'DWTS' alum Cheryl Burke on prioritizing mental health: 'I will always be healing, I will always be working on me'

Cheryl Burke opens up about making major life changes and being a
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The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Cheryl Burke is prepared to embrace uncharted territory, both when it comes to podcasting and beyond. Earlier this week, the former Dancing With the Stars pro launched her new iHeartPodcasts show, Sex, Lies, and Spray Tans, in which she’ll interview past celebrity contestants and delve into all the dance floor secrets. As Burke tells Yahoo Life’s The Unwind, the show is an opportunity to express who she is and to learn about herself along the way. That’s a theme that’s close to Burke’s heart as she navigates “a whirlwind of emotions and lots of changes” that have taken place over the last year.

“I went from a divorce to even a bigger divorce with Dancing With the Stars, leaving the show and then moving after 16 years,” says Burke who split from actor Matthew Lawrence in early 2022 and announced her DWTS exit a few months later. “That was a lot, and I still feel like I'm grieving, which is fine, because I think everyone definitely goes through lots of changes. As humans, we evolve, and it's necessary, right? Or you could fight it and be miserable.”

Although Burke knows just how easy it can be to stick with relationships, routines and places that feel comfortable, she also recalls a moment in her past in which facing her fears and making a bold move was the right call. “I remember being asked to do Dancing With the Stars,” she says. “I was also living in Harlem at the time with my dance partner/boyfriend, and I was very comfortable there. I was scared to say yes to the show. And it took a long time for me to actually say, ‘OK, I'm going to try this.’ There's a difference of feeling like, ‘No, I shouldn't do this,’ like following your intuition and [knowing] ‘this is not a good idea’ versus ‘I'm scared to do it, but I know I should.’”

In fact, Burke believes intuition can be an incredibly useful tool for contending with transitional moments in life. “For me, I know there's always something that I feel in my body,” she explains. “Specifically, when [something] is not a good choice or something fishy is happening, it feels like my heart just dropped down to my stomach, like I'm on a roller coaster ride. I can choose to listen to it or not. Every time I didn't listen to it, my life became stagnant, my whole energy became stagnant. It's just awareness. You've got to step back from your own thoughts for a second and just observe.”

And sometimes, when you do that, you may realize it’s time to create significant change — in your relationship with yourself and with others. “You are who you hang out with, you are who you're raised by, you are your environment — unless you consciously change it,” points out Burke. “It's like breaking a bad habit. There's no mental health improvement without awareness.”

As she’s forged ahead into a whole new chapter of her life this year, Burke has prioritized her mental health by working with both a talk therapist and somatic therapist, who focuses on how emotions are felt in the body. She's also tapping into the power of other mind-body practices, including transcendental meditation, which she says she has aimed to do twice daily since separating from Lawrence.

The podcaster describes herself as a “self-help junkie,” which she attributes to a surge of curiosity — and a desire to soak up new knowledge. “I’ve signed up for all of these courses,” she notes. “In this time of my life, I want to be a student again. ... I'm learning to receive and learning to ask for help.”

She’s also focused on nurturing her relationship with herself. In fact, her phone’s screensaver is a photo of Burke as a little girl, serving as a reminder to care for herself. “[Not] until I really sat in silence did I realize how mean I was to myself,” she shares. “Self-talk needs to change first before anything else. You have to mother yourself — be that parent, whether your parent was there or not. Maybe they were there physically, but not mentally. Regardless, every single person needs to be aware of that little person inside of them.”

The DWTS alum’s devotion to self-work goes hand in hand with mental health advocacy, which involves sharing her knowledge with others to help bolster collective well-being. The professional dancer is currently working on a therapeutic movement program. “[It] requires no partner, no music, it’s very somatic-based,” explains Burke. “My somatic therapist is actually involved. It's called 'Body Language.'”

And her program is just one piece of a puzzle Burke aims to continue to build on. “I would love for this platform of mine to continue to grow, to do more public speaking, to help people, to be of service,” she says. “Suffering [when it comes to] mental health is a pandemic in itself. No one wants to talk about it. In order to normalize it, we have to talk about it.”

Whether she’s championing mental health practices, developing her own therapies or working on herself, Burke knows one thing is for certain: “I’m going to do this work forever. It’s never gonna stop, that’s the thing. I will always be healing, I will always be working on me. And at the end of the day, it's because I'm stuck with me. You’re stuck with [yourself] for the rest of your life, and you better like yourself.”