Amber Riley says she's 'really learned to be patient with myself' amid an emotional year

·4-min read
Amber Riley opens up about self-care. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Amber Riley opens up about self-care. (Photo: Getty Images; 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.

Whether you know her as show choir queen Mercedes from Glee, a Dancing with the Stars champion or an award-winning musical star, Amber Riley is a triple threat who exudes enthusiasm and confidence with every move.

How does she do it? One need only refer to the 5 Tips for Summer Self-Love the star, who also records music under the name RILEY, has shared on topics like tuning out negative talk and learning to "feel your ferocity" as part of her new partnership with KeVita's Prebiotic Shots, digestive-friendly prebiotic beverage nips with flavors like Beet Lemon, Blueberry Mint and Turmeric Ginger.

Here, Riley — who takes her own daily shot on the go while walking her dog — opens up about self-love, sleep and the lessons she's learned amid a year of loss.

Do you feel like self-love came naturally to you from the get-go, or was there a turning point in terms of accepting yourself and feeling empowered?

I think self-love is a journey and it's an everyday decision. I don't think it's a complete destination where somebody just sits in it and then they're confident all the time, they love themselves all the time. It's an ongoing journey and it's a decision that you make every single day.

I have to ask about your recent post about refusing to wear shapewear for a fashion shoot. Is that something you push back against?

It's not actually any kind of political stance; it was just really hot and I didn't want to put on any shapewear [laughs]. If you want to wear shape wear, that's fine. I just didn't feel like wearing it, and I don't think that I need to if I don't want to.

Well it should definitely be banned in the summer. In terms of mental health, what habits help you the most?

We've talked a lot about how your gut and your mind are kind of intertwined — how they'll say "your gut feeling" or things of that nature. I do believe in taking care of yourself from the inside out and putting great things inside of your body. Having a great routine helps me mentally. I get up at 9:30, I walk my dog. Getting out in nature is super-important for our mental health... California has such great weather, so making sure that the sun touches my skin, that energizes me. So I do have this routine, and finding those things that make you happy, or make your mind calm or make you feel good throughout the day is just essential.

Are you still dancing?

Sometimes I do workout dance routines with my girls. They'll come over and we may do that. But as far as taking classes, no — not because I didn't want to, but we're in a pandemic. A lot of that stuff is closed down, but I love to dance, so if anybody's like, "Hey, come take a salsa class or something with me," I'd be so down.

What's the best advice you've been given?

A really great piece of advice that I've gotten is just to make sure that you're getting enough sleep. When you're a busy person, you can't put sleep on the back burner because you feel like so many things have to be done in your day. [So] organizing your day and making sure that sleep is essential because it re-energizes us, it gives us a chance to reset. It sounds like a simple tip, but you'd be surprised how many people don't prioritize sleep.

Do you have an empowering anthem that really revs you up when you need a pick-me-up?

That's a hard one. I could never just pick one song because depending on what my mood is like, that's where I'm going to go musically. I love so many different genres of music and I just love music so much. So honestly, if I need a pick-me-up, it can be anyone from like Meg Thee Stallion to Barbra Streisand. It just depends on how I'm feeling and what I want to hear.

It's been a difficult and emotional year for many reasons: the pandemic, losing [Glee co-star and friend] Naya Rivera. What have you learned about yourself through this period?

I've really learned to be patient with myself, and I've really learned to acknowledge my feelings and investigate them. Feelings are OK, but they're not facts. No feeling lasts forever. [I also learned that] I have more control in my life than I thought that I had. I'm [learning] to take care of myself.

What brings you joy?

My family and my friends bring me joy. I know that's cliché, but I have an amazing tribe and they make me very, very happy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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