How Taraji P. Henson 'Recalibrates' When She's Experiencing Anxiety

Henson, who will star in the upcoming musical adaption of The Color Purple, is currently loving Peloton classes and tea baths.

Taraji P Henson Interview
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Taraji P. Henson copes with a relatable fitness struggle. While she loves the post-workout endorphins, sometimes getting to the gym requires some self-persuasion. "Do I like working out? No," she tells Shape. "I like it once I get to the gym, [but] I have to have that conversation with myself to get to the gym. It's not that I just wake up and go out. I'm not wired like that."

Luckily Henson has discovered a mental trick that helps her get past that initial reluctance to tackle a workout. She'll make a point to suit up in activewear on days when she'll later work out, at which point she feels like there's no turning back. "Once I put my clothes on, I may not go right away, but because the clothes are on, I have to go," says the actress, who spoke with Shape on behalf of a recent partnership with Amazon. She may be onto something — research suggests that you may experience a mental shift when wearing certain clothes, meaning you may feel more inclined to get active after you've slipped on your favorite pair of leggings.

Henson relies on the endorphin-boosting effects of movement to help her manage her mental health, as she revealed last year. The actress, who founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to improve access to mental health resources in Black communities, also considers controlled breathing a useful tool. "Whenever I feel anxiety coming up and my heart starts to palpitate, I just stop and I take a deep breath," says Henson, who's previously shared that she experiences anxiety and depression. "It slows everything down and it kind of recalibrates me." While exercise has more obvious physical benefits, it also provides various mental benefits, from improving sleep to cognitive function, as Shape previously reported.

The Hidden Figures actress normally works out with her trainer, Mike T., who no doubt provides words of encouragement once she's made it to the gym. They rely on a mix of cardio and strength moves, such as landmine squats and hamstring curls, and if the trainer's Instagram is any indication, Henson isn't afraid of a workout challenge. Lately, though, Henson has been sticking to cardio in hopes of avoiding injury while spending time away from Los Angeles. (She recently spent time at Mission Control in Houston and communicated with an Alexa device in space, and you can catch the exchange in "Alexa, Take Me to the Moon," which hits Prime Video next month.) The actress has been exercising roughly four to five times per week, completing an hour on the elliptical or exercise bike during each session. Her go-to right for a heart-pumping workout right now? Peloton classes, especially those led by her favorite instructor, Tunde Oyeneyin. "I love [Oyeneyin] because she dances on the bike," says Henson. "It makes me feel like I'm at the club, I love it."

Henson also considers setting healthy boundaries key for her mental health, she says. "The older I get, [the more I] pay attention to my feelings," says Henson, 52. "If something's making me uncomfortable, I won't do it, you know? I'm a people pleaser, so I am working through that in therapy." She keeps her cup full with self-care practices such as filling a tub with lavender or chamomile tea for a tea bath.

Now that Henson has multiple tools that she uses to improve her state of mind, she wishes she'd grasped the importance of looking after her mental health sooner. "As people of color, we just never talked about [mental health]," she says. "There are certain signs to look out for that we missed because we don't talk about it. I wish I could tell my younger self, 'take care of your mental [health].'"

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