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Back in 2019, during some downtime from his relentless schedule after releasing his chart-topping, Grammy-nominated third album, Shawn Mendes found himself in the U.K. with a rare moment to reflect. While his girlfriend, the similarly chart-topping Camila Cabello, was working in the studio every day, she recommended he download the Calm app as a means of helping Mendes through a rocky period with his mental health.
“I had definitely sat down a couple of times and done a meditation on YouTube, but it really wasn’t until about two and a half years ago, when I was going through a really tough time and had a lot of anxiety, that I started using it regularly,” says Mendes. After undertaking 30 days of guided meditations with one of the app’s most popular instructors, Jeff Warren, Mendes was hooked. “It took me from a place of fear and anxiety to a place where I realized you can’t get anywhere if you don’t start with compassion for yourself,” he adds.
Now, two years later, Mendes is launching not just his own series along with Cabello for Calm—titled “Breathe Into It,” these 24 sessions dive into their experiences in overcoming anxiety and building a sense of self-love and gratitude—but is also announcing a multi-year partnership that will provide thousands of free memberships to youth activists and leaders through the Movement Voter Fund and the Shawn Mendes Foundation. For Mendes, it’s an opportunity not just to destigmatize the conversation around mental health, but also to give back.
“A lot of kids wouldn’t be able to afford a membership, so I hope that by giving them the tools for a year, they can decide whether to continue with it or not,” Mendes explains. “People are willing to try something when it’s made accessible to them, so I’m hoping that we can just keep pushing this project forward, and keep giving away more memberships. It’s just being able to kickstart a couple of people’s journeys into self-healing and wellness.”
Here, Mendes tells Vogue about his mental health journey, the importance of paying it forward, and the surprising benefits of meditation in his relationship with Cabello.
Vogue: When you first started thinking about the stories you wanted to share in your series, were there any aspects of your journey that felt especially important?
Shawn Mendes: I definitely felt it was important to share the internal struggle that was happening even during the highest peaks of my career. I don’t think many people know what’s going on in an artist’s mind when they step on stage at the Grammys, for example, but I wanted to share that for me it was complete insecurity. How meditation really helped me find my reason for wanting to do this for a living was really important to share also.
What is it about Calm as a platform that you were drawn to?
I think the cool thing is that Calm was created for everyone. People who have just started meditating, people who haven’t meditated in a while, people who have meditated for a long time. You can go on there and find the right teacher for you, as there are so many different styles. It’s a very personal thing. You’re basically just sitting there with someone whispering in your ear, so you’ve really got to make sure you vibe with that person. I think that’s really helpful when you first start meditating, because with Calm you can find something that works for you really easily.
You’ve always been very open about your anxiety. Where are you at in that journey right now, particularly with the circumstances of the past year?
I think it’s something I still take day by day. Sometimes I go a week or two and I’m feeling good, and I have control of everything, my routine is going great. And then even just within the last week, I’ve had days where it felt like my whole world was falling apart. Nothing external has changed that much, it’s just an internal thing. And the key thing I’m learning at this point in my journey is that you just have to let yourself be human, and to let those feelings spill out. In the same way you might keep trying to be perfect to stave off anxiety, you can get obsessed with meditation and feel like, I always have to have a grip on life now that I meditate. But it’s not true. I think even the most serene people have their moments of turmoil. It’s just part of the journey, you know?
You mentioned it was Camila who introduced you to Calm initially, and she’s involved in the project too. Do you think mindfulness is an important part of building and maintaining a healthy relationship?
If we didn’t have meditation and mindfulness in our lives, I don’t think our relationship would last, because it allows me to be aware of when I’m not listening, for example, or I’m just replying to [Camila] out of wanting to be right in a conversation. It allows me to check myself and allows her to check me and be like, ‘Hey, you know, this is how you’re treating me right now.’ Without meditation, I probably would just be disagreeing with her instead of being aware enough to realize, ‘Oh, you know what, that’s actually true. That is how I was treating you.’ I think that in so many ways, mindfulness and meditation have really helped our relationship to stay in a place of honesty and love and never get too out of control. We’re not perfect, and we have our arguments like any relationship, but it never spins deeper than that, because we’re aware enough to know when our ego is getting involved.
Is using your platform as a musician to promote causes that are close to your heart something you find particularly fulfilling?
I mean, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s probably one of the main drivers as to why I feel it’s so important to keep making music. To be able to have that platform and to do things like this is magical, it’s a one-in-a-million opportunity. I do feel a responsibility to be some sort of a role model, but at the same time, I think I feel a responsibility to be human and to fuck up and to lay out the messier parts of myself on the floor for everyone to see. That teaches you so much more than trying to be perfect.
Originally Appeared on Vogue