Us, Interrupted: What Sophia Bush Is Learning About Self-Care Right Now

Epidemiologist and writer By Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D.
Epidemiologist and writer
Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D., M.H.S., C.P.H., is an epidemiologist, physician, and writer. Kalaichandran graduated from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a master's in Health Science, received her M.D. from the University of Toronto, and completed fellowships at the University of Arizona and the Munk School of Global Affairs.
How Sophia Bush On Self-Care During COVID-19

Image by mbg Creative x Hudson Taylor / Contributor

Us, Interrupted is a series that focuses on public figures as well as professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 global pandemic. During this unprecedented crisis, we hope these stories of vulnerability and resilience will help us move forward, stronger together.

Sophia Bush is an American actress, activist, and entrepreneur. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America and has starred in various independent projects, shows, and movies such as John Tucker Must Die, Incredibles 2, One Tree Hill, Dick Wolf's Chicago PD, and This is Us and has joined the cast of the upcoming show Love, Victor. Bush also co-founded and sits on the board for the public awareness campaign "I am a voter," which promotes awareness of registration tools and encourages all to use their resources to participate in the voting process. Most recently, Bush launched a podcast, Work in Progress, which features frank conversations with people who inspire her about how they've gotten to where they are.

We spoke to Bush about how her normally busy life has been changed by the impact of COVID-19 and why she's learning to not expect too much from herself while staying home.

1. What was your life like before we learned about COVID-19, in terms of your self-care and maintaining a sense of well-being?

I've always struggled with routine since on set there is no such thing. Some days I have a 4:15 a.m. call time, and some days I go to work at 6 p.m. and film until the next day at 8 a.m. So I think I've always been enamored with people's routines and looked at them with total fascination. In recent years, I've really tried to examine how to create routine.

2. Before COVID-19, what did you most struggle with in terms of self-care?

Routines, of course! I have also always struggled to prioritize sleep. Especially when I'm on a set, where we generally have 14- to 16-hour days, it can be routine to sleep for six hours instead of eight. I know how valuable sleep is to health, and I've been trying to prioritize that in the way I prioritize time with my community. I also struggled to implement a daily practice—stillness, meditation, movement—because it was hard to schedule. Like so many people, regardless of industry, I fell victim to the cultural messaging around hustle. You know, that "we can sleep when we're dead" mentality, which really doesn't benefit any of us. 

3. If you can remember, where were you when you first learned about COVID-19 as being a real threat to us in North America? What were your initial impressions?

I had heard about the outbreak on the news through January and February, but things still seemed relatively under control in the U.S. I flew up to Toronto, as scheduled, to shoot my new show—Good Sam for CBS—and had presumed we were far enough ahead of the disease to implement testing and keep it contained. But none of that happened. The United States government, and the presidential administration, really committed a dereliction of duty, and we unfortunately saw a major outbreak. Then all productions were halted, and all of the actors and crew were sent home. It's been so surreal.

For the first time in my life now, I have real downtime. Not just a few days here and there. So once I pulled myself out of the constant news-refresh loop that I was in for the first two weeks, I started looking at how to turn inward while I have the strange opportunity to do so. I've been able to maintain my podcast from home, and I've had the space and time to examine how to take care of myself. 

4. What sorts of things have you put into practice now, from a "public health" point of view to help lower the risk of COVID-19?

As preparation for my roles in Good Sam, I spent time observing cardiothoracic surgeries in operating rooms, so I have an intimate understanding of the value of "keeping sterile." I've implemented a lot of those practices at home, from sterilizing what comes into my space to proper hand-washing. I have disinfecting wipes in my car, just inside my front door, and in my kitchen and have procedures I follow now when it comes to my mail, handling packages, and even have a set pair of "indoor only" shoes.

5. How has self-isolation or social distancing affected your sense of well-being? This includes physically, emotionally, and your relationships.

