Tune In: Actress Ashley Greene Opens Up About Panic Attacks, Motherhood & Mental Health
Actress Ashely Greene's first panic attack not so coincidentally lined up with her first magazine cover photo shoot.
"I grew up with a really strong work ethic—someone who you could count on. So I felt that even if I was stressed out, I had to push it down," she tells me, noting this was during the height of the Twilight frenzy, the biggest franchise and pop cultural touchstone of the time. "I was doing this when I was 20 years old, a time when you're really finding yourself. I was showing up for everyone else, so I was not really showing up for myself. All of a sudden, things started to crack."
And once Twilight ended, her self-confidence was left in its wake. "My self-worth was tethered to this job I was doing, so when that ended, it hit me like a ton of bricks. And because I hadn't prioritized my mental health, I didn't have the tools to navigate it," she said.
This led to a slow, but meaningful, journey to learning how to care for herself. "Working on your mental health is a challenging, uncomfortable process, but it's obviously a thousand percent worth it. And when you're on the other side of it, you wonder why you weren't doing this in the first place," she says.
Greene just launched a class series with mental wellness app Aura Health, where she shares her journey and talks about how she cares for herself now. I interviewed Greene on my podcast Clean Beauty School (so tune in to hear the conversation in its entirety). Throughout, we discuss what she's learned about being vulnerable, feeling beautiful in her journey with motherhood, and the sort of world she hopes her daughter grows up in.
For what it's worth, I was genuinely charmed by Greene during our conversation. She sounded like a woman who had done the work and was now ready to share that with others. Read on and tune in—I think you'll agree.
Finding power in vulnerability
Being open—with yourself, with others, with a professional—is terrifying, but it's the only place to begin.
"I wasn't happy with myself, even though I knew I was in this very privileged position of having a job that a lot of people would dream of. I struggled with why I was feeling so unhappy and developing unhealthy habits," she says. "Ideally I would have seen all these signs and symptoms—and had the education to be able to navigate these feelings, anxieties, and self-doubts—but for me, it was equally hard to recognize there was a problem and that I needed to do something about it."
After coming to terms with herself that she needed to address these complex emotions, the first person she turned to was her husband.
"I think that it's a crucial step to bring someone else into the fold. It's really daunting and difficult to tackle whatever you're dealing with, especially if it's reached a certain point," she says. "I'd gotten to a point that I didn't necessarily know what to do and to try to do it alone is overwhelming."
Crafting a tool kit of resources
For most folks, it's not one modality—it's an arsenal.
"It's important to not try and do everything at one time because that's impossible. You can't expect to go on this journey with a full tool kit—you have to start one tool at a time," she says.
Her favorite (we all have one) is breathwork.
"Breathwork is extremely helpful for me when I start feeling overwhelmed. It's just impactful," she says, noting she uses the Aura app to inform these practices. "Daily affirmations, during the day and at night, are really helpful. And meditating is another one that I have to consistently make time for."
Practicing mindful motherhood
I'm not a mother, so I can't begin to comprehend all the complexities that go into motherhood. But I still found our conversation around motherhood to be most profound. You can tell that Greene takes her role as a parent seriously—and she thinks deeply about the world she wants her daughter to grow in.
I suspect that has a lot to do with her practicing mindful parenting.
"In the moments when I'm exhausted, she's not sleeping, and I'm questioning, 'What am I doing wrong?' I reprogram myself to think I'm really grateful that I get to have moments with my baby," she says. "I just pay really close attention to how I choose to look at things, which is harder said than done. Even if it feels false to you, continue to feed that positive light into your brain until it starts clicking."
Don't be afraid to look back to see how far you've come
Make no doubt about it: Mental health is work.
"It's hard to internally dredge up a lot of these things that you've been suppressing for such a long time," she says. "But I will say that if you continue to say to yourself—or have a support system that can say to you—'Look back and see how far you've come or how much you've changed, I'm really proud of you for the way your mind works now than it did 10 days ago,' it can make a big difference."
Understanding her self-worth in an the age of social media
"I used to think it was just my industry that was brutal, but now because of social media and filters, it's everywhere," she says about the pressures to look, act, or feel a certain way. "It's really sickening."
For Greene, teaching her daughter how to build self-worth comes down to being a role model herself.
"This comes down to me too—understanding my worth, what I bring to the table, what inner beauty is, and that social media is not real and you can't live up to it," she says. "It's not to say I don't have good days and bad days, but with bringing a baby girl into this world, it becomes a lot more important to have self-acceptance."
Ultimately, Greene notes, she knows she's her daughter's first and most enduring influence: "Your child looks at you and they absorb everything," she says. "And so I want my child to be able to look at me and say, 'Mommy loves herself and thinks she's beautiful. And Mommy looks at me and thinks I'm beautiful.'"
I can't think of anything more worthwhile.
"As she grows up, I want to be able to give her the tools that I never had. I want to educate her so it's ingrained in her DNA, so she doesn't necessarily have to grow up with the same obstacles that I did. She can grow up understanding that you have control over your body and you have control over your mind," she says. "And I think if you can find some sort of relationship with yourself and your mind, that's such a positive, beautiful, powerful thing."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.