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.
Skin care, spirituality, self-reflection… if it’s something that might nurture someone inside or out, chances are podcasting co-hosts Doree Shafrir and Kate Spencer have discussed it on Forever35: “a podcast about the things we do to take care of ourselves.”
The show sees the L.A.-based pals break down everything from the latest serum to complex mental health practices, either on their own or with guests like Elizabeth Gilbert, June Diane Raphael and Brit Bennett. Either way, the conversations are always intimate, relatable and relevant to anyone with an interest in wellness.
Here, the writers —Shafrir’s new memoir, Thanks for Waiting: The Joy (& Weirdness) of Being a Late Bloomer, is out today, while Spencer is the author of The Dead Moms Club: A Memoir About Death, Grief and Surviving the Mother of All Losses — open up about their self-care secrets, motherhood and what overcoming adversity has taught them.
Self-care is a big topic of conversation on your podcast. Is there a go-to ritual that you each love best?
Doree Shafrir: I read before bed and that is just a good way for me to wind down. I learned how to play Mahjong during the pandemic, and for a while, I was playing Mahjong on my iPad before bed, but that was getting me amped up because I was getting really into the game and I was like, Oh no, I gotta go back to reading before bed. That is what kind of gets me in the zone, especially if I’m reading something that I’m really into. It’s just such a nice treat. I don’t read during the day; it’s what I do at night. And so that’s a little self-care thing that I like to do.
Kate Spencer: It’s funny because it’s the thing I love most every day that I don’t even consider it as self-care, but it is, and that is waking up and getting my first cup of coffee. It is probably my favorite moment of the day. And I look forward to it at night when we grind the coffee and we get everything all set so it just brews on its own at 6:30 in the morning and the smell kind of wafts into our bedroom. I live in a small house, so the kitchen is right outside my bedroom. So I just shuffle out, I’ll get my coffee, I pour lots of whole milk into it, which is how I like it, and then I get back in bed and I drink my first cup of coffee in bed as I’m kind of scrolling, maybe playing the New York Times Spelling Bee or reading the news. And it’s just like the perfect time. Normally my husband’s either still asleep, or it’s kind of my quiet time even though people are still around. I love it. I think I look forward to it every day, even talking about it, I’m excited for it.
You’re both moms. What’s your secret to finding time for self-care with kids around?
KS: Honestly, I have a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old, so I am out of the woods of toddlerhood and I’m in a different stage of parenting. That’s very emotionally challenging, but it’s not quite as physically [exhausting] and constantly in your face. And I will be honest: My self-care significantly improved when my second child turned 3 and my children were more able to care for [themselves]. I know it’s not a fun answer, but it is really, really hard to be stretched that thin, not just as a parent, but with other obligations in your life — work, caregiving, whatever they are — so it was time for me. Accepting that it’s not always going to look how I want it to look was a big part of it, and just knowing that things will change and get a little bit better. It was really hard in the early years of having kids. So I think you squeeze it in when you can, and you don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a perfect routine or an extensive routine in this endless practice of self-care. It can be very quick.
DS: My son is 2, so he’s peak toddler. I will say one thing that’s been a pretty significant mindset shift for me has been this idea that we as parents are always modeling for our kids, we need to model self-care and boundaries for them. So like, I don’t always want to play with him. I don’t always want to do whatever he’s like trying to get me to do. And that’s OK, and I don’t need a reason; I can just say, “I don’t feel like doing this right now,” because he also should not have to feel like he has to do everything that someone else wants him to do. So to me, that is part of my self-care: knowing my boundaries, knowing I don’t always want to do the thing, you know what I mean? And that doesn’t make me a bad parent or neglectful. It makes me someone who is modeling boundaries.
Speaking of modeling self-care, Kate, you were talking on the podcast about teaching your daughters how to wash their face, as a sort of indulgent ritual, which I loved. Are there any other practices you’re trying to pass on?
KS: I think the biggest thing, and this is kind of a broader parenting thought, is not pushing them to be anyone that they’re not, or to do things that they’re not interested in. And that doesn’t mean letting them not follow through on things they’ve committed to, or not completing a project or a commitment. But I found that giving them space to be creative and be weird or hang out in the yard and just giving them time, I think has been a really good lesson for me because I have kind of grown up in this space of valuing productivity and achievement and success, whatever that looks like. And I’m trying not to put that same pressure on them, in the hopes that as they transition into adulthood, there is more space in their life for calm — not this constant barrage of expectations of productivity and always being on the go and always doing something. So that is what I hope I’m passing on to them and hoping I’m making space for them to do: not over-scheduling them, not committing to too much, letting them decide who they want to be as people.
