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Actress Stephanie Szostak Has Created the Mental Health Playbook We All Need

Selfish is the title of actress Stephanie Szostak’s new book—but it’s not what you think. The “Give an Hour” ambassador is out to re-frame the word and help people realize that making time for yourself is actually not selfish at all. 

“When we take time for ourselves, we are more apt to respond versus react to life,” explains Szostak, “And in doing so, you’ll be of better value to those around you.” 

In Selfish: Step Into a Journey of Self-Discovery to Revive Confidence, Joy, and Meaning, Szostak offers easy ways to develop mental fitness plans for personal growth and self-discovery. “If we don’t remind ourselves daily what helps us with our mental health, then our emotions take over,” she explains. “I wish somebody had told me early on that just like basic daily hygiene, you should have a daily routine for your mental well-being.” 

A native Parisian, Szostak came to the U.S. to study and play competitive golf at William & Mary University in Virginia. After graduation, she moved to New York City and worked in marketing at Chanel. But she felt something was missing. At 29, Szostak decided to take her first ever acting class—and after appearing in The Devil Wears Prada opposite Meryl Streep as chic French editor Jacqueline Follet, her career took off. 

Most recently, she played Delilah Dixon on the ABC hit series A Million Little Things. That role, as a wife-turned-widow, after her husband commits suicide, is where she connected with Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen of “Give an Hour,” a non-profit organization that provides no-cost counseling through a network of volunteer mental health professionals. 

Van Dahlen was a consultant to the series’ writers on how to accurately and sensitively portray mental health issues on the show. 

During the pandemic, Szostak collaborated with Give an Hour on a series of webinars to encourage people to create their own personal playbook for life. “It’s a workbook. You cannot read this passively,” says Szostak. It is interactive; there’s space for you to write in it. There are inspiring stories from Give an Hour contributors, and the only thing missing is your story. This is for you to work on the project of you.”

As a competitive athlete, Szostak understood that sports teams all have playbooks. In moments of pressure, a coach checks his playbook to decide how to move forward best. 

I recently spoke with Szostak—whose insight will certainly inspire you to write your own playbook. Here’s what she had to say: 

How does the playbook help in your own life?

I struggled with confidence and imposter syndrome in my acting career. My self-worth was tied to other people’s opinions that I couldn’t control. Before I went on set, I needed easy access to inspiration and guidance, so I collected bits of wisdom from books and life and put them in one place. For example, I have a reminder that is a picture of me with Meryl Streep, which says “Daring.” The reason that is there is because when I was on set, I dared to improvise with her, and I don’t always do that. I often played it safe or small, so seeing that picture reminds me that I am equipped to take risks!

Can you give us examples of how you created your playbook?

I’ll go on a walk listening to podcasts, and there’s usually one sentence that resonates with me. I stop, put it in my notes on my phone, and then add it to my playbook later. It’s really changed the way I think during the day. Recently, I was feeling overwhelmed with work, my son needed to get ankle surgery, and I felt like I wasn’t doing anything right. I was on the phone with my dad and he said, ‘Life is like a series of hurdles to overcome. When faced with a somewhat overwhelming problem, break it down to a series of attainable size hurdles, with little victories at each step passed. And thus a little more confidence. And sometimes resulting in real momentum going.’ That’s now in my Playbook and, seeing it every day not only reminds me to take it one step at a time, but it also makes me smile, and feel pretty lucky that I still have my dad in my life for support.”

How do you want people to use the playbook?

Not everyone can have access to support, counseling, or mental health professionals, but there is a lot we can do for our own well-being. I partnered with a national mental health organization to write this book, and I truly believe it can help a lot of people. I know it can because I have been practicing everything that’s in this book for the past 10 years.

Do your children use a playbook?

During my oldest son’s senior year in high school, he wrote many inspiring things he had found in a notebook on his nightstand. I put it all in a playbook for him, and he calls it his “little pick me up.”

I was surprised to read in the book that you often feel “stupid” and uncomfortable in social situations. How do you work through your insecurities?

I did a movie with Kevin Bacon, and in pre-production, he said, “Oh my God, I’m such a mess! I didn’t sleep. I always get like this before a new movie!” And I remember thinking, “You’re Kevin Bacon! You’ve been in tons of movies, and you’re successful, and you have doubts?” It was refreshing and vulnerable and made me realize that I will never stop having insecurities. That’s just part of who I am. And in a way, they’re not necessarily negative, they’re just indications that I’m pushing myself and doing something new. 

How do you start your day? 

I meditate, read a page from the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday over coffee, spend time in nature and go over my Playbook. The more consistent I am going over my Playbook, the more these “good thoughts” are apt to pop into my consciousness in a moment of stress, and the more likely I am to respond vs. react to the day. Never perfect. Just better because what we practice, we become.

What do you like about living in Connecticut?

I lived for 16 years in New York City, so I love the space, especially nature. I live a pretty quiet life. Westport feels to me like an in-between of the suburbs and the countryside. Many people are in creative walks of life, and the support has been unbelievable. I love my community here.

Please explain the simple yet chic French girl style! 

It’s knowing what works for you and wearing what makes you feel comfortable. “Less is more” is a very French thing in makeup as well as in styling, but I think American women have great style, too.

Stephanie’s Local Favorites

Place to Meet for a Drink: Walrus Alley in Westport, CT.

Place you take your parents when they visit: Gold’s Delicatessen

French restaurantLuc’s in Ridgefield, CT.

Best Croissants and Baguettes: Whole Foods for a morning croissant. “My tip is always to put it in the oven to warm it up so the butter melts.”
Balthazar Bakery in NYC for baguettes.

Spot for a Nature Walk: Lake Mohegan Loop, Fairfield, CT

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