I'm a creature of community. I love to be around my friends, and really enjoy interacting with people in the world. I think about how Alix, at my local grocery store usually would have a great story for me while I'm in the checkout line, and now I haven't seen him in three weeks. It's so odd. I see my parents through my phone now. Thankfully we can all interact with our loved ones through a screen—I can't imagine how difficult this would be without technology! I'm focusing on being grateful for those resources we have now. In week three, the social distancing was hard, in terms of not being able to see or hold people...I had a few good cries about that. I feel so lucky that one of my best friends is staying with me through this, and that I have dogs I've been fostering as well. I'm now so acutely aware of how much a little bit of physical presence can change this experience. 

6. What have you most struggled with during this time?

Anxiety and feelings of panic. Throughout the first two weeks of our stay-at-home orders, I felt like I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack—I couldn't turn the news off, I kept checking the curve, the infection rates, and the number of people affected. I realize I haven't really had an opportunity to "stop" since I was 21 years old, and in the midst of all this fear, I needed to find a silver lining.

I started taking deep breaths and acknowledging how lucky I am to be home and to love my home. That practice helped me turn my worry into service. I started figuring out how to serve essential workers. Whether it's making extra food for my mail carriers or sponsoring meal deliveries through Frontline Foods—they're a nonprofit working in 39 cities, including Los Angeles, that utilizes local restaurants to help deliver foods to ICU and emergency room workers—it's about taking a negative feedback loop and doing something positive with it. That perspective shift feels like an immense self-care practice. 

7. Do you have any ideas, resources, tips, tricks, or advice that you've put into practice to optimize your well-being and that you'd feel comfortable sharing with readers? 

I've been reading before bed (not on a screen), recording my podcast (this is especially helpful since curiosity is medicinal to me), and I've been walking my dog in the morning at sunrise. Lots of dinners on Zoom and FaceTime with people I really love and care about help too. And I'm trying to be productive and tackle my reading list, finally! It's slower going than I'd hoped, but again, I'm trying to be patient with myself. 

8. What have you learned most about yourself (and your family, if you choose to share) during this time? How do you believe you have grown/will grow through this?

I've learned more about what self-care looks like to me. Part of it is recognizing that I set really outsized expectations for myself—like to "read all these books in a month!" or "do six online classes!" or whatever spells "productive"! I'm learning that that tendency isn't helpful. Sometimes resting, FaceTiming, doing a great podcast, or perhaps cooking and walking my dog, might be enough. I am learning to give myself permission to do less. 

I've also realized that I'm an extroverted introvert—I think?—and I need more alone time than I thought I did. I need to direct energy inward. It feels like a big lesson, and I'm tremendously grateful for the discovery. 

9. Any piece of advice, a quote, anything motivational that you'd like to share for our readers?

I've been reading Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. This book is my everything, and even more profound right now. In one of the chapters, called "Vows," she talks about the word selah. It has become my mantra.

"Selah is found in the Hebrew Bible 74 times. Scholars believe that when it appears in the text, it is a direction to the reader to stop reading and be still for a moment because the previous idea is important enough to consider deeply. The poetry in Scripture is meant to transform, and the scribes knew that change begins through reading but can be completed only in quiet contemplation... Selah is the holy silence when the recipient of transformational words, music, and sketchily acquired information from radiology receptionists pauses long enough to be changed forever. Selah is the nothingness just before the Big Bang of a woman exploding into a new universe."

So when I take time to look at the sky, be in nature, contemplate something, I'm really trying to implement this moment of stillness—this divine selah—into my days. 

10. What makes you most hopeful right now?

A lot of community organizing that's happening, despite irresponsibility at the upper echelons of government. The activists and organizers offer me reassurance. I see communities banding together (like Frontline Foods pivoting to serve emergency room workers); people buying groceries for the elderly; people who are really showing up for each other. I feel hopeful seeing Kamala Harris introducing a bill that will allow Americans to vote by mail and protect our constitutional right to do so. The fact that we can maintain democracy even when we can't maintain certain experiences as we've known them before. The commitments of human beings to go above and beyond to help us hold the line of normalcy and civic engagement? Those things make me feel so hopeful. I've often looked around over the last few years and found myself asking "where are the adults" in the room—and I'm seeing a lot of incredible adults stepping up. I am just so happy to see them all. 

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