never told anyone. Never told my mum. And I think, looking back, it began to eat away at me. I wish I had talked sooner.”
– Olly Alexander
(Read more: BBC)
Are you a musician or a creative who deal with anxiety? What are ways that you deal with anxiety? Please share your insights below to help others who may be struggling similarly.