Don’t Talk To Kristen Bell About “Balance”

The actor speaks to the art of just doing your best.

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kristen bell mental health

While many exalt the concept of “life balance,” the idea of successfully prioritizing your time at work and home equally, as a sort of finish line or ideal target to reach for daily, Kristen Bell isn’t buying it. In fact, the actor and mental health advocate says she sees the buzzy term as a “four-letter word” — which one, she doesn’t specify. But you get the gist.

“It's so triggering to me sometimes because there's always going to be a give and take,” she says to me on set of her new commercial for wellness platform Hers. “There's always going to be a shift. I have 100% of a pie, and if I'm giving 50% here, that only leaves 50%. But I try to keep in mind that my value as a human being is not dictated by what projects I'm booking or my television and film career. It is sort of dictated by how my friends and family interact with me and so I try to do my best work while I'm at work and then go home and really refuel myself as a real human being with my friends and my family and my job as a wife and a mother.”

Bell’s relatability and now renowned infectious charm has a way of making even the most complex and uncomfortable subject matter palatable and approachable. Which is likely why Hers selected the actor to be its first Mental Health Ambassador.

Also, Bell has been unapologetically vocal about her own experiences with depression and anxiety over the years. In unpacking the latter with TZR, she describes her anxiousness as “tricky,” manifesting in intrusive thoughts that sneak quietly into her brain. “She comes out in a lot of different ways and sometimes she's just hiding, and I don't know she's there for a while, but there are these seeds of thought that I have to nip in the bud right when they start,” says Bell. “One of them is imposter syndrome that I have experienced many, many times before, and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that. Just [thoughts like], I don't deserve to be here, I'm not good enough to be here...”

At the start of her acting journey, Bell recalls anxiety around navigating a burgeoning career sans road map or template to follow. She describes herself in those early days as a “ball of insecurity,” evaluating her self based on the roles she got and who she was in the industry. “I would often feel less than or have a voice that told me I was less than,” she says. And one might think that this type of thinking and behavior could dissipate in time, especially for an established actor like Bell, who has since cultivated a lucrative film and TV career over the years. But, if anything, success can raise the stakes in a way that fans the flames of imposter syndrome even more.

“I try to remind myself that I know I'm no better than anyone else,” says Bell. “I just happen to be the one that stumbled into the opportunities that led me here, and that forces me into a much more grateful perspective. So when I'm feeling like an imposter, I kind of have to throw my hands up in the air and go, Well, you may be an imposter, but that's sort of irrelevant. You're here. How can I be responsible with my opportunities? And at that point, I try to turn down the negative thoughts, put my head down, and earn the work that I've been given.”

Many of those living with anxiety and depression understand that these types of mental health struggles rarely disappear completely. We just learn methods and pick up tools to navigate them better. For Bell, her feelings of anxiety and insecurity slowly started to improve as she leaned into connections and relationships — both old and new — with family, friends, and herself. “I began realizing that the Kristen who goes on a hike by herself and enjoys the sunlight is just as important and valued as the Kristen who appears in Frozen,Bell says. “Then I was like, ‘Oh wait, this is a game that's in my head. I can choose to value both."

Therapy is also a key component here. Bell’s self-awareness allows her to stay in tune with herself and gauge when it’s time to seek the help of a professional. “If I'm feeling negative for more than a few days at a time maybe I should call my therapist,” she says. “Sharing things, being open ... I have a tendency to withdraw when I'm not feeling optimistic and I think that comes out of a very deep seated anxiety that I won't be loved if I'm not optimistic so that's why I'm always trying to present it and lead with it [...] Continuing my routine, talking to people, staying consistent with my medication, going outside and turning down my negative voice have been the tools that have allowed me to value who I am as a person now and not really let the whole Hollywood industry interfere with it as much.”

The other side of the “balance” coin, parenthood, can prove a bit tougher for Bell to tackle. Like most parents, the actor’s anxieties here revolve around the impact she’s leaving on her two daughters, Lincoln and Delta, who she shares with husband Dax Shepard. “At least once a day I'm like, ‘I'm ruining them, I'm ruining them!’ and then they do something that I find really impressive and I'm happy again,” she says with a laugh. “I think my acceptance of the rollercoaster of feelings has helped a lot because the reality is you can only try to be as good of a support system as you know how to be.”

For her, this support comes in the form of specific tools she’s gathered over the years: materials and books from child psychologists and taking the time to simply observe her children individually to better understand them. But, possibly the most powerful lesson she’s learned is acknowledging missteps she makes along the way.

“When I feel like I've made a mistake in parenting, I make an active amends towards my kids because then at least they're seeing the positive outcome of an active apology, and they're realizing not all humans are perfect, and that even mom makes mistakes,” she says. “I mean it's just this weird ride of having another person in your house and trying to help shape them. I kind of just have to realize I'm never going to feel like I'm doing it right. I just have to keep trying.”

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