Entertainment Music Country Rising Country Star Abbey Cone Gets Real About Pandemic-Induced Anxiety: 'It Brought Feelings to the Surface' "I've always had an anxious mind. So to just sit with my own thoughts was really hard for me," the "Rhinestone Ring" singer tells PEOPLE By Tricia Despres Published on October 12, 2021 06:50 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Abbey Cone's dreams were playing out exactly as she had planned. She signed a record deal at the end of 2019 with a label that had jumpstarted the careers of everyone from Taylor Swift to Carly Pearce. She was named to CMT's Next Women of Country 2020 class next to artists such as Gabby Barrett and Tiera. And as long as everything went according to plan, 2020 held within it new music, new shows and a new future. But then the world fell apart. And in a way, so did Cone. "When [the pandemic] happened, I felt like it just brought some feelings to the surface that I had never really felt before or, at the least, processed," says Cone during an interview with PEOPLE mere days before the release of her sweet new single "Rhinestone Ring." "I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and I don't know what I'm going to do.'" RELATED GALLERY: Gabby! Caylee! Madison! Meet CMT's 2020 Next Women of Country At first, Cone, 22, did her best to take things in stride. In fact, the Texas native says she saw the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns as a blessing in disguise, an excuse to take a break in her pursuit of country music stardom, a break she hadn't taken since she was just 6 years old. "For the first time, I could just wake up and feel what it felt like to not have to always put one foot in front in the hopes of getting a record deal," remembers Cone, who moved to Nashville at the age of 15, graduating early from high school in an effort to ignite a career in Music City. "I had the record deal." Abbey Cone. Bethany Reed But what she didn't have a handle on was her overall mental health. "The isolation really started to affect me," Cone remembers. "I've always struggled with anxiety. I've always had an anxious mind. So to just sit with my own thoughts was really hard for me. I think the most anxiety came from honestly not knowing how to feel productive." To add to the precariousness of it all was the fact that the young woman who had always found a refuge in songwriting could no longer find her well of inspiration. "I really had a hard time with Zoom writing," says Cone about the method of songwriting many writers turned to during the pandemic lockdowns. "It's almost like [songwriting] left my life completely." But soon, Cone says she began finding herself again. As the months went on, her confidence returned, but this time in a far more genuine way. And the transformation wasn't only on the inside. "This transformation is currently happening to me still," says Cone, who is now signed with The Valory Music Co. "But yeah, sometimes I wake up and think, 'how did I end up with brown hair?' And I'm just like, 'because that's the way my hair grows out of my head, and I've been bleaching it since I was 13.'" She laughs. "Trying to be someone that maybe I wasn't really made me feel disconnected and far from myself." Cone grows quiet. "I look at old pictures of myself and I think that was the girl who was singing because she loved it and the girl that wasn't necessarily concerned about what other people were thinking about her while she was singing," Cone explains. "Last year, I basically had to re-choose this career for myself, or maybe chose it for the first time ever." Abbey Cone. Courtesy The Valory Music Co. Today, Cone finds ways to cherish the life she does have — a life that perhaps did not turn out exactly as she once envisioned, but a life that is precious, nevertheless. "The thing that got me through last year is listening to my music and knowing that while I was so confused about so many things, I was always sure about the music," she says. In a way, this idea serves as a backbone for "Rhinestone Ring." "It's about realizing that you don't need as much as you thought you did," says Cone, who has collaborated with some of Nashville's most accomplished songwriters, including Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon, Jessie Jo Dillon and Laura Veltz. "It's okay for things to look different than what you envisioned." And now looking back on it all, perhaps it all happened to teach her a lesson. "Just being so hyper-focused on one thing my entire life kept me from developing other parts of myself," Cone reflects. "But not anymore."