Exclusive: How Tinashe Overcame Her Anxiety (and Got More Sleep)

Updated 04/28/19
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I peered out my bedroom window to discover New York covered in a shimmering but debilitating blanket of snow. It was 6 a.m., an hour I rarely see, but I wanted time to prepare for my interview with singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress Tinashe. As her description suggests, she's a force to be reckoned with.

At just 24 years old, Tinashe, born Tinashe Jorgenson Kachingwe, has already released three critically acclaimed mixtapes—two of which she created in a makeshift studio in her bedroom—signed with RCA Records, dropped a debut studio album, and appeared in both television and box-office hits. That morning, on the day I was meant to meet her, the roads were far from paved, and Facebook statuses mentioned "snowflakes" in reference to the weather (not just as a political insult).

I sent a quick email to her team, positive Tinashe would cancel—celebrities are not exactly known for their low-maintenance sensibilities. "The show must go on, see you at Noon," her reply said, proving she is just as assiduous as she is punctual. It's that hustle that has allowed her the type of success many can only dream of: touring as a teenager with Justin Bieber, then Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. "I LOVE touring," she told me after we exchanged weather-related pleasantries. "Each tour has been such a great experience.

In South America, Katy Perry took our whole team to a tango restaurant for dinner. She shut the restaurant down, and we danced. It was one of those moments you look back on and think, I’ll remember this forever."

Emily Soto

Tinashe doesn't define success by the pop-star caliber with which she's toured or even the paychecks she's had the pleasure of cashing. "It's about doing whatever makes you happy at the end of the day. And," she muses, "I don’t necessarily know what that means for me or anyone else, but I think you achieve success when you search for validation through happiness over all else." Her voice is knowing and kind, with a sassiness I can't help but admire. Regardless of talent (which Tinashe has in spades), I'm always amazed at a famous person's ability to draw you in.

It's a sparkle in their eye, a wise intonation in their voice, a charm that feels infectious. "It's definitely become a process trying to convince people that yes, I am creative, but I can be accessible, and I can be cool," she told Spin. "It's very rare that people are able to be all of those things. But I am."

It's true that an artist is often forced into a singular lane, either edgy and underground or sugar-coated and mainstream. With both homemade mixtapes and successful songs on the radio, Tinashe has mastered an elusive hybrid of the two. In that same vein, she partnered with John Frieda Hair Care for a campaign called Hair Talks. Together, they'll work to create a platform for like-minded women to take part in a community of empowerment and self-assuredness—starting with hair. "It really represents a lot of the same things I try to embody as an artist," she said of the partnership, "which is just, you know, all the different facets that make me me.

I don't really fit into a particular box. I have all these different sides to me and this versatility. I love that I bring that to the table. The Hair Talks campaign really embraces that."

Emily Soto

Tinashe grew up in La Crescenta, California, a town 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles with an African-American population that is less than 1%. "She was singled out," her brother told Complex. "I come from a really mixed family, a really mixed background," Tinashe explained. "My dad is from Zimbabwe, and my mom is Irish, Danish, and Norwegian. I ultimately had no one in my household with the same hair type as me. So it was a long journey to figure out how to do my hair and own my personal routine.

As I've gotten older and picked up tips while getting my hair done and whatnot, I finally feel like I'm reflecting on the outside how I feel on the inside."

I asked if she had any one person she looked up to outside of her family—someone who had similar hair or features. "Not necessarily," she answered, "I feel like that's why it took me a while to find my groove. I definitely played with a lot of different styles, colors, and textures growing up, and I still do the same. Now, it's more an opportunity to express a mood than it is an exploration." She mentions Janet Jackson as her ultimate inspiration. Her go-to style at present is down and wavy, a way to look done but still undone.

"I never want my hair to be too together—I'm always dancing; I'm always kind of switching it up. Sometimes I want curls; other times I want it to be really sleek and straight. You know, when you're feeling edgy, you want to embody that feeling."

We talked more about her personality and then the trials and tribulations of living much of her life on the road. Looking at her creamy, clear complexion, I knew she must have a few skincare secrets up her sleeve. "My mom taught me about proper skincare. As a kid, I definitely neglected my skin, allowing it to get oily and collect pockets of blackheads and some occasional breakouts in my T-zone. On the road, there's a lot of changes in weather, of course," she said, noting, "I have to wear sunscreen all the time, keep very hydrated.

Airplanes are really bad for your body and your skin—all sorts of things. I haven't had a massive breakout in a while, but I attribute that to daily use of the X Out's Wash-In Acne Treatment ($30). Every morning I use the wash-in treatment with warm water in the shower. I towel-dry my face, apply a moisturizer, sunscreen, and then go." She continued, "My hair can get really neglected when I'm traveling and dry out, so it's nice to be able to use John Frieda’s Frizz-Ease Hair Serum ($11)."

With traveling and touring comes anxiety and nervousness, an issue that plagues more than just performers. Almost one-fifth of all adults suffer from some form of anxiety. And according to the American Psychological Association, almost half of all Americans feel more stressed than they did five years ago. While we've researched all-natural remedies, relaxing workout moves, and even foods that help calm you down, I was curious about stress from Tinashe's perspective. To be young and successful is more difficult than ever before.

Millions of people (the artist has 1.7 million followers on Instagram alone) are watching her every move, speculating over her relationships and commenting on the worthiness of her artistry. How does she keep it all together? Is it possible to diffuse and dissipate such powerful and overwhelming feelings? "Honestly, I just try not to hype myself up too much," she said. "I surround myself with people that make me feel good, make me feel comfortable. It's all about the people and the environment.

If I'm able to relax, listen to music, and have a good time, then those feelings of anxiety will go away."

Emily Soto

Another side effect of anxiety is trouble sleeping, an affliction proven to nag so many of us. A new Consumer Reports survey of 4023 adults found that 27% of Americans suffer from insomnia while 68%—about 164 million people—struggle with sleep at least once a week. Tinashe agrees she's been affected, as her sleep schedule is anything but regular. "What really helps me sleep soundly at night is being active throughout the day. I make sure to exercise and move around—I need to see the light of day.

And I try to get off my phone at night. That really keeps me up, texting or playing around on my phone. You've gotta just put it down. Read a book!"

For as many pitfalls as there are for a young female artist with a voice (and conviction), there are even more opportunities. "You've got to slowly, piece-by-piece, educate people," the singer said in an interview with Spin. Yes, she's a "cute, young girl," but she also has an opinion, a perspective. "A lot of times people expect artists to not have one or hope that they don't," she admits. The courage it takes to speak up for yourself in so many sexist, difficult situations is what I found most empowering about Tinashe.

She has made it a priority to use her platform to celebrate her work and her differences from the status quo. "The most important thing is confidence," she said when I asked her to define beauty. "You can rock whatever it is that you choose. Whatever you decided to go with, just own it."

With that, we said goodbye, and I walked away knowing I had met a very special person—someone just as fun and talented as she is wise beyond her years. Similar to her Katy Perry anecdote, I thought, I'm going to remember this one.

Emily Soto

If you could ask Tinashe one question, what would it be? Tell us in the comments below, and then check out our exclusive shoot with Kendall Jenner.

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