After quietly fighting anxiety and depression for years, Tisdale is using her latest album Symptoms to break the stigma around mental illness

After quietly fighting anxiety and depression for years, Ashley Tisdale is using her latest album Symptoms to break the stigma around mental illness.

“This is the first time I’m being super vulnerable. This is me sharing my journey through anxiety and depression,” the former High School Musical star, 33, tells PEOPLE exclusively about her new music. “I didn’t know the anxiety symptoms I had in the past while touring. Before, I would freak out before going on stage. That was a panic attack. I had no idea what that was until I started reading about it.”

Tisdale, who co-wrote every song on the album, ultimately found refuge in the recording studio with Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann.

“John Feldmann was so great at telling me to come in and would be like, ‘What’s the concept today?’ I’d be like, ‘Under pressure. I feel so much pressure in my face from anxiety!’ So we’d start out on a concept and write a song,” she says of creating the album with the indie label Big Noise.

While thinking about her past music, Tisdale notes the songs “could’ve been written for another artist” and the tracks were primarily written before she came into the studio.

“The reason I wanted to do this album was because I wanted to make someone at home not feel so alone in what they go through,” says Tisdale. “They could look at me and go, ‘We’re all human. We all go through things.’”

Ashley Tisdale
| Credit: Nick Walker

Tisdale’s newly released single “Voices in My Head” aims to capture the negativity that she has struggled with.

“There are so many times I’m at an event or even just at a social party and I feel like I’m not good enough to be there, and I feel that a lot of us struggle with that,” she explains of her inspiration for the track. “That negative thinking, that little voice in your head … I just felt it was important.”

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After years of being “a perfectionist and very critical” of herself, Tisdale sourced her intense feelings to create new music and find self-acceptance.

“It’s so easy for people when someone goes, ‘Does anyone have anxiety?’ Everyone at the table will go, ‘Yeah, I do.’ If someone says, ‘Do you have depression?’ Nobody really wants to take about it,” she says.

Despite suffering insomnia, tension and other “debilitating” symptoms while working on the album, Tisdale says the timing was meant to be.

“It came at the perfect time when I was going through the thick of it. John’s studio really became my safe place and where I really found myself again. It was so therapeutic, I feel like it saved me from just dwelling in what I was feeling,” she says.

In her vulnerable tracks, Tisdale learned to fight her fear of failure.

“I think for the first time, I’m really proud of who I am. I think that when you struggle with those things, instead of being like ‘Oh I hate that stuff,’ I really accept it,” she says. “I think that’s what makes you beautiful, that you’re not perfect.”