Peloton Instructor Kendall Toole Is Laying It All Out There When It Comes to Her Mental Health Struggles

"That commitment to vulnerability, to pulling down the mask and allowing myself to be seen for who I am and where I need to grow — damn, it's freedom."

Before Peloton instructor Kendall Toole beamed into millions of homes, packing her classes with pop-punk playlists and words of encouragement, she revealed she grappled with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

The 28-year-old fitness expert, who released her second Mental Health Awareness month-themed ride on the streaming fitness platform last week, is now fully opening up about her mental health journey.

"We all have a story hidden beneath what we choose to share with the world," she tells Shape. "It's powerful when we let others in to see the truth — and frankly, it helps end a stigma. We need to talk about mental health because if we continue to brush it aside, it continues to be misunderstood and more shrouded in secrecy. It's time for this conversation to come to light,"

Earlier this week in a candid interview with TODAY Health, Toole recounted a harrowing time as a student at the University of California. While her senior year should have been one of the happiest times of her life, Toole recounts that she was tormented by depression, something she never shared with friends or family because she didn't want to "burden anyone."

Despite her lively appearance, good grades, and athleticism, Toole kept her anguish to herself because she "didn't want anyone to have to bear that weight of something that I felt was only my job to fix," Toole shared with the site. "So I smiled and kept it to myself. I look back at pictures where I appear so happy [but] I remember [all the negative] thoughts I was having at the time."

After experiencing suicidal thoughts, Toole moved home and sought therapy, where she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. She was already facing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), something she'd been battling since the age of 11.

It was seeking out and receiving treatment that signaled a turning point, giving Toole the skills she needed to cope and prioritize her mental health.

"One of the biggest game-changers for me was recognizing I don't have to believe everything I think," she tells Shape.

"In my experience with anxiety and depression, intrusive and very negative/destructive thoughts can come up at any point," she says. "The simple fact of knowing that I have a choice in allowing a thought to affect my perspective of something, or most often, myself, has been beyond helpful. On a 'good day' (the days when I feel a punch ahead of my anxiety/depression), I hear the thought I start to worry and I pump the breaks and either explain to myself why that is not true or simply that, 'Nah, we aren't going down that path today.' Granted, the act of self-editing and regulating my own thoughts adds another layer on any task I do daily."

While she admits managing her anxiety and depression can get "tiring," Toole now says she turns to different outlets to manage her mental health the best she can.

"Doing my best to cultivate and curate environments that are going to help refuel me not only physically but also emotionally and mentally, is absolutely key," she says. "It's helped me step away or just set boundaries from relationships, it has helped encourage me to live more fully or to get out of my comfort zone. Traveling and exploring — pre-COVID — in other cultures has always been a love of mine and that curiosity helps me greatly," she says. (See: The Mental Health Benefits of Being Adventurous)

And when things get tough, Toole turns to boxing — something that'll come as no surprise to anyone who has heard her signature "they can knock you down but never let them knock you out" sign off at the end of a grueling workout.

"Boxing has always been a form of healing movement [for me] because it asks you to be 100 percent present in the moment (if you slip up, you get hit) and it's been the kind of physical 'meditation' that allows me to step outside my mind and gain a little more peace," she says.

While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Toole's riders know that she's forthcoming about the importance of mental health year-round — another reason she's been embraced by the close-knit Peloton community.

"At the end of the day, I show up 100 percent as myself," she says. "The days I'm chatty and want to laugh I'll bring that to the Bike, the days I'm dealing with something heavy, I'll bring that energy to the Bike, the days I just wanna workout and keep it all coach, it's on the bike," (

"At a certain point, I began to motivate [while teaching] class [with] the things that I needed to hear and the advice I would be giving myself," she tells Shape. "What's incredible is how those messages would resonate with Peloton members, and in that effort of putting the members first, sharing the real messages that I figured they needed as I know I needed, it took away the power from the anxious thoughts and put the power back into the purpose of why I love what I do."

One of the messages Toole hopes to impart to her audience? That idea that vulnerability isn't a demerit, but rather, a superpower.

[Vulnerability] was once my greatest fear. I walked through the world with a mask on, honestly, performing through my life. Performing that I wasn't bothered by things that emotionally affected me, that I was high-achieving and the model academic, that I was this bubbly, happy and joyous girl who seemingly didn't ever have a bad day. But when my mental health really came to the forefront in college, I couldn't wear that mask anymore. The performance was too heavy, I was doing it for too long, I bottled up everything I was afraid to feel and never wanted to burden anybody with, and held it in to a point where I felt I was emotionally drowning.

Vulnerability means I don't have to perform anymore. It means I can share who I really am and gain the experience of meeting someone's love and care directly because I ALLOW them into my world. It means I can walk through the world more curious, more exuberant, more in love with life because I don't have to edit myself."

For those looking for resources on mental health, Toole — who says, "acknowledging 'I am not at my best right now and I need some support,' is just plain courageous" — recommends visiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"Depending on what you find, I always am a big proponent of therapy and seeking a doctor or team that can support you medically. Mental health is an umbrella of so many different experiences and having medical professionals help navigate that with you is truly life-changing." (See: How to Find the Right Therapist for You)

To help manage her symptoms, Toole told TODAY Health that she continues to see a therapist and take an antidepressant, the latter of which comes with its own bouquet of stigma.

"I had my own stigma for a long time about how I shouldn't need this. I shamed myself," Toole told the site. "But my mom said, 'Honey, it's no different than if you were diabetic. If you do not take your insulin, you will not survive. Having a mental illness is no different than having a physical ailment.'" (

Despite having all these different strategies to cope, Toole is the first to admit that there are still tough days — but by acknowledging and sharing that, she can at least use her struggles to help others.

"Am I great at [being vulnerable] all the time? Hell no," she tells Shape. "But that commitment to vulnerability, to pulling down the mask and allowing myself to be seen for who I am and where I need to grow — damn, it's freedom. It's pure energy. The best part, too, is that living vulnerably means that your light gets to reach others in such a way, that they often step out into it with you."

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