How ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’ Author Rachel Hollis Worked Through Her Grief After Losing Her Brother
"A big thing for me this year was the willingness to understand that I could hold grief and moments of joy simultaneously."
While Rachel Hollis is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, podcast host, mother of four, and entrepreneur behind the media company Hollis Co., she swears she’s not an expert in any particular category. “What I’m only ever trying to do is tell you stories about what I’ve gone through and what I’ve learned,” the 38-year-old tells HelloGiggles.
Still, she adds, “What I’ve found over time is that even if I’m not the right teacher, or even if what I’m saying doesn’t resonate with you, I’m hopeful that just hearing about my process, and how I got to a solution, will maybe spark curiosity for you to go on your own journey.”
Hollis has been sharing her life stories with others since 2008, when she began her blog. On the site, she talked about her life and the relationship she had with her health and her Bell’s Palsy. “I really wanted to talk about Bell’s Palsy because I couldn’t find any information about it on the internet. And I kept thinking, I’m not the only one who’s gone through this,” she explains. “And when I put that blog post up, I got such a strong response. It was the first time that I realized like, ‘Oh, man, people really want the truth.'”
Not only did she create a media company from scratch, but she also started a memoir-like podcast, The Rachel Hollis Podcast, and became a three-time New York Times bestselling author with books like Girl, Stop Apologizing and Girl, Wash Your Face. Her latest memoir, Didn’t See That Coming, is her most vulnerable title yet; in the book, she discusses uncertainty, grief, and the loss of her brother, who died by suicide in 2007.
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One of the things that has allowed her to heal (as she has also recently gone through a divorce from Dave Hollis in 2020), she says, is helping others with their own grief and pain. “I think everything that’s out there will not work for every person. But there are things that you can do to help yourself,” Hollis says. “So a big part of my work is [figuring out] how do we give you habits when you’re feeling good so [they] will sustain you when you’re feeling like that?”
“It’s not about, ‘how do I create habits that gonna make everything perfect?'”, she continues. “It’s, ‘how can I establish habits now that when there’s a global pandemic, when I go through a divorce, when I lose someone I love, or when I lose my job, that I can cling to those habits in the hard times so that I can get through to the other side.'”
We spoke to Hollis to learn more about her journey with grief, her go-to self-care rituals, and her mental health during this difficult time.
HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with grief impacted your mental health?
Rachel Hollis (RH): I think that we all process [grief] in different ways. So I’ll just tell you the honest truth for how I have processed pain in the past: I’ll just go faster. I’ll just work more. I’ll just hustle harder. I’ll just do everything that I can to not look at the way that I’m feeling.
And I think something that is beautiful about getting older, but also beautiful about 2020 for me, is that I forced myself to sit in the pain. I understood that I had been through pain before. And I knew that I would get to the other side. I couldn’t have told you when, but I just knew that it was important for me to feel it. And I think that was what I was hoping to do with this book [and be] like, “Hey, I have walked through a lot of hard seasons. And so I know that you will get to the other side of this. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t suck, [and] that it won’t be awful and hard.” So that was a big thing for me this year was the willingness to understand that I could hold grief and moments of joy simultaneously.
HG: What are some practices and regimens you suggest others do if they feel like their grief and loss has become overwhelming?
RH: You know, I have four kids who were also going through a divorce with me. And it [was and still is] not their job to hold my grief. It was really important to me to allow myself privately to feel what I was feeling. And I did a lot of journaling and a lot of therapy and a lot of crying.
I think grief can be a catalyst and set off other things with your mental or emotional health that become a trigger for something that hasn’t affected you since you were a teenager. I think a big part of it is about having grace with yourself. The quote I feel like I heard a lot this year was like, “It’s okay not to be okay.” And to have the grace to know that you’re allowed to feel how you feel today. And like [asking yourself] what do you need in this moment, right? What do you need to do for yourself or how can you help? And, frankly, there were days where it was 3 p.m. and I went to bed. And I didn’t beat myself up for not being perfect having all the answers.
But even when you’re finding a way forward, whether that looks like you got laid off, and you’re gonna go find another job, or you have a struggle in your family, it’s still worth an acknowledgment that you are living. We’ve just been living through hardship. And parents who are figuring out how to be teachers and business owners who’ve had to lay people off. And people who’ve lost their jobs, people who’ve lost a loved one. I mean, we all have these stories.
