Self-Care Sunday: HelloGiggles Sr. Art Director, Jenna Brillhart, on managing anxiety in a digital world
Sundays are a day to recharge and reset. It’s a day where you can put your mental health first, hang with a few friends, or turn off your phone and bath for hours on end. That’s why we choose to celebrate this holy day by showcasing people who love Sundays just as much as we do. Tying it with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series, we ask the hard-hitting questions that embody what a perfect self-care Sunday means, whether it’s about mental health, physical health, community, and personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.
When it comes to self-care habits, some people assume that they can be selfish acts to engage in. Jenna Brillhart, a Sr. Art Director for HelloGiggles (and InStyle, MSW, Allrecipes, EatingWell, and MyRecipes) briefly believed in that assumption.”Self-care was definitely an enigma to me growing up and continued to be well into my mid-20s,” she says. Brillhart comes from a family who tends to put others first and is very good at taking care of people/things—which is why she says she is “awful on focusing any energy on myself.”
“I definitely thought ‘[Self-care] is not for me’ for a long time,” she says. But it wasn’t until two years ago when her perception of self-care started to change. Her roommate and close friend made her realize that maybe, there’s nothing selfish about putting yourself first.
"She’s not a huge fan of social media, barely has her phone around her, and instead, uses that time for herself and the people in her life. As someone who is constantly anxious and running around like a chicken with her head cut off, [she] taught [me] the importance of taking a moment for yourself—via a bath, a glass or two of wine, manifesting your life goals, or just by simply putting your phone down when you’re with people," Brillhart says. "[Seeing how she prioritized] herself during difficult times in her life taught me to address the imbalance between acts of selflessness that came easy to me and acts of selfishness that would keep me up at night."
While Brillhart claims she’s still a novice when it comes to self-care, she isn’t giving up on it anytime soon. “I’ve found extreme importance in taking time for myself which is what has ultimately lead me here to this job,” she says.
For our first installment of Self-Care Sundays, we asked Brillhart a few questions based on four categories that embody a perfect Self-Care Sunday: Mental health, physical practices, community care, and personal joys. Plus, we couldn’t help but ask some life advice on how she believes designers can engage in better self-care practices. So without further ado, here’s Jenna Brillhart, a badass Sr. Art Director who you need in your life.
Her journey with mental health
The first time I realized something was wrong was in college. My life was pretty put together: I had a boyfriend, I had been accepted into my design program, I had a really solid group of friends, and I was still close enough to my family that I could drive home if I needed a break. Things were definitely stressful but not in a way that I couldn’t handle.
Still, there were days where I couldn’t get out of bed. I wouldn’t be able to move and my mind was foggy. I was getting migraines all of the time—sometimes to the point where I’d get really sick. Our design program was rough and we were all going through it. When you stick 17 crumbling personalities into one space for months at a time, it can really result in some awful outcomes. I felt isolated and it impacted relationships with people I had to be around every day.
After college, I spent about three years feeling broken. I have such a hard time talking about mental health; I re-read that sentence and think “God, Jenna, stop being so dramatic,” but it’s the only word to describe it. The disconnect with others in college made me believe that no one wanted to deal with my shit. However, the friends that I kept proved me wrong in the most spectacular way. They stood by me and let me be grumpy and sad but they also emphasized my importance in the world.
The internet came through in an even more powerful way. Designers who I’ve admired for years started to share their stories and over time, the stigma behind my mental health slowly started to shift to a mark of pride and accomplishment. That’s really when I began to realize that I could get through it and most importantly, it taught me the patience to be a friend to someone else who is also suffering. I sometimes still can’t get out of bed in the morning and my anxiety controls about 90% of all of my decisions but I’m learning new ways to deal with it as each day goes by.
Go-to best practices for mental health
- Staying off my phone for the day (I’m a responsive texter, so I make sure to text people who I talk to every day something like, “I’m having a busy day” if they reach out so I don’t worry anyone).
- Creating easily achievable tasks for myself (i.e. drink a glass of water, read five pages of a book, go get the mail, etc). Workdays are actually easier for me because I work off of a queue and have a set list of tasks I need to accomplish.
