The Thrive Questionnaire//

Actress Sarayu Blue Explains What Your Body Can Tell You About Your Stress

The “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” star says there may be a reason for your shoulder tightness or nervous stomach — and offers tips on how to feel better.

Photo credit: Courtney Lindberg Photography
Photo credit: Courtney Lindberg Photography

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Actress Sarayu Blue’s rise to fame has included a variety of guest roles in shows like “Veep” and the comedy film Blockers. But it was her starring role in the sitcom “I Feel Bad” that changed everything for her. In the show, Blue played Emet — a wife, mother, and executive whose quest for happiness is thwarted by outside forces, like her co-workers working against her. Blue herself says that she relates deeply to Emet, especially when it comes to the character’s battle with uncontrollable occurrences. When “I Feel Bad” was canceled after its first season, Blue admits that she was devastated. And while the cancellation was beyond her control, it was hard for her not to take it personally. As she does in every challenging situation, Blue leaned into her emotions, and gave them the attention they needed before moving forward. “I spent so many years hating the fact that I was such a soft-hearted human. I’ve now learned that’s my superpower,” she tells Thrive, adding that the only way she knows how to overcome anything is “to be honest with my feelings, let myself feel them fully, and go to therapy.” Through those steps, Blue says she has learned how to process hardship before moving onto new experiences — and new projects. She’s starring in the upcoming Netflix comedy Medical Police and will star in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You in early 2020.

In her Thrive Questionnaire, Blue chats with Thrive about the importance of self check-ins, and shares how doing less helps her focus more. 

Thrive Global: What’s your secret life hack? 

Sarayu Blue: Be honest with myself, so I can be honest with others.

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

SB: I can’t pick just one, but I can narrow it down to three! The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and Cleo Wade’s Heart Talk.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 

SB: It does sit on my nightstand next to my bed because it’s my alarm. However, my ringer is never on — which isn’t always great since I also lose it a lot. I’m good at setting the phone face down for the night and not looking at it until I’ve had time to breathe and start my day.

TG: How do you deal with email? 

SB: I’m notoriously terrible at email. My inbox is completely overloaded and I don’t organize it. A better way to reach me quickly is to text, and the best way is always a phone call. I have an oddly good memory for appointments, so I often end up relying on that. While I’d love to say I’m fantastically tech-organized, I’ve also made delightful peace with the fact that I’m not. 

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why? 

SB: I felt pretty burned out a few months ago. I’d been traveling a lot for work and felt disconnected from home and my pack. When I don’t have access to the tools I’ve put into place to take care of myself regularly, and my support network, it really affects my emotional well-being. In those moments, I remind myself to reach out to the people I know I can trust, and dive into my self-care tool bag to find ways to take care of my spirit. 

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

 SB: When I Feel Bad was canceled, I was devastated. It was hard not to take it personally. I had to give myself the time to grieve, and say goodbye to what had felt like the role of a lifetime. The only way I know how to overcome anything is to be honest with my feelings, let myself feel them fully, and go to therapy. In my experience, processing feelings is always… a process.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do? 

SB: I take things one step at a time. I slow myself down, and make a list. Then I start with the easiest things to check off, and go from there. I find that making life into bite-sized pieces is integral. Most importantly, I have learned to ask for help. As a friend of mine says, “If we were meant to go it alone, there would only be one person on the planet.”

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress? 

SB: I’d tell her there are no rules on how to “adult” right. I’d tell her to listen to her body — if her stomach is tight, that’s a signal that maybe she can’t trust that person with her heart. If her shoulders are tight, maybe there’s some support she needs to ask for. I’d tell her that if she’s exhausted, she should skip the gym and sleep in. I’d tell her it’s OK to rest, to feel vulnerable and scared, and to not know the answers. I’d tell her to sit still and allow the feelings to be there, rather than burn herself out with relentless socializing, to-do lists, punishing workouts, high-stress goals, and busyness. I’d tell her that until she deals with the internal, nothing external will make her feel better.

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life? 

SB: Oprah, Cleo Wade, and Brené Brown, to name a few. 

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted? 

