'Cobra Kai' star Peyton List on the 'confidence' she gets from martial arts workouts, and what Cameron Boyce's death taught her about grief

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Megan Sims
·8 min read
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Peyton List shares her wellness secrets. (Photo: Getty; desgined by Quinn Lemmers)
Peyton List shares her wellness secrets. (Photo: Getty; desgined by Quinn Lemmers)

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.

Peyton List found fame at a young age, working as a child model and the star of shows like the Disney Channel sitcom Jessie. While the now-22-year-old actress managed to stay grounded as a child star, she relishes the empowerment that comes with age. 

"People, I think, try to take advantage of kids and people that are younger all the time, and they tell you what to do, and they kind of make you question yourself, your opinion and who you are," List tells Yahoo Life. "One of the biggest pressures was just finding my voice again and finding who I am."

These days, that means kicking butt as Tory Nichols on the widely popular Netflix series Cobra Kai, and finding strength in her own fitness routine off the set. The actress, who credits working out with helping her get through the pandemic, has teamed up with STRONG Nation, a one-hour, high-intensity, virtual bootcamp-style group exercise class which, fittingly given her latest role, takes its inspiration from martial arts. 

"I’ve been working on Cobra Kai and on my downtime, I don’t have the trainers with me and I don’t have everyone to keep me going," says List, who was also drawn to the workout's flexible scheduling and music choices. "I want to continue to practice for the next season, so the fact that this is martial arts-inspired has made it one of my favorite things."

Here, she opens up about her fitness secrets, her approach to mental health and what the 2019 death of Jessie co-star Cameron Boyce taught her about grief.

What role does fitness play in your overall mental health?

It plays a huge role in my health, and I realized that especially in the last year with quarantine and everything because I was going a little crazy, I’m sure like everyone inside, and I realized, “OK, you have to get up. This is life now and you have to get up every morning for your own sanity and for your mental health as well.” What really kept me sane I think is working out and physical activity, and it still does. And I realized what a key role this is in my life.

Since joining the cast of Cobra Kai, have you gotten into martial arts in your own life, and has that had any impact on your mental health or confidence?

It has impacted my life and my confidence more than I ever thought it would. I usually have to learn different sports or whatever the character is into, whether it’s an instrument or dance, but this show has played such a huge role in my life. Just from playing the character Tory, I found my confidence as a woman. Walking alone at night can be such a scary thing, or not feeling like you can defend yourself, which I felt throughout my whole life, and just learning some self-defense does give a lot of confidence. I’ve heard of a lot of young girls that are starting karate because of the show because of Sam and Tory, and seeing that just makes me happier than anything because I think everyone should take it up.

What has motivated you to be consistent with your workouts?

Consistency is something I’ve told myself I really need to work on this year because I feel like my body has been really up and down. My twin brother, Spencer, we work out a lot together... I’ve had him my whole life as my best friend and my partner, so if he’s doing something, he’s dragging me along and then I’ll do it. I think finding a partner has been important for me. I’m not very independent.

Besides fitness, what are your go-to techniques for fighting stress and anxiety?

I think it really is my friendships and learning how to talk about it. I even started therapy over quarantine. Also just learning your patterns and reading a lot of self-help books. Talking it out with my friends and my family [has been helpful]. I think it was very hard for me to talk about things, but getting it out is going to be what helps me work through it. I think having a good foundation of people, even if it’s a small group, or just being able to have a person to talk to [is important].

Do you have any small self-care rituals that you use to brighten your day?

I think a bubble bath and skincare, especially after a long day. I take so long in the morning and especially at night in the bathroom. I feel like my boyfriend is like, "Hurry up, what’s taking so long?" I have this roller I just bought on Amazon, you take off the head and you put it in the freezer, and it’s just a freezing-cold ice roller on your face. I have these small things I like to do like listening to music and just dancing.

In terms of wellness, who inspires you? Are there any accounts you follow for motivation and mind and body guidance?

There’s this Instagram by this woman named Yumi who talks a lot about meditation and mental health, and she’s pretty real and honest. I started following a lot of mental health accounts and just having people talk openly about anxiety or depression, you just don’t feel alone. I think a lot of people complain about social media, and how it affects their mental health, but you can really control whatever you want to see. So I have to remind myself of that. I also follow Cleo Wade and [other] inspirational accounts.

You’ve been modeling and acting from a young age. How did you deal with the pressure of being a child star?

I think I didn’t realize at the time that I was famous. I mean, people came up all the time asking for photos, but we were in this bubble — like my school was with the kids on Jessie and those are my best friends. That was everything, so it felt very normal to me. During quarantine I realized how crazy my life has been and how it has not been normal, even though I thought it was.

You were close to Jessie co-star Cameron Boyce. Is there anything you’ve learned about the grieving process since his death?

[I learned] so much. Cameron [who died in 2019 due to complications of his epilepsy] was my brother on the show and the kids in real life, those are my four people... I learned a lot about the grieving process. I think I learned how different everyone is because I never had lost someone that close and I was like, what is the right way I should be grieving? — especially out in public, because when I found out, the whole world found out. I feel like when people lose someone it’s pretty private unless other people know you, so everyone knew and I feel like I had to take a second to just to go inside and figure it all out. But I feel like there’s no right way to grieve, and really just being there for his family, I think that helped. 

Kevin Chamberlin, who played Bertram on Jessie, he was telling me that when people lose someone at a young age, like in high school, it’s usually the first time they’re losing someone and it becomes like a very narcissistic process: "Oh, what is my life?" "What is this?" And he is like, "You have to just focus on his legacy, his foundation and his leaving something bigger behind." So all of us are focusing on that, finding a cure for epilepsy and that’s what really kept his parents and his sister going, and they’ve done so much for that community. When he passed, so many people came and donated, and are doing something in his name. So I think that’s really amazing. 

But it was hard. I was thinking, “What the hell is life worth, a beautiful person is gone? Why should I keep on going because he was such a better person than me? He had so much more to give.” So I think my big question was, why him? Why should I keep on going? And it was hard.

What mantra do you live by?

I don’t even live by a mantra... My best friend and I just say "everything just adds character." And we just laugh and we go, "alright, this is just a story, maybe it will inspire some sort of crazy character or some sort of script I can write."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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