How Shawn Mendes Became a Somewhat-Unlikely Poster Boy for Wellness and Mental Health 

After a personal battle with anxiety, Shawn Mendes went to work on himself—and become a ready ambassador for all things mindful and sustainable. GQ huddled with him in a SoulCycle storage closet to hear more. 
A spiritual looking Shawn Mendes floats through a colorful ethereal realm of chillness.
Collage by Simon Abranowicz; Getty Images

If you ever have the chance to sit down with Shawn Mendes in a tiny closet in the back of SoulCycle in downtown Manhattan, you will notice two things. First, he does not break eye contact. Second, in spite of that intensity, his presence is extremely still and calming. Considering the 23-year-old three-time Grammy nominee experienced a nearly career-ending struggle with anxiety in recent years, it's an impressive amount of emotional control. Whatever he’s doing, it really seems to be working—and in fact, he wants to tell you all about it.

“My personal wellness journey started a couple years ago when I was going through a really dark time,” he told GQ just before a sustainability-focused event held by SoulCycle and Flow alkaline water late last month. “I had so much anxiety that I actually couldn’t sing anymore. It was all in my throat, which a lot of men experience. We often experience those emotions as tension in our back, neck, and as pain in our bodies. I couldn’t sing anymore, and I always had a thing about quitting. I didn’t want to quit.” 

“This was two Grammys ago,” he says. "And I was in this dark place, and I had to do something. And I was taking it out on other people, like in my relationships. I didn’t want to be that person. So, I started reading. I started meditating and journaling. I worked with a coach, Jay Shetty,” a former monk turned bestselling author and social-media superstar.

He settled on a routine of practices that worked for him, starting with morning meditation and breathing exercises and a strict rule of no social media until 11 a.m. “My goal is to achieve feeling calm and good,” he says. “I do something called the Wim Hof method, which has really changed my life in a lot of ways. It takes over your parasympathetic nervous system and calms you down and allows you to kind of start from scratch and think straight. And it’s meditation, it’s setting boundaries, and it’s holding myself accountable for my own mindset and mental health, and making sure I stick to these things daily.”

His personal journey has now morphed into a steady drumbeat of corporate partnerships. In January, Apple launched a program called “Time to Walk”  encouraging Fitness+ users to go for a walk as a mindfulness practice, by with stories, photos, and music from Mendes, Dolly Parton, Golden State Warrior Draymond Green. And in May, Mendes and his girlfriend Camila Cabello launched a collaboration with the meditation app Calm, a 24-session series called “Breathe Into It,” where they talk about managing their anxiety.

He says part of his journey has been discovering his purpose, like using his massive platform to bring awareness to environmental sustainability. “It’s so important for me to live a sustainable lifestyle,” he says. “One thing I just learned is that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, so I’m really trying to get over the bullshit that is you can’t wear your outfit more than once, so I’ve been rewearing clothing and buying vintage.”

In January 2021, Chipotle launched a cauliflower rice-based Shawn Mendes Bowl, where Chipotle donated $1 to the Shawn Mendes Foundation to "empower young changemakers making an impact in sustainability." And in April 2021, he launched his latest campaign with Flow Alkaline Spring Water, a Canadian water brand packaged in eco-friendly carton rather than plastic. (Mendes became a Flow investor in 2019.) At the SoulCycle event, he helped announce the spinning chain would be going carbon-neutral by 2024, and that its latest apparel collection would be made from organic cotton.

The work continues. He says his most recent breakthrough involving having a good guy complex that led him to being a “bad guy” in his relationship.“The most recent big emotional breakthrough I had was realizing I had this good guy complex that a lot of men have,” Mendes says. “Like a lot of men, I feel a pressure to be a good guy, I want to be a good guy, and in moments where I’m betraying that, I realized I was still making it about myself by explaining myself. I was taking up more space explaining myself, instead of creating space for the person I was hurting, my girlfriend. And in trying to be the good guy, I ended up the bad guy. That was a big breakthrough." 

This kind of emotional openness has become a trending topic among male athletes and celebrities, a diffuse movement to challenge traditional notions of masculinity. The next frontier of men’s health seems to be all about mastering the mind, and for Shawn Mendes that starts with surrounding yourself with the right people.

“Emotional wellness is really about vulnerability,” Mendes explains. “Feeling like you’re around people who will let you express how you feel. It’s really important to have a group of men who will let you talk about that.”

According to Mendes, his 2020 hit “Wonder,” which featured the lyrics “when I cry into my hands/I'm conditioned to feel like it makes me less of a man” prompted seemingly every dude in his life to reach out to him in private that they felt the same way. “Every single man in my life said something to me about that line, but in private,” he says. “Not publicly, which shows how uncomfortable men can be about expressing how they feel.

Should crying be part of every man’s wellness routine? Yes, according to Mendes, but they might have to work at it. “It is really, really hard for some men to cry,” Mendes says—including him. “I will sit there in deep therapy and my eyes will tear up, and I’ll feel the lump in my throat, and it’s still really hard to go there even when you’re trying. I can only cry every four months, and it’s like a huge physical release when it happens." He might make it look easy, but guys are up a lot: "We’re fighting against thousands of years of conditioning," he says. "It’s important to give men a real safe space to feel like they’re allowed to express their emotions. And that takes time and patience, because it’s not just a matter of whether they want to cry or not." 


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