- If it’s not too bad of a day, I’ll go see a movie by myself so that I’m around people but I don’t have to interact with them.
- On really bad days, I’ll turn on some background noise (TV or music) and just try to get through some breathing exercises.
At the end of the week, I’ll extend my commute by getting off a stop early so that I can walk home. Even in the winter. I’ll put on some music and just walk for a bit. That extra 15-20 minutes makes a huge difference [for me] by the time I get in my apartment. This is also another time where I’ll go to the movies by myself to unwind. I’m a huge fan of eat-in movie theaters and luckily, there’s a bunch in Brooklyn to go to. My close friend and I also typically FaceTime at the end of every week to catch up and talk through anything super stressful. I always feel 10x lighter after talking through things with her.
I’m a big fan of bullet journaling. It’s so incredibly helpful for me to see what I need to get done and be able to cross those items out when I finish them. It’s also such a great way to step back and say, “Wow, I did a lot this week” or “Okay, despite it being a rough week, I was able to at least accomplish this one thing.” Plus, I’m a huge scatterbrain, but I’m also very process-oriented, so it helps keep myself in-line.
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I’ve been doing Pilates ever since I was in middle school. Back then it was just a fun thing to do while my mom was working but now it’s one of the only forms of exercising that makes me feel really good.
I clean my entire apartment every Sunday morning. Having a scattered brain and mental fogginess results in a lot of things ending up where they shouldn’t be during the week so it’s nice to restart every Sunday morning. I also get my groceries delivered on Sunday mornings. Grocery delivery is a HUGE step forward for me in terms of anxiety. I get to avoid crowded store aisles and navigating the somehow always complicated bagging situation.
I have a difficult time talking about body image with almost anyone except for maybe my parents. From an outside perspective, I am a small person, both in weight and stature. Despite all of the things that people in my life have told me and the literal numbers nutritionists and doctors have provided, it has done little to change my perception of myself.
Jen Gotch, Founder and CCO of ban.do and my personal hero, has written a lot about this. You can carry your emotional baggage physically, which results in you feeling like a stranger in your own skin.
“This isn’t about 'look at my legs!' or 'I can finally fit back into my jeans.' Or even some standard of beauty we are pressured to achieve. It’s about having days, weeks even, where I look in the mirror and gasp because I actually recognize myself in the reflection and accept what I see," Gotch says.
I’m thankful for my genetics that have kept me in relatively good shape despite how badly I’ve treated my body over the years, but there is another level to it that often impacts my confidence and how I depict myself to others. I’ve gotten really good at hiding parts of my body that I dislike through clothing choices. I’ve slowly started to replace baggier items in my closet with more slim-fitting ones. It’s a work in progress.
Go-to solutions to not get a cold
Everything I know about avoiding illnesses or how to not be sick comes from my parents. My mom’s solution to everything is boiling water with ginger in it. Like a TON of ginger. Tickle in your throat? Ginger tea. Your stomach is bothering you? Ginger tea. Stress? Ginger tea. Her new favorite things that she swears by are Vick’s vapor rub and Fishermen’s Friend lozenges. If you even cough once during a conversation with her, she asks where your Fisherman’s Friend is. I can vouch for them because they are super effective when you have a cold. I can’t really explain the Vick’s vapor rub. It can only be equivocated to Gus Portokalos’ relationship with Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
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Don’t underestimate the power of muting someone. Sometimes you just need to do it. Especially if it’s a close friend or family member who says or does things that you disagree with. In a way, unfollowing someone is the new way of saying, “I’m no longer interested you being in my life,” whether they change or not. Muting is accepting that one of you needs to go through some change, and when you’re ready, you can unmute them and continue forward.
Connecting with others
I’m an INFJ. Which means I’m an extroverted introvert. So I can show up and be social but desperately need alone time to recharge. My old job required me to be in front of people all day and it really wore me down. I barely had a social life on weeknights or weekends because I’d need that alone time to regroup. I think I also sometimes came off as annoyed with people after a long day because I’d be so mentally exhausted. I wasn’t! I was just spent.
