Hunter Hayes says fame took a toll on his mental health: 'There's a lot of pressure on me'

Kerry Justich
·4 min read

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Hunter Hayes is opening up about his struggles with mental health for the very first time, telling Yahoo Life that anxiety has followed him since his very first tour as a result of internalizing the pressure put on him by the music industry.

"There was a lot of pressure on the song," Hayes said of his first single. "I interpreted that as there's a lot of pressure on me. They have to approve of me in order for me to be successful. That's not a healthy sentence."

The 29-year-old singer and songwriter says that this was the first time that he understood the feeling of anxiety and "how it really takes over," although it wouldn't be the end of his experience with it. The difficulty in controlling it, however, lies within the irony of music being a way to improve his mental health, while so much that comes with it brings stress.

"I really love what I do, which can really be complicated. It gives me so much purpose, which can be dangerous as well," Hayes explains. "My argument of it, 'Well, maybe if it brings me anxiety I should cut certain things out.' It's like, no, the things that are bringing me anxiety are the things that I love, so I just need to rebuild my love for them and my relationship with them."

Still, it took him a long time to figure out just how to do that without feeling like he would be misinterpreted by fans. In 2014, Hayes says he "started having these conversations" around mental health with the song "Invisible." 

"It opened the door because I realized people would understand that," he says. "I had totally different conversations with fans. They were sharing stories about their lives and they were trusting me with parts of their story that really allowed for genuine, human connection."

It was this connection that made Hayes realize just how hard he was on himself earlier in his career and how much he was pushing to achieve success, while actually burning himself out.

"I have a bad habit of giving it too much. I have a bad habit of running myself into the ground because I don't see it," he shares. "If I'm giving to it, it's giving me something back and I don't realize that I'm out of energy until I'm totally depleted. So I realized, I need to be alone."

Hayes took a notable three-year break from music after his 2013 and 2014 tours, time he used to travel by himself. 

"I'm used to basically being told where to be at all times. It was terrifying for me to make a decision and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had," he says. "I've learned that it's really good for me to reset. And it also allows me to appreciate the things that are around me much better."

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He continues, "I think there's a misconception of, 'Oh, they're very successful, they must be really happy.' I think that's a dangerous assumption. A lot of people who experience tremendous success run the risk of aversion of loneliness that can come quickly and silently."

Now, Hayes is using his voice to speak out about mental health not just on his own platform but by teaming up with One Mind — a leading brain health nonprofit focused on creating community. As a One Mind Champion, Hayes feels that he's more able to have important conversations about mental health and to open up about his own experience, which enables him to better himself and get back to making music that he loves.

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"I feel very invited, I guess, to be all of me and have these conversations," he says. "It's been really rewarding and I'm very grateful."

Video produced by Jenny Miller

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