HG: What kind of physical activities do you do to help with uncertainty?
RH: Several years ago when I was struggling with anxiety was when I started to work out. And now the term that I would use is just “movement.” But I found such a correlation between those days when I would move my body—whether that was dancing, going on a run, going on a walk, anything that would sort of get my heart rate up for half an hour—would drastically lower my anxiety. Back then, I didn’t have the language to understand about cortisol and stress hormones and how moving your body really helps to lower that in your system. But that was when I started the habit. And for days that are non-stop, I press into different things, whether that’s dancing or jumping up and down because I didn’t have the time to get in a full workout. But I always move my body.
HG: How do you suggest others physically connect with their bodies if they want to feel more connected to themselves?
RH: Do what you can with what you’ve got and where you’re at because those 30 minutes is just about doing something that’s going to bless your body. So we have a member of our community who is paralyzed from the neck down and she heard me say this forever. So she started using the time to meditate. She does her 30 minutes every single day moving that meditation and energy throughout her body. So I don’t think it matters what [the movement] is. I think it’s about doing something that’s going to feel good to you.
When we think about health, I think that we have been taught to believe that health is about how you look not about how you feel. And I think it should all be about how you feel. What is the energy you have? How do you feel emotionally? How do you feel mentally?
I have tried to make the shift as I’ve gotten older and what I hope that I continue to speak to all the people in my community about is this idea of “What can you do today that is a blessing to your body?” And I think that movement is a huge, huge, huge part of that for me.
HG: What form of community care have you been gravitating toward lately?
RH: One of the most powerful relationships I have in my life is with my best girlfriends; I have the most amazing support. And these are women who I’ve known for a decade. And it is the most loving, beautiful, like, truly, I cannot imagine walking through the last year without these women by my side.
We have women’s conferences and different things where we talk about how few women have an example of a positive female relationship. Because so often, we’ve been shown or seen toxicity happen between women. And when you find your crew, you find sisters who link arms with you, see you, call you out on your shit, love you through it.
What I’m trying to do with my online community, is how do I sort of create that conversation? And a lot of the time that’s done through modeling. My best friend and I [have] done podcasts together, we’ve done [Instagram lives], where we’re trying to model what it looks like to have these dialogues and conversations in a healthy way.
One of the hardest things, I think for a lot of women, is to make new friends. And sometimes when we’re craving friendship, I think we will gravitate to anything, rather than something that’s substantive. And what does [that friendship] look like when it’s actually something that feeds your spirit and lifts you up? And that it’s not always perfect, where you have to have hard conversations?
I feel like it was always meant to be about our relationship with other women. And it has been divided through religion, through political affiliation, through ethnicity, through our backgrounds, like so many things. So I feel like we’re going through this shift and 2020 has sort of brought us back to a more intentional way of existing, and I’m so hopeful that also looks like how we re-examine those sacred, feminine relationships that are so important.
HG: Are there any self-care products you’ve been using lately in your self-care routine?
RH: I’m very passionate about adaptogens. I feel like these are things that could drastically change the lives of millions of people; it freaking grows out of the ground, you could buy it at the grocery store. I take holy basil every day of my life. And it’s just an absolute game-changer in terms of how [it can help] your body adjust and adapt to stress. Supplements are a big thing for me, and I’m constantly testing out what will help me feel better and what will give me mental clarity.
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HG: What are some self-care practices that have been bringing you joy?
RH: My morning routine is the most sacred practice in my life. I’ve done it forever, and I adjust it for whatever season. Like if I’m going through a hard season, I’ll do a lot more gratitude work, I’ll do a lot more meditation, I’ll do a lot more things that make my spirit feel good. But I feel like how you start the day is so freaking essential for what comes after it.
Also, I was on a walk with two of my best friends this weekend and we were talking about the idea that so many of the things that we want for ourselves are achievable. But we must slow down. I think that we are so busy. We’re going so fast that we don’t have the ability to be intentional in the way we want to be. And that is like the greatest lesson of 2020: I was forced to slow down. And it was so hard. But then it was like, “Oh, this is what it feels like to be thoughtful about all of these things. This is what it feels like to show up for my friends. This is what it feels like to be the kind of mom I want to be.” But we must slow down in order to even have that thought process and be intentional.