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.
Hilary Duff has a lot on her plate right now: two kids (8-year-old son Luca and 2-year-old daughter Banks) with another on the way, plus her role on the seventh season of TV Land's Younger, which she'll wrap filming shortly before giving birth. (You can add a stack of toast slathered in Nutella spread to that list, too; the former child star is currently promoting World Nutella Day on Feb. 6, with a sweepstakes offering a live virtual cooking experience with Duff herself.)
The pregnant star, who is married to musician Matthew Koma, tells Yahoo Life that it's been difficult to carve out much downtime these days, noting, "I'm working insane hours right now to finish the show so I can go home and have my baby." Still, the actress and singer manages to work some self-care into her routine. Here, she opens up about her go-to tricks for relieving stress, tuning out mom-shamers and sharing relaxing rituals with her kids.
What are some of the small habits you do to brighten or elevate your day?
I'm really into skincare, so I love to take five minutes and actually steam my face before I do my whole skincare routine. That feels like decadent time spent on myself. I am a big candle lighter, so usually every day there's a candle lit in one of the rooms at the house. Recently over the pandemic I got really into incense, because we were entertaining outside a lot so I would set up [incense] outside and let it burn and let the wind carry it around. I love doing that.
On the food front, I love to indulge. I'm definitely not someone who diets that frequently. I try to do everything with balance. One of my favorite breakfasts is running out the door and having Nutella on toast with my coffee. I have my coffee black, so it's quite bitter and the Nutella is sweet. And it is a treat, but sometimes I just need that to get my day going.
What are some of the things that you do for yourself in terms of mental well-being and combatting stress?
I would say that I am interested in and like to dabble in a lot of different ways to unwind. Right now I'm heavily into crocheting. So I taught myself how to crochet and it's a really nice thing to do on set. Obviously we're all so attached to our phones and we're constantly reachable and it's necessary for work and also terrifying that we're so dependent on them. It's just a habit to go check Instagram, go check this, go do that, look at my emails. So [crocheting] keeps my hands busy and I really like that. I've been making a lot of hats and mittens and I'm working on this jacket right now which totally scares me, but it's like a good brain exercise. It's something that I'm kind of figuring out on my own and I just have to use my brain in a different way.
I also exercise. I just started doing Megan Roup's Sculpt Society app, which I'm loving. It's really fun, it's like a dancing type of workout but it's all on an app so you can do it anywhere. And you can use weights or not use weights. And the workouts are like eight minutes, 13 minutes, 29 minutes. It's all very low-commitment, which is great for me right now.
And I love taking hot baths. My daughter is super-into taking baths with me right now, which is so lovely. I'm trying to get her on board with like, bath salts, and soaps, and scrubs, and she's super-into it. It's a nice way for me to take a breather and not be like, [all over] toys and coloring and chasing her around the house. She really gets into the bathtime, so that's something that we've been doing together, which is really nice. It's [also] something that I love to do on my own with a book — and normally a glass of wine. Right now I'm pregnant so that's a no-go, but it's coming for me soon, and I'm so excited!
But I don't meditate. A couple of my friends have been strong-arming me into it. I feel like it might happen, but it's just not happening right now.
Beyond bathtime, are there any other ways you're introducing your kids to the idea of self-care or positive wellness practices?
My 2-year-old [Banks] is a girl and she's been more into self-care, and she's also the one who I have to do a little bit more of like, get down on her level with — the sit down, take some breaths kind of thing. She's not a huge tantrumer, but that's the age right now. She'll get really upset if I don't give her something. And it does help to stay calm yourself even when that's the last thing you feel like doing in that moment sometimes, because you're overwhelmed or tired or whatever.
But Luca  is my super-chill child. He's very sensitive, so one thing that we've incorporated three or four times a week is to, at the end of the day instead of doing books, we'll do high and low points for the day. Like, when you feel like you've won, when you feel like something was tough for you. He's a very vocal, chatty dude when I can get rid of all the distractions, so that's been really nice. And actually, it's good for me too, to talk to him and share a little bit of my world with him, because I'm so ingrained in everything that's going on in his, that it's good to get to a point where he can pay attention to like, "Oh, Mom might have had a hard day for this reason too." We're incorporating how other people feel and how they're affected instead of just him.
He's not into yoga, but he will go on a hike with me. We have a little gym set up in our garage, so if I'm doing weights he'll hop on the treadmill, which is really cute. So he's definitely healthy. And one of my other big stress relievers is cooking when I have time. So it's really nice to get in the kitchen with the kids and come up with a new recipe or make something for dinner so it's a joint effort and it's not always just on me, or they see what goes into, like, the energy it takes to put dinner on the table.
You've been very vocal about mom shaming and protecting your children's privacy. When you have countless strangers watching your every move and weighing in on every Instagram post, does that take a toll on your mental health, especially as a mom who is just trying to get through the day?
I think it's really hard, actually. I'm so used to dodging the comments or the judgment, that I don't realize. Like, you just get a tough skin and you don't realize how much it actually affects you. But it's really frustrating because no matter who you are, your kids are your proudest accomplishment. Like I post them all the time [on social media] — but guess what? It's my right to post them, because they're my kids. What's not right is, like, a paparazzi hounding them at a sports game when they're just being normal kids. That's not OK. And people are like, "Well you post them." Well, yeah. They're my kids to post. So I don't understand the other side of that argument.
I remember we had been to the zoo a couple of months ago and Luca had a mask on and was leaning on [Banks's head during the car ride home] with his eyes closed, and I guess someone was like, "You're really making that poor child wear a mask?" or like, "Kids shouldn't sleep with masks on. What are you doing?" Like, first of all, he's [almost] 9. The days of him sleeping in the car are long gone. I don't comment on other people's posts like that, so I don't understand, but I guess it's just a need for attention or whatever. It's hard not to take it personal, so I really have to zoom out. At first I want to be defensive, but when I zoom out, I'm like, "It's one person. That's not how everybody feels. That doesn't really matter. That person's, like, a keyboard gangster who just needs to be heard or seen."
How have you adjusted to lockdown life over the past year?
For my husband and I, this is our first year of marriage. We're like, wow, we have been through a lot already. It's not so often that in someone's first year of marriage you're stuck seeing only that person every day and you're basically alienated from the outside world. You're like, OK, here's your new duties, here's my new duties, here's how we're going to keep the household working, here's the new rules ... it's just insane.
I guess we've kind of simplified. It's been hard because more's been added to the plate, but also there's less pressure because I'm like, I can't make all that happen in one day. All the things that normally are on the schedule, all of that looks very different. Though I'm of course back to work now, so a little bit more normalcy has come back.
Pregnancy can be a stressful time. Are you doing anything special for yourself?
I'm trying to exercise, I'm trying to get off my feet every once in a while, but it's difficult right now. But I have to tell you: Not having a ton of time to think about it — not that I'm not connected to the pregnancy, because I am, and I'm super-excited — but I'm so busy with my kids' schedules and work, the time has blown by.
Do you have a mantra that you try to live by?
It's really simple, but I guess it's just: Treat others the way you want to be treated. That's a big conversation in our house right now with everything that's been going on over the past year with Black Lives Matter and the pandemic and the election. Everyone is at each other's throats. I guess what it boils down to is, it's sad that everyone doesn't feel this way or didn't learn this lesson growing up, but truly, just treat everyone the way you want to be treated yourself. And sometimes our conversations have to be simplified because we have a 2-year-old and an almost-9-year-old that we're talking to, but it is kind of a nice thing to apply.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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