"It didn't really occur to me that stress, especially years worth of it, was causing my health to collapse."

Raven Ishak
Jan 10, 2021 @ 7:30 am
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Credit: Alec Perez

Before Celeste Perez became the co-founder and CEO of the adaptogen-based drink company Droplet and a holistic nutritionist, she worked through a handful of jobs. "I was a broadcast journalist, but when the recession hit, I pivoted to becoming a web developer by day and a food tour guide by night. Then I had the opportunity to design some really cool brands and at that moment, I knew I found my calling," the now-33-year-old tells HelloGiggles. "I built my own branding studio, Well Fed, and we've helped lots of companies get started."

But even though Perez was happy helping other people make their dreams become a reality, deep down, she always knew she wanted to build a brand of her own. It wasn't until she went through a stress-induced medical scare a few years ago when she realized she not only needed to make a shift in her work life but also in her personal life as well.

"My branding studio was doing well, but I was so tired. We took on a lot of work, especially at the beginning when we were just trying to survive. To be honest, I thought I had a high capacity for stress, but I was actually burning out. I ended up in the hospital, strapped to a heart monitor," Perez says. It turned out that those foggy days, stomach upsets, sleepless nights, and bouts of anxiety were all stress-induced—and her heart was irregularly beating because of it. "I had always thought that stress was something you could just breathe away and that it was a matter of mindset—it didn't really occur to me that stress, especially years worth of it, was causing my health to collapse," she says now.

Soon after, Perez began doing everything she could to manage her stress, including using adaptogens, or herbs and roots considered a form of herbal medicine. This was when she really started to notice a difference in her stress levels and overall health. "One of the biggest visible changes was that my little stress pooch [weight] just disappeared," she recalls. This discovery led Perez to get certified as a holistic nutritionist, because, according to her, "what we eat is so tied to how we feel."

Unfortunately, adaptogens aren't always the tastiest, but Perez wanted to make the experience better for users. "I couldn't find [a tasty adaptogen] anywhere on the market, so I realized I had to make it," she says. She connected with Adrienne Borlongan, a food scientist behind L.A.'s Wanderlust Creamery, to dream up some delicious adaptogens.

In August 2019, the duo founded Droplet, a sparkling, stress-balancing adaptogen drink named after a Filipino folktale about the health goddess Dalikamata. "While working on Droplet, I realized that food is medicine in our Filipino-American culture," Perez explains. "Adrienne and I both just grew up with healthy dishes like bone broths with moringa on the table, so we knew it was possible to have flavor and function in one."

For this week's Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Perez to learn more about her journey with stress and wellness, her go-to self-care rituals, and what adaptogens she's been taking for her health.

Mental Health

HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with your stress impacted your mental health? 

Celeste Perez (CP): When I wasn't managing my stress, I felt constantly defeated, like there weren't enough hours in the day for anything that mattered to me. Knowing that I'm prone to stress has really made me aware of my choices. I'm sure we've all been there: overwhelmed, or, as I like to describe it, swimming in molasses, but it doesn't have to be that way.

It's so important to tend to your mental health, especially if you want to get a lot done with your life. For me, stress wasn't just mental, it was very physical. Learning about how the two work together has really informed my Droplet journey and also my growth as a business owner.

HG: What are some practices or regimens you'd suggest others do if they feel like their stress level is becoming overwhelming?

CP: A big idea that changed the way I looked at work was asking myself, "Is it time to quit, or is it time to take a break?" Sometimes things can get so hard, so it helps to know which things are worth letting go, and which are the things to work through.

When things get overwhelming, start with a break. Then you can evaluate, strategize, get organized, or ask for help. You can't really do this if you're so engulfed in the work. But if you're really struggling, I'd start with [reading] Burnout by Emily Nagoski.

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This book really changed my understanding of how women feel stress and how to work with it. Spoiler: Stress is a cycle and you have to go through each step before you can really resolve it. Maybe it's a bath, maybe it's a run, or maybe you just need to deactivate your stress with a hug. Who knows, you just have to try. 

Physical Practices

HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately to help aid with your stress management?

CP: I love a good yoga flow. My brain likes to stay running, but yoga is one of the only activities that completely takes over, where my mind shuts off and my body takes over. It's hard to think about anything else but yourself when you're using your brain and muscles to hold a position, and your breath to stay conscious. I find that I'm able to focus more if I've gotten some of that kinetic energy out of the way with a morning workout routine.

Aside from yoga, I'm also a fan of barre. You get so many chances to get each micro-movement right, and you can really feel yourself getting stronger every time. I think it's a metaphor for how I like to work. With barre and with work, you have to trust that the little steps will eventually get you to where you're going. 

HG: As a holistic nutritionist, how do you suggest others physically connect with their bodies and feel more connected to themselves?