But the other thing that they do like to do is one of them received a makeup palette as a birthday present. And I like to let them experiment with makeup and not put any of my complex feelings about makeup onto it. So they just go wild and they really have fun, like very creatively putting stuff all over their face. I don’t know where they get their ideas. I don’t know what they’re doing, but I do know that it’s very hard to take off and that is how I have taught them about double-cleansing. We are scraping it off. They have a lot of fun with the self-expression side of makeup, and I think that’s been really fun to watch.
Doree, you’ve written about being a late bloomer in your new book, Thanks for Waiting. What did that look like for you?
DS: I didn’t really see myself as a late bloomer throughout much of my 20s and 30s, and then I feel like it hit me all of a sudden. It was around my mid-to-late 30s where all of a sudden I looked around and so many people I knew were married. So many people I knew had kids. So many people I knew had bought a house. So many people I knew had checked off these boxes that I feel like we’re supposed to check off, and I was kind of like, Oh, I haven’t done any of those. And none of those were even in the pipeline for me. I just started thinking about that a little bit more, just wondering, how did this happen?
And then I subsequently got married at 38 and had my son when I was 41. And then the experience of having a child in your 40s is really interesting because you’re thrust into this world of women who are much younger than you; your mom peers tend to be much younger. At least that was what I found in my Mommy and Me classes and stuff like that. Everyone was, like, 10 years younger than me. I always look at them and I’m like, Oh, you’re 34. What was I doing at 34? Not hanging out with my 2-year-old, you know what I mean? So I’m just kind of thinking about that stuff.
I didn’t really see myself as a late bloomer career-wise, except that I had had some kind of restart in my career [after changing jobs]. I was an intern when I was 29 and felt like I had to kind of scramble to catch up, but like, what was I catching up to? I felt like I was working toward this goal in my career but I didn’t really know why or what it really was. It was just like, keep going, keep going, keep getting promoted, keep getting better jobs. And I just literally woke up one day and was like, “I’m miserable.” And it’s not a coincidence that all these things happened in my late 30s, early 40s, because I feel like it took me that long to really figure out who I was and who I wanted to be and what I wanted out of my life. It was not something that I figured out at 25.
You’ve both spoken openly open the difficult moments in your life: Kate, writing a book about grief after losing your mother, and Doree, creating a podcast with your husband about your experience with infertility and undergoing IVF. Do you think those experiences made an impact in terms of how prioritize your mental health, or did they change your relationship to self-care?
DS: One of the things that it did is it allowed me to accept the things that were out of my control, which I had never been good at and am still not great at it, but it really made me do that. I think that was an important mindset shift for me. And then also, IVF is just such a rollercoaster and the goalposts are always shifting and, you know, I just learned to respect my body more. I was just like, Oh, my body is doing these amazing things, and I’m putting my body through a lot. I feel like it changed my relationship with my body, and the pregnancy changed it even more, but I feel like it started with IVF.
KS: One thing I’ve learned from going through these really big, kind of more traumatic life experiences is a willingness to say no. I’m a real chronic people pleaser, and I’m still working on it and learning how to set better [boundaries] and being more honest in my means and wants. And I didn’t even think about it when I was a caregiver for my mom when she was dying. I could say no whenever I wanted; it was so freeing because I had such an important thing going on that I could really see with clarity what was worth my time, or what benefited me and my needs and what didn’t. And so that was really empowering, and I still think about how that made me feel.
And I think also anytime you’re really confronted with mortality — and I think that’s happened collectively so much this year in many ways — it becomes very clear what truly matters. And then as you get more removed from that, all the superficial stuff comes back and that’s OK, but I do think it’s a really clarifying and really powerful part about going through the more challenging experiences in life because you really see that it’s these relationships that matter, it’s these friendships, the way we’re connecting. This is what I saw anyway, and so that was really gratifying. For me, it was the relationships with family and friends, and also with my mom who passed away. I realized just how significant they were and that those are the things that hold the most meaning in my life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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