Dan Levy on learning to take a break: 'Toward the last season, I really had to stop and say, OK'

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Dan Levy shares his approach to self-care. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Dan Levy shares his approach to self-care. (Photo: Getty; 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.

From shepherding the finale of Schitt's Creek, to picking up a pile of awards for his work as an actor, writer, executive producer and co-creator on the beloved show, to hosting Saturday Night Live, it's been a whirlwind year for Dan Levy. Now, the Canadian star is ready for a reset and a return to pre-pandemic comforts, such as travel and hitting up his favorite local haunts. 

Retail therapy, in fact, plays a large part in Levy's latest project, a campaign alongside fellow comedy great Rashida Jones in support of Citi's new Custom Cash Card, which offers 5 percent cash back on purchases in a shopper's top spending category. For Levy, that might be restaurants, though the actor is also partial to a spa day or a bookstore jaunt in the pursuit of self-care. 

Here, he shares how he's learned to step back and enjoy more leisure time when work gets overwhelming, and why a piece of advice from his mom is key to defusing tense situations. 

What does self-care mean to you, and do you have any go-to rituals that you practice?

I think the biggest thing I've learned when it comes to self-care is to really be able to know yourself and know when you're pushing yourself too far, and know when you need a break. And also to know that a break, be it a walk around the block or a day off, can actually benefit you in ways that [pushing] through it for the sake of getting something done or feeling like you want to impress people [doesn't]. It's actually sometimes more important in the long run to you being the best version of yourself, to know when to stop and to reset so that you can come back to the job, or to the opportunity, or to the relationship with a clear mind and renewed enthusiasm. 

So for me, it's always about asking myself, am I OK? And if I don't feel OK, why am I not OK? What can I do to help myself? And that's taken a long time to get to that place, because I'm someone that like, if you put a challenge in front of me, I am going to do everything I can to be the best at executing the task at hand. Especially on Schitt's Creek — it really took its toll. Toward the last season, I really had to stop and say, OK. Whether it's going and stopping in for a massage or reading a book at night, instead of doing work until 2 in the morning, there are little things that can be done to help alleviate some of the pressure and the anxiety. But it's taken a long time to get to that place, to know myself well enough to know when too much is too much. 

Are you a big believer in retail therapy? And what's the last thing you spent money on that brought you joy? 

I've always been a believer in spending your money thoughtfully, and that can be retail therapy, but it can also be, I think now more than ever ,supporting organizations and companies and restaurants and small businesses that could use your money. So for me, if it is going to be retail therapy, instead of going online and buying something it's about potentially shopping in person in a store that really needs business, like an independently owned clothing store or a bookstore. Or if I'm going to do takeout or going to order from a restaurant — which I've tended to do to help ease my struggle of having to cook — it's about going that extra mile and saying, what are the restaurants around me that I could take out from that could really benefit from money? 

There's a bunch of things that I've been spending money on that have been bringing me joy, but I think the greatest joy has been making sure that the money I am spending is being spent responsibly and that it's going towards companies that can really benefit from it. And then my purchase, or my order, is going to go a long way for people in a time when there's a lot of volatility in terms of people staying open, simply because our whole lifestyles have changed. Recently it's probably just been a lot of food. There's a little local place around the corner from me called Honey Hi, which I've been getting daily salads from, and a flower shop around the corner called Bloom & Plume that does really inspired floral arrangements. So it's been nice to get out. It's been nice to be able to support people and spend some money, but it's also been important to really consider where my money's going. 

Levy and Rashida Jones are teaming up for a new Citi Custom Cash campaign. (Photo: Elisabeth Caren)
Levy and Rashida Jones are teaming up for a new Citi Custom Cash campaign. (Photo: Elisabeth Caren)

Do you have a motto or piece of advice that you refer to regularly, especially when you are having a bad day or need to center yourself?

My mom always had this advice that I've tended to adopt when a situation has gotten a bit volatile or when there's some tension in the air. It's always the question of like, what is my part in this? What is my part in me feeling anxious? If you're having some tension with a friend or a family member or a co-worker, it's always looking at yourself first to just ask yourself that question, because I think a lot of times when things get heated or when we get anxious or stressed, we tend to kind of just place blame on people or to react, in a way that's not necessarily totally thoughtful. 

So to ask yourself the question of "what role do I play in whatever this problem is in my life" tends to detangle what could easily be something that, if you didn't detangle it, you might react in a way that wasn't totally smart or wasn't totally respectful of the situation as a whole. So understanding your place instead of turning your back on potentially something that you were involved with and putting [the blame] on someone else. It's really helped me to ask that question, and more often than not, I'm able to understand in a slightly deeper way my role in why I'm feeling a certain way or why a certain situation has gotten to where it is. And also, in doing so, I can best resolve it. 

What are you most looking forward to as life starts to get back to normal?

I hope eventually to travel again; that's something that has always brought me a tremendous amount of joy. I'm really hoping that with everything that's happening in terms of vaccines and with people hopefully respecting each other when it comes to just doing what you can to help curb this pandemic, that we'll get to a point where we can travel. That has been one of the greatest investments of my time and my money in the past and served me so well, both creatively and spiritually, and it has provided an incredible amount of inspiration. So I'm sort of crossing my fingers and paying very close attention to the news to figure out when and how I can travel again in a bigger way — not just a road trip.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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