It’s among the mountains in Utah that actress Katherine Heigl feels most grounded. It’s where she and her singer-songwriter husband, Josh Kelley, raise their three children, Naleigh, 13, Adalaide, 10, and Joshua, 5. And it’s where she finds incredible peace both indoors and out. “I think it’s the green, the sunlight, the vitamin D, the fresh air,” says Heigl, 43. “That one-foot-in-front-of-the-other rhythm brings your whole nervous system back down to a very deep-rooted human place, and that can just completely change the scope of the day.”
The Grey’s Anatomy and 27 Dresses actress recently wrapped 10 months in Vancouver filming the second season of Firefly Lane, the Netflix hit she also executive produces. It’s at the mention of her show’s character, Tully, that Heigl lights up. “[The show is] based on a novel [Firefly Lane] and an author [Kristin Hannah] that I deeply love,” Heigl says. “I felt intimidated by Tully and her confidence and her overt ambition. But by the time it was all done, I had such a deep love of her, and she taught me a lot through the whole process.”
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Back at home, Heigl might throw herself into nature walks or painting with watercolors or advocating against animal cruelty. Her latest project is a dog food brand she created with her mom called Badlands Ranch (named after her Utah community), which infuses elements of holistic medicine and superfoods for canine health. “I have six rescue dogs and they’re my extended children,” she says.
Passionate about a holistic approach to her own wellbeing as well, she credits herbs, along with modern medicine, as key to combatting her once crippling anxiety. She adds that her own therapist “pretty much saved my life,” helping her navigate an onslaught of backlash and spiraling anxiety she experienced from once being labeled “difficult” in Hollywood.
We caught up with Heigl to discuss her mental health makeover, why her 40s have been freeing and how getting outdoors for a hike helps her to not sweat the small stuff.
Why did you choose to move from Los Angeles and raise a family in Utah?
I love living in Utah. L.A. was never a place I felt was home. Everything about me being there was about getting work, keeping work, hustling and shaking hands. You feel like, “I could lose it at any second. I have to keep this ball rolling.” And on top of that is the attention of the press, the public, the paparazzi. Having the freedom to be ourselves as fully as we can be without the extra scrutiny is really what made Utah sacred to us. Plus, the people here have been incredibly welcoming and kind and supportive. It’s a real community.
How does nature play a role in your own wellbeing?
I notice massive changes when I spend time in nature. Our property is in the mountains, so a walk is a hike. It’s all uphill and then downhill. For the first two weeks I was home after wrapping Firefly Lane, I was going out three or four days a week. I would come back in a completely different headspace. You find this incredible peace. Suddenly, your whole day just feels better. Even when crap arises, it doesn’t rattle you the same way.
Turning 40 became a turning point for you. What did that age mean?
In my profession, 40 is this big number that sort of signifies the end of your ingenue years. There was something really weird about actually turning 40. I just felt free. I felt free of having to be an ingenue, of having to be pretty and likable and charming and sexy. But I felt strong. Suddenly, it’s like the tides shifted and I didn’t care anymore if you think I’m sweet or pretty or charming or pleasant. I hope to encourage my daughters of that awakening sooner than 40—that you don’t have to be any of these things to be a woman of value. I don’t go out of my way to be confrontational or abrasive. But I also don’t go out of my way anymore to bend over backwards for everybody else’s needs.
You’ve mentioned therapy as a vital way for you to combat anxiety. How has it helped?
Therapy has made a real difference in my life. I’m so incredibly grateful that therapists like mine exist, and that they help. I’ve always been very honest about what I’m thinking and feeling. It really helps to talk to a professional. Your friends and family will do what they can for you, but an unbiased person educated in psychology has been an incredible blessing for me.
How do you handle your own anxiety today?
I worked really hard at controlling my anxiety for years and really struggled. I was really reluctant to take any medication, so I tried everything from prayer to meditation to holding crystals to taking long nature walks. I tried everything to stop it, but my mind just took over—the terrifying part, not the good part. Ultimately, my therapist, who knew I was wary of medication, said, “Listen, I really think you should try Zoloft.” I finally agreed and took a super low dose, but it changed everything. This torment, within a week, started to dissipate and dissipate and dissipate until I was able to regain control over my own mind. He pretty much saved my life. To even recall going back to that, it makes life not worth living because you can’t stop it. Every moment of every day is stuck in this constant, heightened state of fear. I’m really into holistic health and natural remedies, but I am not foolish enough to believe that there isn’t help to be had from the world of science. So, I do both. I’m a big proponent of whatever it takes.
What was something you learned after getting to a comfortable place with your mental wellbeing?
I was so grateful to discover that my mental health issues were not my fault. I don’t know if a lot of people who suffer mental illness feel this way or if it was just me, but for years, I thought it was my fault. I thought there was some weakness in me. I’d say, “Oh, just get over it, Katie. You’re indulging this, right?” So, when I realized the medication was helping, my therapist started to talk to me about the why. I don’t produce enough serotonin, and that can really mess you up. So now I know there are lots of holistic and natural remedies that I believe can help boost serotonin and dopamine, all those feel-good hormones.
Tell us about the holistic side of things—what do you enjoy about Eastern approaches to health?
Since my early 20s, I’ve been working with a naturopath [someone trained in alternative medicine] and approaching health from both Eastern and Western points of view. When my mother went through breast cancer, she did nine months of chemotherapy, lost all her hair and had a mastectomy. But she also did a very extensive natural remedy supplement regime. I take an adolescent dose of Zoloft every day, but I also add mushroom adaptogens [which may help reduce the effects of stress on the body] for brain health, energy and immunity, and I take a lot of nervines [herbs intended to nourish and support the central nervous system. Talk to your doctor about taking any adaptogens or nervines before starting].
What are some things you enjoy in your free time?
I built myself an art studio, and during the pandemic, I took a lot of online art classes. I’m having so much fun with that. And digital art has become a real passion. I’m also obsessed with animals on TikTok. That’s become my daily morning coffee ritual. I’ll watch all the funny dog videos. It’s a total wormhole! It’s not a waste if you’re laughing and you’re charmed and you’re inspired.