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Sophia Bush on Mental Health, the Coronavirus Pandemic, and Feeling Your Feelings

Teen Vogue logo Teen Vogue 8/13/2020 Brittney McNamara
a woman sitting on a table © Getty Images for Teen Vogue

For Sophia Bush, the pandemic has brought a lot of emotions. 

She's experiencing the joy of fulfilling her life-long goal of raising chickens and relishing her new-found time at home, all while coping with the anxiety, anger, and grief that comes with a global pandemic. This flurry of feelings is something many of us can relate to — as we navigate this time, one unique to most of us, it can seem like our emotions fluctuate moment to moment, and things can turn at the drop of a hat. Instead of trying to keep her less-than-happy emotions at bay, Sophia said she's trying to remember that it's OK to feel it all.

Recently, Sophia and Micah Palacios, a young mental health advocate, chatted about coping with their mental health during a pandemic for the youth-empowerment program 4H. The organization recently released a survey on mental health among young people, finding that 64% of teens surveyed believe COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their generation's mental health.

As we all figure out how to cope, Teen Vogue caught up with Sophia over the phone to talk about mental health and coping during the pandemic. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Teen Vogue: You've been so open about mental health in the past — what has your experience with that been like during the pandemic. 

Sophia Bush:  I think it's been such an interesting journey not just for me, but in the scope of public discourse over the last five to 10 years. We live in a society that teaches these values of …the hustle. “Sleep when you're dead!” We glorify overworking and all-nighters. Especially when I think about young people, we tell kids this is how it works. For so many years when I was working on my first show, we would be doing 16 to 18 hours a day. I'd be flying home every weekend trying to see my family. I'd be taking a plane to New York for a day then flying back and being on set the next morning. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be and I don't think it was until, as a society, we saw more of a shift in conversations about mental health, about wellness, and about how stress and anxiety can affect how healthy you are, that I looked at my life and thought, "oh why do I think it’s ok to sleep 5 hours a night?" “Why am I living to work instead of working to live?” It was sort of an awakening.  

As I see the data around what young people are going through and...what's happening to Gen Z in terms of their anxiety and health, I … don't want them to have to learn the hard way.

TV: Yeah, the pandemic has been a sort of forced pause. Is that something that's helping you cope?

SB: Absolutely, I think about it as a bit of a constantly swinging pendulum. In a way, the pandemic has forced a pause, but it's also a completely unprecedented emotional experience for so many. We are experiencing a global crisis. We are seeing deaths in an unprecedented way. I'm incredibly grateful that I have, for the first time in my life — I've never been home for five months in a row, ever. I'm incredibly grateful I've had time to get my hands back in the earth. That was part of how I started speaking to some of the kids involved in 4H. I was [involved] growing up, and now I'm gardening, growing vegetables. I had a life-long dream of raising chickens and I am now. Those are my silver linings. The experience of stress and trauma, watching the news, having friends hospitalized, knowing people who have had family members die — it’s a really intense experience in both directions. I'm trying to hold both gratitude for what this more still time has enabled for me, and also to hold permission to be scared, sad, and angry at the failure of the federal government to lead on this issue. 

When we think about mental health for young people, they're so often encouraged to only celebrate the wins, to make things look perfect, to curate the Instagram page. It can be really toxic. It's really important for us to give permission for the joys and the sadness. 

TV: What has self-care looked like for you lately?

SB: Part of the thing I think is so tough about this pandemic is everyone feels trapped. I've really made an effort to try to get outside. I'm doing a lot of stuff at home. I've really been feeling that uneasiness creeping back in, so I get out go for a walk. Even if I take a call while I'm on the walk, that has made a really big difference. Definitely cooking more and trying to make that an adventure rather than feeling [upset] because I can't go out and have a meal with my friends.

The other thing is really just honoring feelings. When you try to avoid or push through your anxiety or pretend it isn't there...we’re sort of dishonoring ourselves. To take a moment and make a little space for whatever's coming up is a really healthy practice in self-care, and one I learned from my dear friend Ryan Weiss. He does morning meditations [on Instagram] that are a 20 to 30 minute talk on what's going on what he's processing. Using meditation and spending a little time doing that in the morning is a game-changer for me because as much as I have worked on a meditation practice and other self-care things, I don't stick to it if I do it by myself. There's something about showing up and doing things with other people that motivates me more. The thing I'm the best at is showing up for others. I'm figuring out ways to feel like I can participate [while socially distanced].

One of the things I thought was so cool was when I spoke to Micah and the 4H students, she was talking to me about how she has been trying to navigate this whole time and what it's like as a student. I was thinking about the particular experience of students. She talked to me about creating an actual ritual around affirmation — she started an affirmation jar. Everyday she wrote three affirmations for herself and read it out loud. She showed me this jar filled with stacks of paper, and I was like, “oh my God, I have to catch up.” I started a jar with her on our Zoom call. It was so awesome to do. It's sitting on my kitchen counter. I haven't quite stuck to putting something in it everyday, but a couple times a week. I started thinking about how cool it's going to be when we've gotten through this whole thing to pull all of those [affirmations] out and have this time capsule of this pandemic experience. 


Gallery: Weekly Horoscope: August 9-15 (Teen Vogue)

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