It takes work to manage mental health, even—or especially—for presidents. And former president Barack Obama gave a few new details about the things that helped him while in office in a recent interview with TheSkimm as part of its Minute to Skimm It digital series.
“In jobs of great stress, like the presidency, mental health has to be a priority,” Obama told TheSkimm. He said he’s “fortunate to have a naturally pretty calm and steady temperament,” but noted that some activities really helped him manage his mental health.
“The two things that were most important for me was exercise in the morning, hitting the gym. And the second thing was family; having a block of time with my girls and with Michelle that was inviolate unless there was a genuine immediate crisis,” he explained. “I was at dinner at 6:30 every night. And you know, listening to my daughters talk about their days and stupid boys and strange teachers and gossip and weird questions, that always put my mind right.”
The value of having routines like these—especially in the mornings and evenings to help transition to and from work hours—is something many of us are realizing more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. For both the former president and former first lady, those workouts generally included (and still include) circuit training “with weights, with kettlebells, with bands and tubes and TRXs to keep the body guessing,” their longtime trainer Cornell McClellan told People previously. The two are also fans of boxing, McClellan said. “For people with high-stress jobs, boxing really works for them. To be able to punch some things.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama has also been particularly open about her experience with “low-grade depression” during the pandemic and recent protests against police brutality. “I’m waking up in the middle of the night because I’m worrying about something or there’s a heaviness,” she said previously. But both keeping up a routine (involving regular workouts, spending time outside, and family mealtimes) and allowing herself some room to take breaks as necessary have been helpful for her.
More recently the former first lady said in an interview with People that “depression is understandable during these times. I needed to acknowledge what I was going through, because a lot of times we feel like we have to cover that part of ourselves up, that we always have to rise above and look as if we’re not paddling hard underneath the water.”
To see the full video in which President Obama will be talking through his 750-page memoir, A Promised Land, check out TheSkimm’s Instagram and site tonight at 9 p.m. E.T.