Chelsea Clinton on self-care and why vaccine hesitancy 'keeps me up at night'

Erin Donnelly
·9-min read
Chelsea Clinton talks running, staying grounded and her new iHeartRadio podcast. (Photo: Courtesy of Chelsea Clinton; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Chelsea Clinton talks running, staying grounded and her new iHeartRadio podcast. (Photo: Courtesy of Chelsea Clinton; 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

Given that she spent her formative years in the White House, it's little surprise that former first daughter Chelsea Clinton is at ease unpacking complex public health issues in her new iHeartRadio podcast, In Fact with Chelsea Clinton. The new platform gives the science-driven global health advocate an opportunity to dig into the statistics and stories behind such pressing concerns as environmental justice, addiction, reproductive rights and vaccines, with guest experts ranging from Jane Fonda to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. 

Clinton says she hopes that bringing these conversations to the forefront will help empower audiences overwhelmed by misinformation in the midst of a pandemic. Here, the mother of three also shares her passion for running, how she's teaching her kids about kindness and why worrying about vaccine hesitancy keeps her up at night. 

What about the premise of this podcast appeal to you?

I should just acknowledge that I love podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so it is certainly a way that I can consume information and learn new things and also kind of learn about how people I really respect are kind of thinking about different questions or issues in the world. I think a podcast felt like a very natural format for me, partly because I grew up listening to the radio. I grew up listening to NPR with my mom every morning. 

And we're living through a moment, at least in my lifetime, that has had unprecedented interest in public health. And I hope that as we have more people vaccinated and hopefully are able to kind of move forward out of this horrific moment, that people have an understanding of why public health is so important and how interconnected our health really is to one another, yet don't think it's just about COVID-19 or even just about infectious diseases. And so I hope that this podcast can really help inform people and empower people with an understanding of what's happening in other issues that really connect to public health, even if that may not be how they perceive them, whether that's climate change or reproductive rights or anything else that we're going to talk about on In Fact.

You're speaking to a wide range of notable people on the show, including Dax Shepard, Jane Fonda and Jonathan Van Ness. Is there something really surprising that you learned over the course of these conversations?

Well, admittedly, I've done a lot of homework before I talk with my guests. I don't know if there's anything that is kind of surprising in like an "aha!" sense, but what's certainly surprising is the depth of feeling and thoughtfulness and commitment to the different issues that I'm talking with people even though, clearly, I know that they know so much [about the topic]... But just listening to Dax Shepard talking about how he talks to his kids about addiction and substance abuse disorders, or listening to Mayor Bottoms of Atlanta talk about how she experiences environmental racism as a Black woman in Atlanta in her own home energy bill, and how even being the mayor of Atlanta doesn't protect her from generations of literally built-in structural racism in her city. So there are some deeply emotional moments that I was incredibly affected by, and I certainly hope that listeners will be too — if only to help them understand the real urgency and also scope of the different issues we talk about. These aren't just issues that affect a few people; these are issues that affect many millions disproportionately and then ultimately affect of all of us through our shared public health.

Video: Chelsea Clinton discusses new children's book, podcast

Theres's this idea of community self-care which also falls into activism — like, enjoying a sheet mask or taking a bubble bath, but also voting, donating to charity or fighting for equitable health care, and the peace of mind that can come with that. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I would certainly never tell anyone what their right self-care regimen or practice should be. I mean, clearly it is so important that we each answer that question for ourselves. But personally, for me — and I have felt this way for as long as I can remember, and for that I certainly give credit to my parents — but actually becoming a parent has just really kind of deepened my feeling that self-care and care for my community and our shared planetary community are all connected. I care deeply about endangered animals and trying to save the African elephant, and so spending time on that, whether that is donating money or trying to raise awareness or supporting organizations that are on the front lines, that is a form of self-care for me, because it means so much to me and because I don't want my kids to grow up in a world without elephants. And self-care of course is also making sure I vote, and voting for people who share my world views and the hopes that I have for our world. And sef-care for me is also when I go out for a run — with a mask on if I'm outside, of course. I think all of that is self care for, for me. 

Is running your go-to method for stress relief?

For me running really is the time when I get closest to my own kind of meditative practice. I listen to a podcast or music often for the first half of my run, which effectively distracts me, I think, while I'm getting into the groove. And then about halfway into my run, unless I am totally kind of lost in whatever podcast or music I'm listening to, I turn it off and just try to be in the silence of my own mind. Even if I'm running down the West Side Highway [in NYC] and it might be quite loud externally, I try to be in the silence of my own mind. 

You've been in the public eye for so much of your life. How do you stay grounded?

With my family, with my kids, with my friends. I also very much live in the world — again, we're sort of all in masks and we certainly still stay home whenever we can — but I have never wanted to live in a bubble. I certainly I have enormous privilege in life, and yet I've never wanted the privilege of the choices that my parents have made, or the life and opportunities they kind of gave me, to define me or to define how I've lived my life. So it's important to me to live in the world and to have my kids live in the world and whether that's, you know, going for walks in the park or going grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy, riding the subway or the bus, I think all that really matters to me, especially now as a parent, I want my own children to live in the world and to feel responsibility to our community. 

You've taken a "kill them with kindness" approach when responding to trolls on social media. Why do you think that's important?

I think kindness is one of the most important values in life. As a parent I talk to my kids about how important it is to be brave and to be kind. And kindness to me isn't passive acceptance of the status quo or passive acceptance of abuse. It's just a refusal to be defined by someone else's meanness or ugliness... Let's do something positive with that. And so whether that's responding with kindness when someone is mean to you, or whether that is kindness in action and showing up for our community, giving our time, our energy, our resources — to me, all of that is kindness in action. That's something that we talk a lot about in our family, and that's something I want my kids to feel connected to those things. They're small, but they can help with the recycling; that's kindness toward our environment. They can help make cards for the local retirement community where some of their friends' grandparents live; that's kindness in action. And kindness in action is also being kind to one another, or when their baby brother knocks over their Magna-Tiles tower, not being angry at him because he's a baby and he doesn't know better. All of that to me is kindness.

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

I think a lot about advice from my grandmother that passed down to my mom, which is that life's not about what happens to you. It's about what you do with what happens to you. And my grandmother also very much had an adage where she may not have believed in God, but she believed in the "ministry of showing up": showing up as a friend, showing up for our family, showing up as a citizen. I've thought a lot about that too over the last 14 months, and the various ways we can continue to show up. Even if it has to be virtual, it still is important. 

And finally, what stresses you out?

What stresses me out is that one in four Americans still aren't persuaded that they should get a COVID vaccine or that they will want a COVID vaccine, even knowing that it's free or easy to access. The anti-vaccine movement has become so emboldened over the last 14 months, and I'm desperately worried that we won't catch up to all the well-child visits that have been skipped, and we're going to have breaks in herd immunity for measles and a number of other very scary diseases... There's a lot that kind of proverbially keeps me up at night, and there's actually the stuff that keeps me up at night. Those are the things I think about many times a day, and I'm very, very worried.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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