Hayley Hasselhoff on dealing with social anxiety: 'When you have people calling you names that are defined by your size, you don't feel comfortable'

·5-min read

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Hayley Hasselhoff has stepped out of her famous family's shadow to make a name for herself as an actress and model, recently making history as the first curve model to star on a European cover of Playboy. Now, the 28-year-old star is entering the wellness space as the host of her new podcast, Redefine You: A Conversation for Wellbeing, in which she invites experts and friends in the industry to discuss topics like self-acceptance and mental health. 

Hasselhoff hopes that these conversations — which originated as an Instagram Live series — will help "break [the] stigma" surrounding mental health and provide listeners with the tools they need to work through their own concerns. Hasselhoff, too, has found the process of sharing to be therapeutic.

"I don't know if I would have been OK if I didn't start opening up," she tells Yahoo Life. "It helped me so much to start fearlessly talking authentically about my struggles rather than holding it all inside and trying to say that I'm perfect and that everything's great in my life, because that's never been the case." 

Model Hayley Hasselhoff is addressing self-care and mental health on her new podcast. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Model Hayley Hasselhoff is addressing self-care and mental health on her new podcast. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Indeed, the model daughter of actors David Hasselhoff and Pamela Bach says she suffered from a young age with social anxiety, which she attributes in part to her "relationship with my self-image and my body image."

Noting that "my self-worth wasn't as strong as it is today," Hasselhoff recalls feeling "fearful" in certain situations, such as going to school. 

"Looking back, I was fearful of being put in a situation that I didn't feel comfortable in," she says. "And when you have people calling you names that are defined by your size, you don't feel comfortable. And I think that can make a lot of anxiousness happen for somebody that's so young."

She credits her family with being a "great support system" during those difficult moments. 

"My mom and my dad were so behind me [on[ those days when that anxiety rose and I wasn't able to get into the car to go to school because it was so overwhelming for me," Hasselhoff says, adding that they gave her the space to work through her feelings through painting or some other creative outlet. 

Hayley Hasselhoff says talking
Hayley Hasselhoff says talking "fearlessly" about her mental health has helped her cope. (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tadashi Shoji)

"I would do something creative because that was my way, or my tool, back then to really feel comfortable in my skin and to reconnect to myself and to possibly get out of my head and get present," she says. "I think mindfulness is a huge thing... At that period of time [it helped] to be mindful and doing something to put my energy into that. And I think my family knew that is what I needed when I was really young, which I'm very blessed for."

Expressing herself through fashion was an important step in improving her sense of confidence and self-worth. Therapy with mental health professionals has also been "an amazing tool," as is the "community therapy" she gets from her online community, whether that's visiting social media accounts that "lifts you up" or connecting with people she identifies with. 

Talking it out during a "flare-up" is also hugely important, she says, in terms of acknowledging those feelings without letting them build. 

"The great thing about having open, honest conversations is that you always know that you're OK if you can say 'I'm not OK,'" Hasselhoff explains. "When I'm able to have a conversation with one of my friends and say I feel like I'm having a rise of my social anxiety, I start to be able to take control over it again. Validate it — validate that it's here — and then understand sort of do a scope of why is it here? What's causing this trigger? What's causing this sort of flare-up? So that I can identify it and walk alongside it ... and hopefully allow it to lessen and lessen. 

"When you don't talk about it with somebody that you trust, or somebody that you think can be able to give you the guidance that you're looking for, that feeling can rise and rise and rise," she adds. "And you're just getting stuck in your head that you're alone, that nobody else is going to understand what you're going through. And that's when it becomes a crisis. So if we can stop that by having vulnerable conversations with one another, when it is just a flare-up, then hopefully it'll stop us from making it a crisis."

Hasselhoff — who also practices breathwork and sound meditation — hopes her podcast sends the message that "it's OK to not be OK." In fact, it's common — and something that needs to spoken candidly about, not stigmatized. 

"One of the most important things I always say is: You can struggle and still succeed," she says. "You can be somebody who deals with anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and still live a beautiful, successful life." 

—Video produced by Stacy Jackman

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