Grace Gaustad (they/them) was playing piano at four years old and writing songs by six or seven.
Around the same age, they started having severe anxiety.
“Before I even was old enough to know what it was, my anxiety was pretty severe—enough for my parents to have me see a a doctor about it,” says Gaustad.
Then at twelve or thirteen, Gaustad was diagnosed with depression and found support through antidepressants.
“I felt better for the first time in a long time,” they share. “I was able to stay in therapy and get on the correct medication, and that was really important.”
This shift cemented Gaustad’s commitment to making mental health a priority.
“That’s when mental health became very important to me, because at that point I was really struggling,” they add. “As I got older, and was able to learn more about it and saw friends and family dealing with the same things.”
These early mental health encounters influenced Gaustad’s music as well.
“I really just put my head down. I focused even more on music,” says Gaustad. “I would go to school, and I would come home, and I would be working [on music] for four, five, six hours a day.”
For Gaustad, music and mental health became a source of purpose. Read on to learn more about their story and how they’re giving back.
Mental health was never a taboo in Gaustad’s household.
“I think that because I started out with some challenges super young, I just always thought it was a part of life, and it is part of life,” they share.
This acceptance of mental health from such a young age was partially influenced by supportive parents.
“My mom was very supportive. She was very validating,” Gaustad says. “She got me the right help from the right places. She was an advocate for sure.”
This encouraged Gaustad to give the same kind of support to others through their music career.
“When I decided that I was gonna launch a professional career, because I had gone through a lot myself, that messaging and those experiences were going to be really important for me to talk about,” they share.
When asked to describe their philosophy around mental health, Gaustad is matter-of-fact.
“You have to think of it sort of like you would any other physical injury,” they share. “If someone breaks their arm…there’s no question about it, and they have to heal it and keep it in a cast and go to physical therapy.”
Just like a physical injury, mental health shouldn’t be overlooked, says Gaustad.
Gaustad’s most recent release, Black Box, is in many ways a concept album detailing their experiences around mental health, bullying, insecurity, and fitting in.
While the album itself is an artistic tribute to mental health, Gaustad didn’t stop there.
Instead, they launched the BlkBox Project as a nonprofit adjunct to the album.
“The purpose for Black Box Project was really to provide a safe space to find resources as it pertains to mental health,” says Gaustad.
They partnered with therapist Jazz Robins to create a video series breaking down the mental health topics Gaustad touched on in the album.
“For anybody who is having questions or wondering about any of the topics that I discussed, BlkBox Project is there for them,” says Gaustad. “I remember doing a lot of searching on the Internet for all sorts of questions when I was younger and there were never really any good answers.”
Gaustad hopes that BlkBox Project grows along with their career, potentially offering more resources and mental health services in the future.
“I would love to see it get a lot bigger and help a lot more people,” they add.
Gaustad has also had the chance to partner with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, citing Gaga as a major influence.
“I’ve been lucky enough to meet her in person a couple of times, and she’s really just a very special artist,” they say. “I don’t know that I would be pursuing music professionally if it wasn’t for her. So I got to give her credit.”
Gaustad found another outlet for expression through performing that they didn’t expect: a makeup collaboration with artist Joe Baker.
“When Joe showed up to do my makeup for the first time and opened her kit, it was unlike any other artist kit I’d ever seen before,” says Gaustad. “It looked like what you would expect a painter to have.”
The relationship evolved as Gaustad and Baker worked together to tell the story of the BlkBox album.
“Joe and I created twelve looks together for all of the BlkBox music videos, and it’s storytelling makeup,” they say. “We really listen to the songs and hone in on the messages there…to create all of the looks to help tell the story of the song.”
The pair received overwhelming support for their makeup creations and decided to launch the makeup line BAKEUP.
“I never looked at or saw makeup as an artistic tool before I met Joe. I always saw it as something that was just pushed on women and society,” says Gaustad.
Baker changed that outlook completely.
“The makeup is a big part of telling that story and sharing the meaning and the message behind…what I’m singing about.”
Gaustad has a diverse toolkit they call on when they need mental health support. You can try their techniques too, though they should never replace personalized care from a mental health professional.
Grounding is a technique that can help you bring yourself back when experiencing flashbacks, unwanted memories, and challenging feelings.
“[I] put every finger down on both hands, both feet on the floor, and find five points of contact,” says Gaustad.
Square breathing, or box breathing, is a technique involving slow, deep breaths to help relieve stress. It’s also called four-square breathing.
To practice, you can simply breath in for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, and repeat.
Another grounding technique Gaustad likes is holding ice cubes. This can help bring you out of your head and back to your body.
Sucking on a lemon
Sucking on a lemon works similarly to the ice cube method. The sour taste of the lemon can be a powerful way to bring the attention back to sensations and the present moment.
Change your environment
“This one’s not always possible, but a change of environment can help if you can,” says Gaustad. “For me, a lot of my anxiety is social, so if I’m in a stuffy room, I get outside or just get away from the environment that’s causing the panic, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.”
Put it in perspective
Gaustad identifies catastrophic thinking so they can keep things in perspective.
“I have anxiety that can be super catastrophic and get out of hand very easily,” says Gaustad. “Sometimes just reasoning with myself has been very helpful.”
Catastrophic thinking is what’s known as a cognitive distortion. Other cognitive distortion categories include:
- all-or-nothing thinking
- mental filtering
- discounting the positive
- “should” statements
- emotional reasoning
- polarized thinking
For Gaustad, community is key.
“I was very scared about putting an entire project out about mental health and how people would react,” they say. “You don’t realize how many people out there are going through the exact same things. You just have to find them, and it might not always be your family or your close friends.”
They recommend going online.
“One place where social media really has been a great tool for us is that it does allow connection for people that we might have never met otherwise,” Gaustad says.
They recommend searching for support groups, nonprofits, and other safe online spaces.
Gaustad’s work is ultimately a form of self-expression, and they hope their fans can find their own channels for letting their inner light out.
“It’s important to allow you and your identity to shine,” they say. Don’t “pull things inside or hide parts of yourself.”
From music to makeup to helping others going through similar challenges, Gaustad continues to find ways to express their inner self and their purpose in the music world and beyond.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses at Simple Wild Free. You can find her on Instagram.