Jamie Chung talks about the importance of community amid pandemic, anti-Asian violence: ‘Take up the space’

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.

Jamie Chung, like most people throughout the world, struggled through her time in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, telling Yahoo Life that she "did not adjust very easily." But throughout the year spent just with close family and friends, the actress says that she learned the importance of self-care.

"The wake-up call was that we need to take care of ourselves," she says. "We need to take care of ourselves mentally, we need to take care of ourselves physically. You only have one life and it’s important that you put yourself first."

The 38-year-old, who got her start on MTV's The Real World: San Diego and made a successful transition to television and film, quarantined with her husband Bryan Greenberg and dog Ewok, who, she mentions, was a vital part of her time spent at home. Beyond the family of three, however, she felt that an important part of maintaining her wellbeing was to stay connected with those that she could.

"It was holding onto community, that was my biggest thing," she explains. "Once we kind of got into the swing of things, we expanded our pod and just having communal dinners, safely, was really important. It kind of brought things back to the basics, which is sharing a meal, having a conversation, going camping. I think this entire year made me realize that it’s really important that we take care of ourselves."

Even this, however, became more difficult as a result of the rise in anti-Asian violence and hate that the world has seen in response to the pandemic. Chung has been outspoken about her efforts to Stop Asian Hate on social media. Still, she gets emotional talking about the real life impact that racism has had on her family.

"I saw all of the violence uptick in Toronto, Vancouver, New York City, San Francisco. I mean, I was terrified for my parents, who are much older, who go for their daily walks in San Francisco. I was scared for my sister and her wife," she says. "We come from a community of people where we don’t want to make a fuss and we keep our head down and we do the hard work and we never speak out. So it was important to encourage people to speak out."

As a Korean-American actress with a big platform — 1.4 million followers on Instagram alone — Chung not only understands the importance of her voice, but also the need for more Asian representation in mainstream media alongside her that would allow for more voices to be heard.

"There’s still so much work to be done, but we’re in a phase where we need to keep this conversation going," she says. "I think my entire life, especially as a female asian, it’s like, oh you know, just be really small, don’t take up space, don’t be a bother. And it’s like just take up the space. Be unapologetic. You deserve to be there."

Now, she's using her voice for other causes close to her heart as well, and teaming up with Petco to bring awareness to cancer in pets.

"My mother is a cancer survivor. She’s been in remission for a decade now. We caught the cancer at a very early stage and so, she beat the cancer," she says of her personal relationship to the disease. "Now with pets, we don’t realize that cancer is the number one disease for cats and dogs. My dog, Ewok, he’s a member of our family. He’s such an important part in our lives. He helps with my anxiety, he helps with my depression. And I would be devastated if anything happened to him."

Video produced by Jenny Miller

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