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Brooklyn Decker says self-care as a mom has 'always been frustrating': 'It felt like yet another thing I wasn't doing well enough'

Erin Donnelly
·10-min read
Brooklyn Decker says spending time outdoors has been a big mental health boost during the pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Brooklyn Decker says spending time outdoors has been a big mental health boost during the pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images; 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.

Spending time in nature has been a lifeline during the pandemic for Brooklyn Decker, who has been splitting her time between Austin, Tex. and North Carolina along with her husband, retired tennis star Andy Roddick, and their two children.

"Being outdoors for us, it was everything," the Grace and Frankie star tells Yahoo Life. "Most of family here in North Carolina is in health care, so we weren't seeing any family. We weren't seeing friends, obviously our kids weren't in school [but[ we're so lucky to have a yard and it was good for my mental health. It was good for my husband's mental health and for our kids to be able to just move their bodies and be out in nature."

There's just one catch: She's got allergies.

"As an allergy sufferer, when that's kind of your only reprieve from being locked inside, it can be complicated," she admits. It's also why the actress and model has teamed up with Zyrtec to celebrate — with "powerful, 24-hour relief" from sneezes and itchy, watery eyes — the first National Backyard Day on March19. As Decker explains, "It seems appropriate that after a year of our backyards giving us so much that we celebrate them for a day."

Getting some fresh air isn't the only thing 33-year-old Decker swears by when it comes to finding a little peace between the ears. Here, she opens up to The Unwind about seeing a therapist, what self-care looks like when you're busy mom and why being candid about topics like postpartum recovery and menstruation is so necessary.

Yahoo Life: How do you prioritize your mental health?

Brooklyn Decker: I started seeing a therapist like six months before the pandemic, which was incredible for me. I loved it, and that has just been amazing to have someone who knows what's going on, but is not at all connected. It's a no-strings-attached relationship, which has been super-healthy for me. So I love therapy.

[But self-care for me] has always been frustrating. For example, I was at an appointment with my gynecologist — sorry for the TMI — and they asked me, "So what are you doing for self-care?" And this was a time when I had a newborn baby. I went to work at two weeks postpartum. I was going back and forth between Texas and L.A. There was no time for self-care. And for me it felt like yet another thing I wasn't doing well enough, you know?

So my approach to it has always been creating little rituals, whether that be an eight-minute exercise or a phone call with a girlfriend or talking to a therapist or getting outside for a little bit, which is a huge healing activity for me. It's always been, what can I do that's little that just is a little bit restorative. And that's always been my approach. It's, so unbalanced, but in a weird way, it provides balance for me.

The mom of two shares her parenting tricks and why she's so vocal about the realities of postpartum life. (Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage)
The mom of two shares her parenting tricks and why she's so vocal about the realities of postpartum life. (Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage)

What brings you joy?

Nature always brings me joy; it's so grounding. When my kids were babies, someone told me that if they're having a tantrum or they're crying or they're inconsolable, if you take your shoes off — no matter what the temperature is, no matter what the weather is — and you go outside and you hold your baby and you're physically standing barefoot on the earth, it's such a grounding process that both you and the baby get relaxed, and it's always worked for me. So nature has always been super, quite literally, grounding and restorative, and that brings me a lot of joy. And even though we can't have it right now, but being with my people, my friends and my family. Seeing my kids happy probably is the thing that brings me most joy. Taking a shower alone brings me joy. Little things and big things.

You've been really open about postpartum life and periods and topics like that. Why do you think it's so important to have those conversations and put it all out there?

I was really fortunate to have pretty uneventful pregnancies, but my recovery was brutal with both kids. I tore in both deliveries, and just everything was brutal. And no one warned me about that. And that again is, like, best-case scenario, healthy pregnancy, healthy delivery, all of it. And it was still hard for me. And so it made me think about, what is this experience like for people who are having challenges or have a complicated delivery or complicated pregnancy, and why aren't we talking to each other about this?

Not to go too deep, but when you look at other cultures, in sort of those first few weeks and months after birth, after delivery, they're there to nurture and family and friends are there nurture this baby and help this mother. And there's a huge time for recovery and restoration. And we in the United States don't do that at all. I mean, we have the highest Black maternal mortality rate for first-world countries in the world, which is criminal. We expect women to get back to work weeks after they deliver. There's this whole idea about bouncing back and that's what's celebrated and no one actually thinks about the rehabilitation and restoration that goes into recovery. And so culturally, I think we're off there.

I'm really going after Americans and the way we have to give birth. I think we raise our kids in silos. I think everything's so independent and isolated, and I think after this year, we can all see how problematic and damaging that can be to be so isolated. And I think we've realized more than ever we need community. And so much of those ideas can be applied to parenting, mothering, childbirth, pregnancy. I just think if mothers are supported and children are supported, we all win. It was just a big wake-up call for me personally. And again, I gave birth under the best and healthiest of circumstances and it was still a challenge. I started making recovery kits for friends when they would go into labor because, you know, there's so much that people are unprepared for. So yeah, I think it's really important to talk about.

Your children are young, but is there a way that you and your husband try to plant the seeds of what wellness and self-confidence look like?

We talk about movement a lot; movement's really important for my husband's well-being. He's one of those people where if he doesn't sweat in a day, he gets a little anxious and a little jittery. So movement's always really important for our family, whether that's a dance party in the kitchen or going outside and doing a physical activity. I think it's really important for it to be about movement and not about, you know, how I think many of us were raised, which is like, you do this for a physical appearance goal. I think putting into kids the idea that we move because it's good for our brains and our feelings and our bodies, I think is a healthy approach. We'll see, but that's a big one for us.

One thing that we're sort of toying with more recently is giving them some alone time, both separately and with each other. They'll say, "I want alone time in my room," or "I want alone time with the dog," whatever that is, and giving them that space. I think as parents, we're so nervous they're going to get hurt. We're wanting to protect them and be with them and nurture them. And I think kids get their independence by figuring out how to occupy their little brains when they have that alone time. You know, they figure out how to have fun without needing you to create an activity for them. And so we've started that more recently and I think it's really out of necessity because we've run out of activities because we've all been with each other every day for a year. But I think it's been really healthy for them and their independence so they can start to establish really for themselves what brings them joy and what they enjoy doing and how they would like to spend their own time.

You play Jane Fonda's daughter on Grace and Frankie. Are there any tips or mantras that she's passed on or inspired you to follow?

She exercises all the time, in a healthy way — not all the time, but every day. We'll have 30 minutes of downtime on a set and she'll go and lift weights and she always talks about [the importance of] that for bone health and always sort of taking care of yourself physically. And I think she hasn't taught me this, but I've learned just by watching her that, she's so passionate about helping people who have been historically disenfranchised and she's so passionate about the general well-being of everyone around her that she's quite literally made it her life's work in her activism.

Again, she hasn't really taught me this necessarily, but she's leading by example. When you see her and say, "Oh, what am I doing to give back? And what is my legacy on this earth and what am I doing with my time? And am I giving enough to other people?" ... That's been a real wake-up call, like, "Oh yeah, you're not too busy. You have the time. I've told that to myself, like, "You have the time if Jane Fonda can do it. If Jane can find the time to do these things, you can find the time to do these things." So that's a really powerful way that she's led by example.

And finally, what stresses you out?

I like control, which is never good when you're a mom. I like my spaces to feel... it's not that things have to be clean, but I like to be in beautiful spaces. And I don't know if that's because I travel so much that home is so important to me. Being sort of grounded in a space is super-important to me, but when I feel out of control most is when I don't have control over my space. And that drives me a little crazy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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