"Issues" Singer Julia Michaels Pens Essay About Living With Anxiety

By David Konow 12/27/17

"Anxiety feels like an earthquake shaking your entire body and can last for minutes, hours, or sometimes days."

Julia Michaels

Julia Michaels is currently one of the top songwriters in the business. At the age of 24, she’s had one of the biggest hits of the year with "Issues." Michaels has also co-written songs for Selena Gomez (“Good For You”), and Justin Bieber (“Sorry”).

And while she's found major success in the mainstream pop world, Michaels has had to grapple with debilitating anxiety along the way, which she wrote about in Glamour

Michaels says anxiety is “like you’re in a prison with yourself” and reveals that she started having serious anxiety at the age of 18. She had just signed her first music publishing deal and “felt so much pressure to perform that it sent my mind and body down something that felt like a never-ending spiral. I thought I was dying. Most days I couldn’t breathe or leave the fetal position.”

Michaels eventually “became afraid of everything. Going out. Eating. Driving. Writing... I became consumed... I had completely isolated myself—even from the things I loved. This continued heavily for the next few years.”

Others in her life, including her boyfriend and her father, didn’t understand what she was going through. “To people who don’t have it, anxiety can seem so foreign and burdening,” Michaels says. Her father finally understood her condition when she had a panic attack, and ended up screaming and stripping off her clothes in 40-degree weather. “That’s what anxiety does: It comes out of nowhere and causes chaos just for fun.”

Michaels’ anxiety got so debilitating, she thought, "If this is how the rest of my life is going to look, I can’t do this." She finally got into therapy and recalls, “My first couple sessions, all I did was cry and panic. I didn’t realize how much emotional duress I was holding inside of my body. How much childhood trauma and avoidance account for anxiety. How the less you talk about how you’re feeling, the more it builds...”

In therapy, Michaels realized that she had associations in her mind linked to what made her panic, like the insecurity she felt as an artist. When struggling with stage fright, she realized her fear came from being told she couldn’t sing when she was younger, and she finally told herself, “That was a long time ago. I’m OK.”

Michaels learned a lot of coping skills in therapy, and that everyone has different ways of coming to terms with their personal nerves. “Rationalizing with myself has been the one to calm me down the most,” she says. “When that doesn’t work, I do something called grounding, where I take my shoes off, no matter where I am, and plant my feet on the ground. It makes me feel centered, stable, and less confined.”

Today, Michaels feels she’s made “an amazing sense of growth and accomplishment” in dealing with her anxiety. “When you’re stuck in that vicious cycle it’s easy to think that you may never get out. And when you realize that prison has an escape door, that Chicago winter suddenly starts to feel like summer again.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.