Sterling K. Brown talks mental health and turning 45: 'My dad was the age that I am when he passed away'

·6 min read
Sterling K. Brown opens up about mental health, turning 45 and being a
Sterling K. Brown opens up about mental health, turning 45 and being a "neat freak." (Photo: Getty; 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.

As Randall Pearson on This Is Us — which will end with its sixth season, it's just been announced — Sterling K. Brown is used to tugging at fans' heartstrings through poignant storylines, including his character's emotional experience with therapy. 

"I hope it's been impactful," Brown tells Yahoo Life of Randall's mental health journey. "I'm from a community of Black men where talking about mental health with regularity is not the status quo, where soldiering through and handling your problems on your own is what is expected of you. The narrative from a very young age is that this world is hard and you have to figure out a way to make it through, to persevere. And it's never really been encouraged to say, "You can share this burden with someone. There are people who can help you go through trials and tribulations, and it's not something that you have to do by yourself." 

"And I think Randall, even in his open-heartedness, him seeking out therapy was something that was very difficult for him to do," Brown continues. "And the fact that he did and was able to find himself benefit, I sincerely hope that other people took that message and it allowed them to also seek out the help."

The two-time Emmy winner's latest project is a more lighthearted one: Cascade's "Dirty Little Secret" campaign, in which the suave spokesman encourages viewers to "do it every night" — as in, run the dishwasher — to cut down on water usage and energy costs. ("Doing it every night is something that I constantly tell my wife about, especially when it comes to washing dishes with the dishwasher," he cracks.)

Here, the Black Panther star and father of two opens up about being a "neat freak," relying on meditation and exercise to keep him from feeling "off-balance" and turning 45 — the same age his father was when he died. 

Do you find satisfaction in keeping your space clean at home?

Very much. So similar to Randall, I'm a bit of a neat freak and it's actually hard for me to concentrate on anything else until my space is clear.

How do you prioritize your mental health?

That's of the utmost importance. I feel like on a daily basis I try to do something for my spiritual, mental and physical well-being. Trying to start the day with meditation is really wonderful; just a little bit of quiet and sort of centering yourself on who it is that you want to be in the world. The physical is just as important as the mental and the spiritual, because I find this wonderful endorphin rush and serotonin surge when you get a chance to exercise your body. If I neglect any of those three aspects of self, I feel a little bit off-balance, so I try to do something to stimulate myself mentally, physically and spiritually every day. 

And what does self-care mean to you? Do you have any small rituals, like making your bed first thing, lighting a candle, having a quiet coffee outside... ?

I love all of that. Making the bed is really important because, if I can't clean anything else, making the bed actually makes the bedroom look that much better, so that's a great one. The diet is really important and I try not to skip meals, because not like you can get really caught up in Hollywood in terms of image consciousness and that sort thing, but actually putting the proper fuel in your body so that you can make it through the day is equally important. And I would say there's so many different things, but really trying to get six and a half to eight hours of sleep means the world to me. So planning on when I'm going to bed more so than planning on when I'm going to wake up, I find to be incredibly crucial. 

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This is a time of endings and also new beginnings. You've had all this career success over the last few years, not to mention those shirtless selfies fans love. Do you feel like you've kind of hit your groove in your 40s?

Age isn't anything but a number for me. I'm 45 and I just had a birthday a month ago, and my dad was the age that I am when he passed away. So 45 has a little bit of a special meaning to me because as a young man who was 10 years old when he passed, I felt like that was too soon. In my mind he was still my old man, but I was like, 45 shouldn't be someone exiting this world. And so more than just even finding my groove, I think I'm still getting better. I think I'm still getting better, and I'm looking forward to evolving and realizing whatever my full potential is as I continue to move into the next 45 years. I'm aiming for 100-plus, so I'm not even halfway done. The groove will happen once I get to the crescendo, but I don't think I've even crescendoed yet. I hope I'm speaking that into existence. 

Do you have a piece of advice or mantra that sticks with you on a regular basis?

There are a few things, but I think probably the most simple one — especially given the year that 2020 was — is "this too shall pass." Anytime things seem absolutely atrocious and impossible to endure, you have to remind yourself that there are crests and troughs; there are highs and lows to life. 2020 was a low for many, many, many people, and a time of great isolation. Some people lost people to COVID, there's tons of sickness or what have you... I have to remind myself that while we're in the eye of the storm, it seems like the storm was last forever, but the truth of the matter is that this too shall pass. 

What brings you joy?

The laughter of my children, the smile of my wife, family, friendships that have been fostered over the course of a lifetime, community... I think because we all had to live without community, or an abridged version of community, through 2020, we recognize just how important the people in our lives are. And we got really creative with finding ways to connect with them over Zoom, over space, time or whatever sort of technology you had at your disposal. But the community brings me joy. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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