Jesy Nelson: Living with anxiety

Behind the sparkle of the make-up, designer clothes, bright lights and glossy hair, even pop stars experience anxiety.

It’s tempting to imagine that with money and fame all insecurities melt away, but in our exclusive video, Jesy Nelson reveals that this isn’t the case. It might sound surprising, but she says that one of the places she feels the most anxiety is "when I shoot a music video.”

What is anxiety?

‘Anxiety’ describes the feeling we get when we’re worried, stressed or afraid. We’ve all experienced the physical symptoms of anxiety at some point – that churning, butterfly feeling in your stomach before public speaking, the need for a nervous wee before an important match, blushing and getting sweat patches under your arms on a date.

Whilst it’s normal to feel anxiety, for some people the symptoms can be severe and distressing: heart palpitations, dizziness and panic attacks, for example. There are mental symptoms of anxiety too, such as being unable to relax, feeling acutely self-conscious, worrying about things that might happen or feeling disconnected from reality.

Why do we feel anxious?

Our bodies have evolved a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. When we feel threatened we get a flood of hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, that make us more alert and make our hearts beat faster so that we can respond to danger quickly.

This was super-useful when we lived in the wild and relied on our reflexes to run away from predators. But, in today’s world we have far fewer life-threatening encounters, but our bodies still produce the same hormones when we sense a threat or feel unsafe, leading to the same panicked feeling.

Think of anxiety as your body saying, “Wake up! You’ve got something important to do!” It’s trying to help by providing you with a bit of oomph – unfortunately, you get the same amount of oomph whether you need to fight a bear or give a presentation!

Social anxiety and looking good

Social situations evoke anxiety for lots of people, Jesy included. “I don’t like being in a small environment with a lot of people watching me pretend to be a character,” she says when discussing filming music videos. In her documentary, she says that at the peak of her anxiety she was:

a vulnerable nervous wreck all the time.

“For me, personally, I still feel a lot of pressure to look good all the time.”

It may sound understandable to be nervous in front of directors and cameras, but people can experience social anxiety in very normal situations, such as talking in groups, meeting new people or, as Jesy admits, “in a restaurant”. Really, any situation where you might be the focus of attention can be a trigger for social anxiety.

Pressure to look a certain way can also cause anxiety. “There’s a lot of pressure to look good in music videos”, Jesy says, “and so if you don’t feel good it’s really hard to pretend to feel amazing.”

Social anxiety can stem from a fear of judgment, embarrassment or rejection – you worry that you’ll do something ‘wrong’ or make a fool of yourself, and that worry gets worse and worse until you’re worrying about worrying! Unchecked, it can have a huge impact on your self-confidence, self-esteem and relationships.

It’s important to remember that everyone (even pop stars!) feel anxious sometimes and that no one is perfect. No matter how glossy and shiny celebrities look on TV, the reality, Jesy shares, is that they’ve been through “hours and hours of make-up and hair and lighting” and even then they’re feeling the pressure themselves.

When is anxiety a problem?

It’s normal to feel anxiety, but for some people it can affect them so much that they aren‘t able to do the normal, everyday things they need to – like going to the shops. They might start avoiding situations that they think could cause them distress.

In her video on body image, Jesy says: "It got so bad to the point where I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of bed in the morning and I just stopped turning up for work."

If your anxiety is impacting on how you live your everyday life, it’s important to address it. Jesy manages her anxiety by talking to friends: “It’s so important to have a close group of friends around you because that really helps. Just talk about anything that you feel not good about.”

You can also find lots of support and counselling opportunities online. To get started, take a look at our Bitesize Support pages on mental health. You could read:

There's also advice an support on the NHS, Mind and AnxietyUK websites.

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