Yvette Nicole Brown on looking for 'amazing glimpses of sunshine and rainbows' in life

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  • Yvette Nicole Brown
    Yvette Nicole Brown
    American actress
Yvette Nicole Brown shares her approach to mental wellness. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Yvette Nicole Brown shares her approach to mental wellness. (Photo: Getty; designed 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.

Yvette Nicole Brown is many things: actress, comedian and dispenser of wisdom. The Emmy-nominated A Black Lady Sketch Show and Community alum is not only hilarious, she’s chock-full of empathy and enlightenment — or at least seems to have a good attitude about life. Brown lives by the motto of giving back and always choosing kindness, and it’s evident in the way she treats others.

Yahoo Life caught up with the Cleveland native from her home in Los Angeles to talk about her involvement with DonorsChoose, a nonprofit helping teachers in need, how she's learned to "reframe" adversity and why Legos have helped her cope with the recent loss of her mother.

What’s your day-to-day approach to mental health?

I believe in therapy — I think it’s amazing — and I'm a person of faith. I pray a lot and I welcome the prayers of friends. What I realize, and I hope this doesn't come off too dark, but what I’ve learned is: Life is mostly tough stuff and there are amazing glimpses of sunshine and rainbows. When I have a perfect cup of coffee or a perfect afternoon with a friend or I see an amazing movie, I wrap it in bubble wrap and put it on a shelf in my mind. When I need respite in the midst of some garbage, I can pull it off the shelf and remember that movie or that cup of coffee to get me through. With that perspective shift, I’m not expecting a sunshiny day every day, so it’s not such a gut punch when things don't go my way. That's my mental trick, along with prayer and talking to a therapist.

Right, if you just embrace the struggle…

How about this? You reframe it: It’s not a struggle — it’s just life! I try to think about my purpose and why we’re here all the time. The importance is giving back and doing good.

That’s why I like what Nature Made did with DonorsChoose for the teachers of Los Angeles. They make the load lighter for teachers. That’s what life is about for me: to make the load lighter.

How did you get involved with DonorsChoose?

I’ve been a member of the DonorsChoose board of directors for years; Nature Made’s #TeachHealthy campaign is one of the largest partnerships that we’ve established this year — I was thrilled to team up! No matter what I’m going through, I know that teachers are working harder than me. No matter what I’m going through, I know there are students in need.

Which goes back to what you were saying about embracing the struggle…

Right, shifting my focus from my [problems] to theirs helps. It takes the focus off me.

[Try to] understand that everyone is going through something. If you reframe it that way, you go through life a little more gently; [we extend] a little more grace and mercy to people. In the midst of life, you see other people as fellow warriors, fighting through.

Do you have any self-care rituals to help you reset?

I’ve always loved Lego and I lost my mom this year; I had a moment where you want to turn your brain off and not feel this [pain]. Building Lego, you can get lost and forget things you don't want to think about right now. There are other ways people do this, but I didn't want to do anything destructive to my mind and body, so that did it for me. Same with puzzles. Lego and puzzles — and a bath [laughs].

What things stresses you out?

I’m ridiculously stressed out by mean-spirited people. I will never understand people who want to mess with someone’s day, insult them, harm them — and I’m so grateful that it’s foreign to me. I'm so grateful that my mind doesn't work that way. When I have to deal with those people (online, at work, at the line at Ralph’s grocery store), I can’t stand it. My biggest stressor is dealing with people who are unkind.

What brings you joy?

Loving people, good people, funny people; a good Netflix binge, a good Disney+ binge; and the ability to give back. There’s nothing greater than leaving people better than you found them. The joy of being seen ricochets right back and hits you — you are responsible for a smile. That’s joyous to me.

What’s some advice that you carry with you?

The best advice I ever received is to live below my means — that was my mom! Living below your means will carry you through life and bless you through life. It prevents you from having to take jobs you don't want to take or stay in relationships that no longer serve you. It is not about making more money; whatever [amount] you make, build a life and live just below that. I’m not saying this from an Ivory Tower either — I grew up in East Cleveland! This isn’t about less Starbucks; I’ve lived this life and I’ve always lived just below what I could. And be kind — that advice goes with me everywhere.

I’m sure it does, especially after your incredible loss. You’re not alone in that.

Did you hear that quote from WandaVision? “What is grief but love persevering?” Back to reframing things: If you look at grief equal to the amount of love you had, of course it will linger and remain. Why would you want it to end? Don’t wallow, but show up. My journey hasn’t ended because my loved ones' have; no one leaves here until their journey is complete. My mother would be so upset if I did nothing again! We have to celebrate their love and go on boldly in their name and honor.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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