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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.
A lot of celebrities launched podcasts during the pandemic, but only one of them has an actual doctorate in neuroscience. That would be actress, author and Jeopardy! host Mayim Bialik, who initially launched the mental-health podcast Mayim Bialik's Breakdown alongside partner Jonathan Cohen to help listeners, and themselves, make sense of that stressful time.
"When the pandemic started, we experienced what I think most people on the planet were experiencing, which was a lot of confusion and fear and what we all learned was called anticipatory anxiety, meaning anxiety about not even knowing what was going to come next," the former Big Bang Theory star tells Yahoo Life. "And it was a really scary time. And honestly, [Cohen] and I just sort of started talking about how I've been in therapy since I'm a teenager, and even with all of those years and all of that information and even all of my training, there was still a tremendous amount of fear and an uptick in sleep problems, eating problems, rumination. And we really were strong believers in democratizing mental health, and we felt like, Gosh, what about people who have no background, who have never been in therapy or who don't even know why they're having trouble sleeping, eating, thinking?"
The show, which has seen experts in the field break down mental health concepts as well as guests including Kelly Clarkson and Ben Stiller opening up about their own journeys, continues to flourish three years on. Bialik describes it now as "more of a general kind of wellness conversation" that covers a range of therapeutic topics. As a longtime therapy patient, Bialik knows what works best for her, such as journaling and having periods of quiet twice a day to either meditate or just turn her devices off. She is, however, open to new experiences in the name of mental wellness.
"There's certain things that I've just sort of come to terms with that I will not live without," the former child star says. "You know, I believe in psychotherapy. I believe in doing trauma work. But yeah, I've tried a lot of things and Jonathan and I, between us, have more than one shaman we have visited. I've done energy work. I believe in craniosacral therapy, which is something that a lot of people don't kind of believe in."
She adds, "I absolutely believe in a lot of things that I can't explain. I've had people do work that feels like it's coming from somewhere outside of the realms of my scientific understanding, but that doesn't mean that I don't sort of benefit from it." That said, not everything is a fit.
"Transcendental meditation [TM] is something that does not really work for me. I really like guided meditation for my mind and my brain; that's sort of where I go," says Bialik, who notes that living in Los Angeles has also made her skeptical of luxury wellness trends. "You'll have a lot of people in L.A. be like, 'Pay me $10,000 and I'll give you a mantra!' and for some people TM is not bad and they don't have to pay $10,000 for a mantra. But I'm very wary of things that cost a tremendous amount of money."
Similarly, you're unlikely to find her smoking psychedelic toad venom in the desert or leaving the country for an ayahuasca ceremony. "I'm also wary of things that feel touristy," she says. "I understand that a lot of those things can be done in therapeutic environments, and I think that's important, but I'm not like a, 'Hey, let's just do ’shrooms and see what happens this weekend.' [kind of person]. That's something that doesn't appeal to me, because I do like more of a structured therapeutic method to my psilocybin, if I'm going to do that, which is not my thing."
Bialik has been candid about how being a teen star with a hit sitcom (Blossom) affected her self-worth. (In a recent essay for Variety, she cited a 1994 Saturday Night Live sketch in which comedian Melanie Hutsell wore a prosthetic nose to play her.)
"[Amid] the process of being an adult — and especially if you are a female person — I think that there's a really specific set of pressures about what we're supposed to be or what we're supposed to have arrived at," she tells Yahoo Life. "And a lot of times that comes with like, 'you should be this kind of woman or this kind of mom,' or 'you should have kids' or 'you should be here in your career.' I have an interesting dose of those things because I also was in the public eye and was kind of living an adult life, as a kid and as a teenager. While I wasn't partying and I wasn't into drugs and alcohol — that wasn't my story — I absolutely had the pressures of an adult schedule and an adult sense of responsibility."
How does that affect her nearly 30 years later?
"I think that kind of stays with you," the Emmy nominee says. "I tend to try not to ruminate too much about things from too far in my past, but I definitely have experiences where I remember that auditions were a sense of humiliation or rejection. It's not that I so much am hung up on that, but it told me, and it tells me, a lot about who I was at the time and what those pressures were like. And I think for a lot of us, there's a lot of 'just sweep it under the rug, just tuck it away, it's OK.' And we sort of all end up living the results of that in one way or another."
Bialik has raised her own teens, two boys aged 18 and 15, to be "comfortable talking about feelings," which is mostly helpful.
"It's somewhat of a blessing and a curse, you know, to be self-aware," she laughs. "So sometimes my older one will be like, 'Oh, I wish I didn't know as much about what's going on in my brain as I do right now.' But my older one in particular, I think, sees a lot of comfort in it. My younger one is a little more like, 'Why do I have to be burdened with all these feelings?' But that also feels pretty age-appropriate."
And what of Bialik and her own feelings? One thing she's working on is "being kinder to myself."
"I once heard someone say that if someone else spoke to them the way the voice in their head spoke to them, it would be declared an abusive relationship," she shares. "And it's true. For me, when I'm feeling frustrated, when I'm feeling angry, I will often turn it on myself and find the thing I did wrong, or even something unrelated, you know? If I'm feeling frustrated or I don't know what to do with my kid, I'll go back to something from like a conversation yesterday and I'll start [thinking] like, 'Oh, you really shouldn't have [said that].' So I'm really trying to kind of nip that in the bud. For some people positive affirmations work, [but] that's not really my jam."
Instead, she's been working on loving-kindess, "which is a form of meditation that I always hated," Bialik says. "I always rolled my eyes at it. [But] there is something to learning to sit with the notion of being kind to yourself, to other people and even to people that you don't agree with."