Olivia Munn on managing her mental health: 'The constants in my life are my friends and family'

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Olivia Munn shares her mental health strategies and talks pets. (Photo: Getty)
Olivia Munn shares her mental health strategies and talks pets. (Photo: Getty)

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.

When the coronavirus pandemic sent the world into lockdown in March 2020, Olivia Munn turned to her beloved pups for company and comfort. Yet as the world opened back up this year, she found that her dogs weren’t as happy with her going back to in-person activities as she was. Just as many people were dealing with mental health issues surrounding the pandemic, so were her pups — which is why the Newsroom alum decided to work with Petco on their new campaign to help owners manage their pet’s well-being.

Now, the mom-to-be, who is expecting her first child with partner John Mulaney, is sharing not only how she helps her beloved dogs with their mental health, but how they have assisted her in navigating a challenging year. And, to keep her mental health further in check, she explains why she’s no longer focused on social media “numbers” and how she’s fighting the urge to compare her pregnancy to anyone else’s.

You’re working on an initiative all about pets and mental health. How do your pets help you manage your mental health?

There was a time when I didn’t think I could bring an animal into my life, that it was too busy and chaotic for that with all the traveling and stuff, but they really help structure you. They are my number one priority in helping them be happy and healthy and taken care of. During the pandemic, when it was so easy for your days to turn into nights and then your days turn into weeks, I had to still get up every day, and take them on their walks, and make sure they got their meals. I got my pet nutritionist license by taking online courses so I could learn how to better feed them. I started making my own dog meals for them and doggy treats. They really just help. They bring so much love but also so much structure to your life as well. When you have to put them first, your mind, and anxiety and panic attacks, which I’ve dealt with many times in my life, doesn’t have a chance to take hold that much.

As I’ve started to go back to work more and leaving for meetings, there’s been a shift in my pets. They spent the pandemic with me, at home, 24/7, for a year and a half. I know a lot of pet parents are seeing that with their dogs. When Petco approached me about this initiative, it was great timing, because I was dealing with it myself. My little one, Frankie, was marking all around the house. I would pick up a shoe, and he would start jumping on me, wanting me to hold him, because he thought I was about to leave. I didn’t understand what was happening. I was able to do the Well-Adjusted Dog seminar with their trainer. The thing that really helped me was figuring out the symptoms. I was like, ‘Oh, he’s being a rascal, he’s just being a dog right now.’ I realized my dog acting out was a sign of his separation anxiety. To help combat mental health issues for them, I’ve created more of a system for them as I leave the house, to combat any separation anxiety that’s going to happen.

Did you have any coping strategies during the early days of the pandemic?

I organized my whole house. After doing a lot of nothing as the rest of the world was doing, I was like, well, I’m going to need to do something. I’ve been wanting to organize my whole house from the medicine closet to clothes and shoes and all that stuff. Thankfully there were places like the Container Store that were still doing shipments, and I was doing trying out all these containers. The label maker was a huge part of my journey. It was something to do every day, but also something that I needed to do. It was one of those things that you feel like you don’t have time for in your regular life, but when you’re home looking at all your stuff, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is the time to do it.’

There were a lot of people making movies from home and writing scripts. I watched a lot of people accomplish so much more. It’s hard watching people do so much and feeling like you’re not doing enough, which is always hard with social media — seeing what people are accomplishing every day. With the pandemic, it was like, ‘Oh, they’re still operating at a really high level, and getting everything done.’ It was definitely intimidating, for sure.

Do you have any strategies for dealing with social media?

I think I struggle with it, just like everyone else, and try to find the best way to navigate through it. I do feel like Instagram has done a really great job of putting in place certain tools to make your page a safer place for your mental health. I have a niece who is in her early teens, and we were talking recently about numbers. For her, she just got into high school, and when you think about how many people like and follow you, it’s such a sad thing to think about. I can’t imagine being in high school and looking at that sort of stuff. So I said to her, ‘I’ll show you it doesn’t matter, I’ll hide my likes.’ It doesn’t mean you should get off the platform, because a lot of people are using it and there’s a lot of creativity on it. There’s a lot of great things to social media. But a lot of the things that we’ve thought are important, really aren’t important. I’m trying to navigate it like everyone else, but I do think Instagram has taken more steps than other platforms.

How do you manage the pressures of the public eye?

I think that comes in waves. You can really manage it at times and others it just feels like you can’t. It’s really hard to have a grasp on it and even when you think you have a grasp on it, it will slip away from you at some point. The best thing I can do is surround myself with my friends and the people who I love and who really love me. That’s a good escape from social media and the pressure of being in the public eye. How you feel about it is constantly changing and shifting, but the constants in my life are my friends and family. They have a much higher priority than any outside influences.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve gotten so far in your pregnancy?

I’ve gotten so much advice that it’s hard to file it all away properly. The thing that has made me feel the best has been how every single mom friend of mine has told me ‘Do not judge your pregnancy to anybody else’s.’ You look at people online and you see they’re dressing differently, they’re looking differently. Their experiences are different. People say, ‘Oh, your skin will glow!’ But I’m getting more sunspots now! These things people talk about, my experience is different. Some of it’s true, but some of it is not. So my best advice is not to compare my pregnancy to other people’s pregnancies.

I don’t know how people ‘snap back.’ I understand wanting to feel like your best self and wanting to feel like yourself again because something is happening to your body. I have friends who snap back right away because they’re built like that, and I have some friends who work really hard to snap back, but I have other friends who are on a slower journey there. It’s just enough that your body keeps changing. I’ve had a lot of friends who have really struggled with miscarriages and infertility, so understanding how special this time is and not put extra pressure and stress on yourself — it’s not good for you or the baby. I’ve seen friends go through struggle and heartbreak, so I’m staying super grateful that things are healthy and well.

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