Michelle Obama shares her simple ‘tools’ for coping with low-grade depression in candid Stephen Colbert interview

Former First Lady Michelle Obama opened up about mental health in a recent television appearance

In this screengrab, Michelle Obama presents the Social Justice Impact Award during the 52nd NAACP Image Awards on March 27, 2021
(Image credit: 52nd NAACP Image Awards/BET via Getty)

Michelle Obama has shared her tips for overcoming low-grade depression, after experiencing a drop in her own mood during the pandemic. 

Speaking on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, the former First Lady opened up about the tricks she uses to help her cope when depression and anxiety take hold—and they’re a lot simpler than you might think. 

“Over the course of your adulthood, you develop your own tools,” she explained. “And for me, it’s turning off the noise that is upsetting.” 

Like many of us, Michelle Obama’s first call-of-action when feeling deflated is a digital detox. She knows the importance of taking breaks from social media, which can often exacerbate her poor mood. “I can’t keep reading all the feeds that are fueling my anxiety,” she said. 

Spending time with loved ones and embracing nature are also key aspects of Michelle’s daily wellness routine when she’s feeling down. 

“I surround myself with things that make me feel good: family, friends, walks, exercise,” she told Stephen. 

The Becoming author added that she tries to teach her daughters, Malia and Sasha, that life is never going to be entirely smooth by reminding them that “the valleys are temporary and so are the peaks”. 

“Nobody rides life on a high and I think it’s important for young people to know that,” she said. “No, you’re not going to feel great all of the time, and there are moments in all of our lives, particularly in the middle of a pandemic and racial unrest, you’re gonna feel a kind of way about it, so give yourself a break.” 

This positive self-talk has been especially helpful for Michelle over the past few months. The mom-of-two recently shared her fears for her daughters as they become more independent, revealing she’s worried about their safety because of the color of their skin. She also admitted to suffering from ‘low-grade depression’, also known as ‘dysthymia’, on an episode of The Michelle Obama podcast last August. 

“These are not, they are not fulfilling times, spiritually," she said. She attributed her despair to both the pandemic and ‘the racial strife’ dividing the United States. “Just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting.” 

Despite the temptation to hibernate in the face of such negativity, Michelle knows she always feels better if she perseveres through the pain. She credited a consistent routine of healthy habits as the key to keeping her spirits up and avoiding the tendency to ‘wallow in my low'. 

“Having a schedule, even in quarantine, was something that I did,” she told Stephen.  “I woke up, I took a shower, I worked out, I got dressed every day. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t do that, because it’s just the doing that gets you out of the funk.”

Whether it’s working out or phoning a friend, Michelle believes taking little steps can make a big difference when it comes to mental health. 

“If I spend a whole day in a sour mood—lights out, in the bed—the next day I’ll feel the same way. But if I get up, and if I shower, something might happen, in the course of me doing something, that really knocks me into a positive place.”

Emma Dooney
Lifestyle News Writer

Hailing from the lovely city of Dublin, Emma mainly covers the Royal Family and the entertainment world, as well as the occasional health and wellness feature. Always up for a good conversation, she has a passion for interviewing everyone from A-list celebrities to the local GP - or just about anyone who will chat to her, really.

Emma holds an MA in International Journalism from City, University of London, and a BA in English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.