SB: I have a very hard time hiding any feelings. If I burn the candle at both ends for too long, I’ll inevitably fall into a crying heap over something minute, like a missing sock. Again, I listen to my body. If I’m holding extra tension, it’s a signal that it’s time to slow down and check in. 

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course-correct? 

SB: I have a nice big Santa bag of tools for myself, so it varies. It can be as simple as taking some quiet time, where I’m entirely unreachable, for yoga, meditation, or zoning out with the TV. If my anxiety is at a high, I’ll call my therapist to talk it out. I’ll never discount the value of a good therapist. Meditation and massages are great, but my therapist completely changed how I approach stress, and how I support myself in moments when I need it the most.

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness? 

SB: I talk to myself. For a long time, I didn’t know how to take my needs into account. It wasn’t something I was taught to prioritize, or that innately made sense to me. I was also often the person whom people called in times of need. I had to start setting boundaries, but didn’t know how. So I started taking a breath when the phone rang, and asking myself if I wanted to answer it — if I wanted to talk. I had to have out-loud check-ins with myself, until the connection with myself was strong enough that it became more natural.

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking? 

SB: I ask myself if it’s a story I created in my head, or if I have proof that it’s true. I find that the negative thoughts I think about myself are often stories I’ve created — fear thoughts I’ve fed. Once I have some perspective, I’m often able to release them because I know there’s no reason to buy into those thoughts other than to torture myself. I recently saw a post that said, “When a thought hurts, that’s a signal that it isn’t true.” I’m finding that to be true more often than not.

TG: What brings you optimism? 

SB: Connecting with other humans who have big hearts, are empathetic, and care about humanity. I love those of us with blatantly big, squishy hearts. I spent so many years hating the fact that I was such a soft-hearted human. I’ve now learned that’s my superpower. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?

SB: I love sleep. Most of my life, I didn’t let myself rest. At some point, I  finally stopped and gave myself permission to rest. Since then, I’ve continued to make sleep an enormous priority. I’ve started putting my phone down early. I try not to text or email a lot late at night. I’ll watch TV or read until I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open, and then I crawl into bed. I’ve found I have to be fully wound down before I get into bed. I recognize it’s not always easy to do, or even possible, but I do what I can to make quality sleep a regular part of my life.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit? 

SB: Integrity is a big one for me. I’ve learned that honesty and clarity make my life a lot less stressful. So I try not to make commitments I don’t wholeheartedly want to make. I set boundaries and say no, so people aren’t waiting on answers from me. And I speak plainly and honestly when someone has hurt my feelings. I’ve realized that by keeping things as clean and simple as possible, it reduces stress, resentment, and drama. It sounds simplistic but it’s true — by being kinder to myself, I’m in turn kinder to others. It took me years to understand the value of keeping things simple and honest, but once I put it into practice, it became easier and easier every time. I still don’t always nail it, but it’s a practice I always try to keep up, for everyone’s sake.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how do you sustain this habit?

SB: I’d say the best thing I did to improve my focus was to do less. For much of my life, I was constantly busy, and hated sitting still. When I understood that that was a way for me to escape my feelings, I started to learn how to slow down, and ultimately, be in the present. Between yoga, various books, meditation, and therapy, I started to be able to do one thing at a time. It’s changed my life immensely, and it makes me a much happier person. I sustain the habit by regularly checking in with myself and listening to what my body needs. If my shoulders are excessively tight, or I’m holding my breath, that’s the signal I need to take a few minutes to regroup and find a way to reconnect with myself.

TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life? 

SB: The biggest turning point was when I met my now-husband. I  was deeply candid about who I am and what my needs were. We communicated with such honesty and vulnerability from the beginning. It was then that I saw how all the work I’d been doing to live an emotionally healthier and happier life was truly working.  I saw how when I treated myself the way I want to be treated, that unfolded into a really wonderful and smile-inducing relationship. It’s changed the way I operate in all my relationships, personal and business.

TG: What’s your secret time-saver in the morning? 

SB: Skip the makeup.

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

SB: I’ve gotten much better about skincare, and I now find the routine incredibly soothing. I make a point to wash my face and neck every night, then I use micellar water to get my skin fully clean but still hydrated.  After that, I gloss on a round of serum and eye cream, and I get in a good floss. I not only sleep better; I wake up feeling surprisingly more fabulous.

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