Jewel Opens Up About Her Anxiety, And How She's Helping Others Turn Happiness Into A Habit

“We all struggle, whether we’re rich, famous, poor or not, and we can find solidarity in our shared humanity, and learn from each other.”

Despite her decades-long music career, Jewel's life hasn't always been marked by happiness or success. Her mother left when she was only 8 years old, and her father depended upon alcohol to cope with past trauma. But, through mindfulness, Jewel has been able to pick herself up and turn her life around on multiple occasions. And now, as she discussed in a recent interview with PEOPLE, she wants to share these methods with her fans.

"I started journaling when I was 9," the 44-year-old songstress told PEOPLE. "I discovered that when I was curious and observant about what I was thinking and feeling, my anxiety quieted down."

Then, at age 15, when Jewel started having panic attacks, she invented her own exercises to calm this building anxiety, which ultimately came in handy, once again, when she found herself homeless and living on the streets for a year. She had become a statistic, Jewel said, and her agoraphobia was only making matters worse, as the future Grammy award nominee couldn't bring herself to leave the little street corner that'd become her home.

"I was exactly what you would think someone of my background would turn into," she told PEOPLE's Julie Mazziotta. "Then I remembered this quote by Buddha that said happiness doesn't depend on who you are or what you have, it depends on what you think. I decided I would try to turn my life around one thought at a time."

That's when Jewel returned to and expanded upon the exercises she practiced as a child — the very exercises that inevitably became an integral part of her first book, Never Broken, and her mental wellness website of the same name.

Based upon the 20 exercises outlined in her book, the "Never Broken" movement aims to help people turn happiness into a habit. With the movement's motto — "the shape of my life is up to me" — front and center, Jewel hopes to inspire and help those who've suffered traumas and setbacks cultivate the "emotional fitness" resilience they need to heal and thrive. 

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Now, Jewel will have the opportunity to share her practice with the masses as she prepares for the Wellness Your Way Festival in Cincinnati. As festival's co-founder, Jewel promises to play a prominent role during the 4-day event, which will take place October 4-7 in partnership with Kroger. From yoga and group exercise classes, to wellness workshops and film screenings, the festival will also feature various speakers and musical performances by Gavin DeGraw and Nick Lachey.

"Being a whole and happy human is really the greatest treasure we can have in life. I have always been astounded by how little education we receive to help us feel connected, happy and healthy. In a world of rising disconnection and anxiety, I am proud to help be part of the antidote by co-founding Wellness Your Way Festival," Jewel said in a press release. "I am proud to share my life's mission of being a healthy, satisfied person with others and to share the tools, advocates, teachers and champions I have learned from. And I am proud that Kroger has chosen to take this initiative to truly serve those in the community with meaningful resources."

"I always wanted to do a wellness festival and share what I know about nutrition and our mental health and taking care of ourselves," she told PEOPLE, emphasizing that it's particularly important to hold this festival now, as it comes during a "complex time" for mental health in America.

"Suicides are up 60 percent since 2006. Anxiety and depression are all-time highs. Everybody's struggling with it, everybody's medicating and trying to find ways to feel better, and that's why there's this rush into wellness, because people are looking for meaningful solutions," she noted. "Right now we're so anxious and scared that we can't access our own hearts and our own humanity."

Jewel adds that she thinks artists owe it to their fans to be honest about their lives. "We all struggle," she said, "whether we're rich, famous, poor or not, and we can find solidarity in our shared humanity, and learn from each other."

That's while the entertainer remains determined to show others how attainable mindfulness can be.

"It's literally as simple as, when you're in a really negative space and you feel tight and contracted, find something to be grateful for. It can be the feeling of your feet on the ground, or the sunlight coming through a tree, or anything. If you pick something to be grateful for, your body actually responds. Your blood vessels dilate, blood flow patterns charge into your brain, and you get a feel-good rush. It's that simple."

Cover image via Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

(H/T: PEOPLE)

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