On her 39th birthday, Maria Menounos underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove a golfball-size tumor in her brain. Now, three years later, she is thriving. She has had a robust career in television as the host of “Extra” and “E! News,” and is now the CEO of her own television production company, After Buzz, a New York Times best-selling author, and the host of the “Better Together With Maria” podcast, where she interviews the world’s leading healers, experts, influential celebrities, and game-changers who reveal their secrets and tips to getting better in all areas of life, including physical health, emotional wellness, spirituality, finances, and more.
After her health scare, Menounos says she has a clear perspective on what is truly important. She has let go of unnecessary stress, the concept of perfection, and is empowering everyone to put their health first. She sat down with Thrive to share how she’s getting better, and helping others along the way.
Thrive Global: What is the first thing you do in the morning to set yourself up for success?
Maria Menounos: The first thing I do when I wake up is hopefully kiss my dogs — if they’re in bed with me. Sometimes they’re not, because I’m trying to get more sleep in my life, so it’s either kiss my dogs or my husband. He’s a good backup. I really like to try to meditate in the morning, even if it’s just for 10 minutes before I start the day. Even if I don’t have time for that, I’ll go out to my front yard and take some deep breaths, and just look at the trees and the grass, and be grateful for that moment. I do some self-care routines, like oil pulling, tongue scraping, and dry brushing. I really try not to use my phone until I get to breakfast, so that I can have a clear mind and get ready calmly. I also listen to Esther Hicks or Tony Robbins as I get ready, so that I can be filling myself with good energy and good knowledge. I’d rather feed my mind that in the morning than the horrors and destruction of the world.
TG: How did being diagnosed with a brain tumor — living that reality and now being in remission — affect how you live now?
MM: Pre-tumor, I definitely didn’t pay attention as much to warning signs. I did go to the doctor when it was important, but a lot of times I would shush my body because I was super busy and I didn’t have time. Now, I keep a pain journal and I’m very aware of what’s going on in my body. I don’t ignore signals that are sent to me. I take everything seriously, to the point where I kind of get nervous I’m becoming a hypochondriac, but I’m not. It’s really important to listen to your body.
TG: You mentioned that you worked yourself to burnout, and had this feeling and pressure to be “perfect.” How has that shifted? Or has it?
MM: Perfectionism is something we chase that is absolutely insane because it’s not possible. I think it was embedded in my head as a young girl as something that was attainable. My endless pursuit of it definitely contributed to my illness. I think that now I really try to focus less on that, and part of that is just surrendering. It takes baby steps, because you can’t undo all that programming just super quickly. I try to let things go a lot more, and I’ve done a lot of studying on energy, the universe, and the art of allowing and not having to force and control and come from fear — which a lot of women suffer from. We’re afraid, so we think we have to control; that’s what breeds our type-A nature. Then we’re trying to be everything to everybody, and we end up being nothing to ourselves. We’re running ragged, and we’re trying to be perfect daughters, perfect employees, perfect partners, and then we get sick, and that’s when it all hits. Then you’re like, “Well, why did I do all of that?” My mission is always now just to try to get women to come to that conclusion before they get sick. There’s also so much toxicity out there in this world and in the workplace. It’s a big passion of mine to find the solution for women because we need a new option, a new path for women to follow. I don’t think it’s out there just yet. I think it’s something that we need to create.
TG: What is one strategy you use to manage your energy throughout the day so you can tackle everything on your plate?
MM: In extreme circumstances, obviously coffee is a great tool to keep some energy going, but I really like to drink a lot of green juices. They are a great way to power up and get some energy going — drinking those or taking a good little hypnotherapy meditation break.
TG: Your podcast, “Better Together,” features health experts and celebrities who talk about life improvement tips and tools for better well-being. What are some of the stand-out tips that you’ve heard recently?
MM: I love Mondays because I get to bring in the best experts, healers, gurus, and just amazing people onto my show and learn from them. Judith Orloff was a guest, and one of the things that really stood out was the concept of energy vampires. Sometimes you don’t even realize some of the people that are super close to you, that you love more than anything, could be your energy vampire. Watch yourself. If you’re with someone and you’re constantly yawning, and you’re constantly trying to figure out how to get out of the situation, or saying, “Oh, I’m tired,” or “I got to go,” or you’re getting antsy — they’re your energy vampire. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon them. You have to now figure out a way to educate them on what you can handle, how much you can handle, and just say, “You know what? I have to keep my conversations shorter. I love you, but it’s a lot for me. You’re very intense and you have a lot of passion,” whatever the case is.
TG: You work with a number of charities, but one that you are currently a part of is the Purina Purple Leash Project. Can you tell us a little about that?
MM: It’s a partnership between Purina and Red Rover to help raise awareness for the lack of domestic violence shelters that are pet-friendly. So right now, one in three women and one in four men will be affected by domestic violence, and they’re faced with this super tough decision: safety or leaving their pet behind. Only 10 percent of shelters in this country accept pets, and so Purina is working to change that with a half-million dollar grant that will go towards renovating these shelters to making them more pet-friendly and pet-safe. I’ve worked on domestic violence campaigns for a long time, and I also love animals, so I’m taking the lead on this project to help raise awareness for the fact that this is an important cause, and that pets are really important parts of our lives. They play really critical roles: They’re caretakers, healers, and protectors at times, too. No one should be in that situation where they have to pick their safety or their pet. They should be able to go to a safe haven and bring their families, and that includes their pets.
TG: How have your pets helped with your own mental health?
MM: My pets have shown me how important dogs and pets are to your mental health and your healing. My poodle, Winnie, was with me in the hospital every step of the way as I was healing from brain surgery. Maximus, my German Shepherd, is my protector — and my comedian, too. He’s like 50 percent comedian, 50 percent bodyguard.
TG: What are your best tips for getting good sleep?
MM: My best tip for getting good sleep is to kick the dogs out of bed. It’s devastating, but on the weekends we cheat, so I think that’s important. I do have a whole routine. I have a lavender pillow for my eyes. I think getting the temperature right in your room, depending on how you like it, is really important. I need a fan. I need some kind of noise. I think you have to experiment with your ritual.
TG: Last but not least, what are three things that really help you to thrive each day?
MM: What helps me thrive each day is continuous learning. I’m on a journey to keep getting better, and so I’m constantly seeking new information, and new ways to improve. I think eating well is a really important to thriving, so I really try hard to feed my body good, positive fuel. And movement is important. Motion equals emotion. It doesn’t have to be super strenuous. You just have to get out there and walk, and get your body moving.