CP: A way to connect is to try to do one thing at a time—and you can absolutely start small. We all have had our absent-minded moments, like when you're washing your hair in the shower and also thinking of your to-do list. But when we do that, we're missing an opportunity to connect with our presence. So, the next time you're washing your hands, maybe focus on how the water feels, how the soap smells, the texture of your skin, and try not to stress about what you need to do after. 

Community Care

HG: What form of community care have you been gravitating toward lately? And how do you believe it has impacted you?

CP: It's so important to remember that the roots of self-care as we know it today come from civil rights activists who were fighting for others to respect their humanity. It was Black feminist, activist, and writer Audre Lorde who said, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." And this powerful statement informed our modern concept of self-care.

There are lots of us who have given so much to others who struggle with giving enough to themselves. For me and so many women, this means that we have to take care of ourselves so we can still fight the fight, so we can break the ceiling, disrupt, and achieve—without it costing the heavy price of our well-being or our physical and mental health. 

HG: As the founder of Droplet, how have you been trying to support the company's community during this time?

At Droplet, our mission isn't to make drinks, it's to create products and services that help women thrive. That's how we create value; the drinks are our little cheerleaders. We're here to learn, to inspire, to help you recoup so you can keep pursuing your purpose. 

On an action-based level, we're actively donating and volunteering with local programs, including food banks, the Step Up Women's Network, and organizations focused on ending food insecurity and inequality. We're very clear on the fact that activism is not optional, and serving the greater community is part of our DNA.

We're committed to creating a healthy work environment, one that supports our teammates with their dreams and goals while also working towards our own collectively. Ongoing education is a big part of that, and if there's anything any of us wants to learn, we make those resources available to everyone.

We also practice healthy boundaries. We don't expect anyone to respond to emails after-hours or on the weekends—that's your time, not ours. We've all heard the horror stories of those shiny-on-the-outside companies that completely lack empathetic leadership. For us, it's not about results, sales, and performative productivity, it's also about the heart and wellbeing of your team and having integrity internally so you can be proud of what you're building externally.

Personal Joys

HG: Are there any adaptogens or self-care products you've been using lately for your self-care routine?

CP: I've been obsessed since my first experience with adaptogens, and I really think they're the key to holistic health, especially for women. Our body and its functions are ruled by hormones; they tell your body and cells what to do. When you're stressed out, your hormones can get out of balance and start giving your system the wrong instructions—which can lead to some scary health situations. Adaptogens are herbs and botanicals that naturally regulate these stress responses, and the benefits are felt in the mind and body.

Right now I'm working with rhodiola a lot, which is in our Pretty Happy flavor. For me, rhodiola has been great for helping me maintain healthy energy levels and has also been shown to boost mood and positive feelings. I love it as a coffee alternative since it doesn't give me jitters, and the way we use it—with passion fruit and cacao—makes it a great mocktail if you're looking for a fun but non-alcoholic drink for Dry January!

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I'm also obsessed with beauty and skincare. Wander Beauty makes these beautiful under-eye masks that I reach for during my Venus hour bathtime routine.

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And when I'm not feeling like myself, I put on a full face of clean beauty products. Doing my makeup is almost like meditation for me!

I like to make a lot of my own bath and body recipes, and magnesium chloride flakes have been a great addition to my bath. Ancient Minerals offers the best quality—and magnesium is incredible for stress relief, and boosting those happy-feeling serotonin levels. Obviously, my self-care routine revolves around making up for the stressful situations we've all been in lately!

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HG: What are some self-care practices that have been bringing you the most joy?

CP: I'm sure you've all seen the baths, the skincare routines, the yoga side of "self-care," but the self-care practices that bring me the most joy are the ones that support my long-term emotional wellbeing so I can have a healthy hustle. I'm practicing setting healthy boundaries, working through my hang-ups, and growing through self-awareness so I can get to where I'm going without the threat of burnout.

Getting organized so you can reach your goals is one of my favorite forms of self-care. What's more supportive than helping yourself achieve? That means getting the right tools together, setting goals, and figuring out how to make it all happen. Before I did this, I was just waiting for my life to start, for the right opportunity to fall into my lap. I realized it was my way of protecting myself from disappointment—but you're only really living when you're working towards your own goals and dreams, making your own choices about what makes you happy, and actively pursuing what makes you feel fulfilled. How are you going to get there if you don't know where you're going? Set. Some. Goals.

Here's a video I made to show you my quick goal-setting method:

Also, on workdays, I've been taking a cookie break at sunset. There are a few amazing women-owned bakeries around us that we couldn't live without, and my favorite chocolate chip cookies are from Proof Bakery in Atwater Village and Créme in Claremont.

I believe that savoring a full indulgence is more satisfying for your soul than trying to cut corners and calories. So, as soon as the sun starts setting, I close my laptop for a bit, grab a cookie, and sit outside and watch the sun go down. No phone, no social media. Just me and an amazing cookie, maybe my puppy @GigiHadogg, and the colors in the sky. It's a really grounding and rewarding moment that helps me compartmentalize and separate the work part of my day from the life part of my day, which has been tough to navigate since we started working from home.