Ashley Tisdale: I Struggled to Navigate My Anxiety for Years—Now I’m Committed to Helping Others

Ashley spoke to Cosmopolitan about her struggle with anxiety.

The actress’s new lifestyle and wellness platform, Frenshe, was created with self-care in mind.

I started having panic attacks before I even knew there was a word for that overwhelming feeling. My panic became all-consuming during my mid-20s, and it would regularly hit me in the moments before a performance. One time, when I was 24, I was prepping for a soundcheck in Italy when I realized I couldn’t catch my breath. I was about to perform live for millions on TRL, and while I couldn’t hear the band, I could hear the beating of my heart in my chest. I’ve always had what I would describe as “a steady dose of anxiety” my entire life.

I’ve been in show business since I was three years old. In the three decades since the start of my career, I’ve learned that being an actress comes with its fair share of pressure. And there were plenty of times during my teens and early 20s when the pressure would get to be too much. Sometimes my anxiety would spike before a red carpet event or an afterparty, and I would simply freak out and bail. I just couldn’t bring myself to go.When I was at my lowest, a makeup artist on set recommended Lucinda Basset’s Anxiety and Depression Program to me. It was life-changing. The book taught me how to ground myself and be present during moment of panic. Only then did I start to realize I didn’t have to let my anxiety rule me. The Presence Process by Michael Brown was yet another book that changed my life—it finally put a name to my mental health struggle, and showed me that other people struggled just as I did and still do. I know the internet thinks I don’t own any real books, but I swear, those two books help me whenever I’m going through a rough time. I return to them constantly when I need to recenter myself.

A few years ago, I experienced a really devastating chapter of my life. I had just lost a friend to suicide, and my anxiety was at peak levels. It was then that I began writing my album, “Symptoms,” to address and make sense of my mental health. Writing that album forced me to be honest about my own symptoms and to shed some light on my vulnerabilities. Once it was written and done, I realized I had found my purpose. I didn’t want to be “just an actress”—I wanted to help others navigate their mental health journey.

That realization led me to found Being Frenshe—a line of personal wellness and beauty products that allow people to pause for a moment of self-care. A lot of people thought I took a break from acting, but the truth is, I was focusing on Frenshe and my new role as a mother. Both jobs required a lot of focus, and I wanted to be intentional with the launch of the brand. Mental health is my purpose, and it’s a full-time job that I’ve fully dedicated myself to.

Being a founder and a new mom comes with its own set of challenges. In the past two years, I’ve had to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and any other habits that weren’t serving me. I’ve learned that the more I try to control an outcome, the more stressed I become. For years, I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, trying to chase the level of success that I’ve had with previous projects and endeavors. That feeling came to an end once I realized my fear of failure was getting in the way. Frenshe has nothing to do with my acting career, and my personal journey of creating the brand is a success on its own. All of those hours of research and product development added up, and for the first time in a long time, I feel proud of my own mission. With Frenshe, it’s all about self-love.

Having my daughter, Jupiter, also reaffirmed my work with Frenshe. I want Jupiter to grow up knowing that it’s normal to embrace vulnerability. Society has come a long way in the mental health arena, and I’m so grateful to have a solid community of people (my husband Chris included) who stand behind me in my work. Every person in my life prioritizes their well-being, which is so inspiring. Whether I’m leaning on a new mom friend, Chris, or my older sister, I’ve learned that it truly takes a village.

I’m still learning, though. I’ve reassessed my relationship with social media, and I’m trying to be honest with my followers since I know how misleading it is to post photos of a shiny, picture-perfect life. At the end of the day, I’m a working mom who is striving to find balance, just like everyone else. I want my followers to know that behind the screen, I’m still human—one who’s doing her best and learning as I go.

It’s been over a decade since my panic attacks started, and in the time that has passed, I’ve found that there’s no shame in admitting when I need help. There will always be new challenges, but now I know that the next time I fall down, I won’t have to go through it alone.