By Anna Sejuelas
Mental health bops, especially those by women, have become easier to find and groove to in the last year and a half. Take Ariana Grande’s Billboard hit “Breathin’” off her album Sweetener, which chronicles her struggle with the side effects of PTSD; Olivia O’Brien’s “Empty”, which navigates depression and self-medication; and Florence and the Machine’s “Hunger”, which originated as a poem about Welch’s experience with an eating disorder at age 17.
A new one, Julia Michaels’s and Selena Gomez’s “Anxiety,” is not only a girl-power anthem, but an honest look into what it’s like to live with anxiety on a daily basis, from how it affects relationships — friendships or romantic — to overthinking every little thing. For me, someone who’s suffered from anxiety and depression, it communicates solidarity and a recognition that I’m also allowed to feel, even when it means intense emotions often kept from societal acknowledgement.
I began seeing a therapist for depression when I was 16, learning coping skills first through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on identifying unhealthy patterns in one’s behaviors, and then through dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which involves accepting behaviors that one can’t change and creating positive alternatives through mindfulness. Therapy is not for everyone, but I find it works for me.
Gomez, likewise, has been open about her struggle with anxiety and depression and her advocacy for going to therapy: “DBT has completely changed my life,” she told Vogue in 2017. “I wish more people would talk about therapy.” She’s quick to point out the pressure women in the industry have on them to keep up appearances, to not show weakness and how it holds them back from being honest about what they feel. “We girls, we’re taught to be almost too resilient, to be strong and sexy and cool and laid-back; the girl who’s down,” she said. “We also need to feel allowed to fall apart.”
Michaels, meanwhile, has long been outspoken about her battle with anxiety and how she also benefits from therapy, writing in an open letter to Glamour last month, “My first couple sessions, all I did was cry and panic. I didn’t realize how much emotional duress I was holding inside my body... I learned that the more toxicity I surrounded myself with, the more toxic my mind became. The more therapy I did, the more the panic became less and less. I learned that for each thing to have anxiety about, I had an association to link it to.”
With the help of many therapists over the years, I’ve developed techniques to use when I’m feeling anxious so I can ground myself and stop the chaos in my mind, even if it’s for a few minutes. But when my anxiety is at its worst and I don’t even give those coping skills a thought, my anxiety looks like ignored text messages from friends and hook-ups asking to hang out and outstanding emails in my inbox. In the first verse of “Anxiety,” Michaels shows she knows the feelings, singing, “Make all these plans with friends and hope they call and cancel / Then overthink about the things I’m missing / Now I’m wishing I was with ‘em.” Cancelling plans might seem like a good idea in the moment, but then I end up lying awake at night, sweating, my mind racing: Why did I cancel? Do they hate me? I’m such a bad friend.
When I ignore my friends because I’m anxious about conflict, it’s my anxiety swarming my mind with assumptions that isolating myself will somehow make the situation fix itself or disappear altogether: Is it even worth it to try to explain? Will it sound like I’m making excuses? This very pattern of overthinking motivated Michaels to write “Anxiety,” as she said in an interview with Beats 1 Radio. “I kind of wanna talk about these sort of things that I deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “Not just anxiety, but the fear of missing out and sort of wanting to do things but never actually having the ability to go through with anything that you want to do. It’s just a way into the mind of someone that has anxiety and has these struggles for someone that doesn’t understand it.”
On “Anxiety,” Michaels and Gomez both sing about how they were told that they could “take something to fix it” and that they “wish it was that simple.” I’ve been on three different types of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications since I was 18 and have had both positive and negative experiences. Once I found the right antidepressant and the right dosage, I felt more in control of my emotions, as though I could get through the day without being set off by something as tiny as forgetting my locker combination or getting off at the wrong stop on the subway. But when my depression is at its absolute worst, it looks like two-months’ worth of Prozac still sitting in unopened bottles in my kitchen cabinet. It’s the realization that, after ignoring her calls and voicemails for a month, I should call my psychiatrist and set up an appointment.
“Feel like I’m always apologizing for feeling,” Michaels sings in the song’s pre-chorus. That’s exactly what anxiety does: demands we apologize in order to protect ourselves. But this openness in talking about mental health and raising awareness creates a bond between people, including Michaels and Gomez. “You’re never alone if you feel this way,” Gomez wrote in a poignant Instagram post prior to its release. For me, “Anxiety” is a declaration of just that: Michaels and Gomez are allowed to feel every emotion, no matter how messy or intense — and so are all of us.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, head to halfofus.com for ways to get help.