In terms of people connecting with me, I feel like I’m so much better in-person than I am via text, social, dating apps, etc. The world can be a scary and judgmental place. It makes you feel a lot of feelings about yourself. Even as an introvert, I feel like there’s way less pressure out in the real world than there is online to be yourself.
I really wish I was better at social media; I see importance in it, especially as a designer. My anxiety usually kicks in, though, and it leads to me not posting a photo of my work or of my time with friends for no reason other than I’m worried about what people will think. But I’m working on it. Feel free to follow along as I attempt to navigate those waters: @jennabril.
I tend to follow the Liz Lemon philosophy when it comes to Sundays: “Yes to life, yes to love, yes to staying in more!”
I’m usually pretty annoyed when someone asks to hang out on a Sunday. Not because I don’t want to, but because of the immense guilt that comes with turning someone down when you have the time to see them. It’s not to say that I won’t hang out with a friend if it’s an early morning thing but I really like having some me time before I have to go back to being a human on Monday morning. Sunday Scaries are real and they are awful.
Remember when I said I parrot others’ routines? This really applies to beauty. I don’t think I’ve ever had a family member sit me down and say, “This is what you do.” My mom was born and raised in Singapore and her approach has always been very simple: Put on a lot of moisturizer, focus on one feature, and you’re done. Her skin is incredible and mine is not. Maybe it’s the Vick’s vapor rub?
I don’t typically wash my face in the morning because I really go after it at night but I’ll splash my face with water or if I have some time, I’ll do a mask, like Tata Harper’s Resurfacing mask. It’s great for the morning because it makes your skin all glowy (and was a Jonathan Van Ness recommendation). And if you like to work out in the morning, you can leave this on while you do your workout because your body heat helps activate the enzymes in the mask.
Then I follow-up with Hyaluronic Acid (I’ve used both First Aid and the Ordinary), a moisturizing cream (CeraVe, which my dermatologist recommended) and then I put on a couple of drops of Kiehl’s SPF 50 tinted BB Cream. I wait a bit between putting on my lotion and SPF so that my face doesn’t get clumpy. I tend to be brand loyal when it comes to skincare and make-up. Kiehl’s is a big part of my routine. I use its avocado eye treatment every morning and its Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser at night. I’m also a big fan of their Midnight Recovery Oil which I put on before I go to bed.
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I’ve had really bad acne for, well, forever. A combo of birth control and Vitamin D3 helps keeps my hormonal acne under control and my skin really reacts well to Vitamin D. I’m also a big fan of the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay mask. I mix it with apple cider vinegar and use it about two to three times a week. I always follow-up with a hydrating mask because it dries up my skin.
Every Sunday night, I get ready for bed super early and read until I fall asleep. It helps counteract Sunday Scaries. I try to do this every night but sometimes, I’m so tired that I just go to bed right away.
Video games have been a big part of my life ever since I was young. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still play the Sims. It’s a huge stress reliever for me. Sometimes I just build houses for an entire afternoon or evening. They’ve also created a lot of fun new worlds for gameplay that are super entertaining.
When self-care Sundays don’t go according to plan
I try to set limits for myself so that if I have plans on a Sunday, I’m still getting some me time. This is really where bullet journaling works best. If I can see that I was able to complete some tasks that were important to me, I feel less stressed about losing time to just chill and relax.
Advice for designers who want to practice better self-care
Designers, in my experience, are awful at taking breaks. We’re moving around constantly and always working or re-doing something. Even when we have full-time jobs we’re taking on freelance work to hone other skills.
Since most of us operate the same way, it can lead to poor navigation of self-care and mental health practices. My close group of design friends and I are all over the country now but we all make time at least once a year to get together and talk about life and projects and it’s a great support system to have.
My advice is to find a design-based support system so that you can complain about work and life. Not only do you feel better getting it out in the open but there’s also helpful feedback on the other end since they’ve most likely experienced or are currently experiencing the same thing. It really helps you avoid the “you don’t understand” conversation with other friends and family.
If she had an extra Sunday
An extra Sunday?! Probably just sit on my couch and binge-watch shows or play games that people keep recommending to me but that I never have the time for.