This is a guest editorial written by Aaron Aye, a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, MN. Aaron's new album, F.E.A.R., is out now via The Orchard.
Anxiety isn’t something I grew up with as a kid. Though I often imagined how I wanted things to play out, my thoughts never turned into worries. My mother was a worrier, but I don’t recollect ever talking to her about being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Looking back, though, I often wonder if she had it, too.
When I turned 18, I experienced the first wave of symptoms. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. In the beginning, I had a few panic attacks; I thought I was dying, and my head would feel foggy all the time. It might have been due to all the changes in my life—losing a parent, moving to Los Angeles, and then moving back home a year later. I lived with one friend after another for several years. Maybe all the changes finally caught up to me. Perhaps it was all the loss I had experienced that caused me to always worry about the future and what could go wrong. Alternatively, maybe it was just my anxiety.
Anxiety is difficult enough to handle for those who work outside of entertainment, but as a recording artist, it becomes my worst enemy. There once was a time where I didn’t think I’d be able to create any more or reach my goals because of anxiety, but I’ve always fought against that fear. I decided I wasn’t going to let my battle with anxiety dictate my success as an artist, a mentality that eventually became the inspiration for my new album F.E.A.R..
With music, usually, I like to create with confidence and trust my instincts. When anxiety rears its ugly head, it brings doubt to the forefront of my mind; it makes me second guess myself and my ideas when in actuality, I might have just thought of something great. When I’m writing a song, and I stop my creativity from flowing and begin to overanalyze every word, searching for a better way to say the same thing or thinking about how people will react, that’s anxiety.
An artist must possess a certain amount of confidence and vulnerability during the writing process. When anxiety creeps into the artistic psyche, it’s like hosting a visit from an uninvited critic. It takes the magic out of the process.
I think the hardest part about battling anxiety is not being able to tell when something you are considering is real or if it’s just anxiety messing with you. Sometimes how you feel is rationally based on the situation, while other times, it’s entirely in your head. The process of figuring out which one is which is exhausting.
Anxiety often feels like my creativity is working against me. The same creativity I use to write songs and make art makes my thoughts feel overwhelming and causes me to be anxious. It’s a balance of knowing when it’s helpful to let your mind run wild and when it’s not. I can usually gauge the difference by noticing if I feel inspired to create and express myself on a high level or if I’m paralyzed to the point that the simplest things, like getting out of bed in the morning or eating meals, feel difficult.
I encourage everyone who deals with anxiety, artists, and non-artists alike, to surround themselves with those who help them stay in the moment. I read self-help books and look for tools to help calm myself down whenever I feel anxious. Meditation, when executed with repetition, is also something that seems to help. The point of meditation isn’t to stop your thoughts, but rather to observe them so you can eventually bring your attention back to the present moment.
Mental health has become an alarming concern for my generation, but with so much pressure to figure out who we are and how to become successful (either by our standards or by society’s standards), along with the constant distraction of social media that keeps us from living in the now, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
The best way for me to deal with anxious thoughts and feelings is to be patient and to write out how I feel, which, ironically, makes for great art. This approach doesn’t always make for a pleasant experience, but it feels fantastic when you can turn your pain and confusion into something productive. I’m capable of so much more than my anxiety will ever let me believe.
Stream Aaron Aye's new album, F.E.A.R., on Audiomack.