Rosario Dawson on parenthood, her Latina roots and how being outdoors is a 'natural antidepressant'

Rosario Dawson's perspective on life is all about loving care, which she pours into her work. (Credit: Getty. Designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Rosario Dawson's perspective on life is all about loving care, which she pours into her work. (Photo: Getty Images; design by Quinn Lemmers)

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.

Rosario Dawson is a woman who wears many hats. She's won hearts and inspired action through the plethora of roles she plays — as an actress, activist, mother and organizer — and her latest partnership, with Tom's of Maine's "Get Into Nature" initiative, aims to show kids the vital role they play in protecting the planet by getting them to step outside.

Here, the actress opens up about her own experiences with the great outdoors and how they've shaped her overall wellbeing as an individual and as a mom.

What is getting out into nature look like for you now, as a parent?

It's so wild because I remember so much when I was a kid, you know, my parents just being so adamant about spending time in community gardens and we would do picnics. Mother's Day was always a special thing because we would go camping, which was bizarre for my neighborhood. When you went past 14th Street, it was like, "Yeah we went upstate, yo. We went over the bridge to see trees!" Now it's so great to be able to do that with my daughter and see firsthand how much that makes a difference in her personal development.

Can you tell us more about that impact on your daughter Lola?

I adopted her when she was 11. She had a lot of challenges coming out of foster care and from her past, and we've been really conscious. It's intentional about our outdoor activities and making sure we're going hiking and going for walks, having picnics, bike rides, all of that stuff. She's been at this school where they use outdoors for therapy, so she's been whitewater rafting and learning how to work with horses. And I'm telling you, it's a night and day difference from when she first came to live with us to where she is now. It has made such a huge impact.

I remember working with a friend of mine before she passed. She was an equestrian and she started this organization [that] was about horseback riding for kids who are HIV-positive or who had terminal illnesses. To see a child get on top of this massive animal and having to be attuned with each other and be able to direct this… creature — and have trust with each other. You learn boundaries, you learn sensitivity, empathy, posture, everything. Now I've watched it impact my daughter and I'm just so grateful that my parents instilled that in me, and that we're able to kind of push it forward and see it as a true resource. Talk about antidepressants — going for a walk in nature and listening to the leaves rustle, that is a natural antidepressant.

Rosario Dawson is all smiles with girls from The Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York City (Credit: Michael Simon)
Rosario Dawson is all smiles with kids from the Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York City (Credit: Michael Simon)

Is that why you joined forces with Tom's of Maine?

Not everybody has an incredible park right near them — and grassy areas and a backyard or a garden, you know. What I love about the Tom's of Maine campaign is that it's going beyond the talk. It's about really walking the walk. With this campaign, and the hashtag #getintonature, we're asking people to actually post about their hikes and stuff and [getting] kids engaged. Kids have been some of the most hard hit during this quarantine period — it really negatively impacts their mental health and it incredibly impacts our mental health for the better just being outdoors because this generation over-indexes with screen time.[Past generations of kids] were bike riding and they were playing stickball, dodgeball, and jump roping and all that kind of stuff… It's unbelievable how many sets I've been on where the kids bike ride through the shot, or they play ball, and they don't know how to do it. They don't know how to throw a frisbee. They don't know how to throw a ball. It's like, listen, put the phone down for a little bit…

In addition to being an actress, you're an activist. How have you been able to utilize activism as a form of self care?

That's an interesting question. It makes me think. The great thing about activism is that it is active. It's taking what we care about, it's taking what we love, and it's putting it into action… I have a voting organization, and we say, "March to the polls." Make sure that you're doing something that is engaging your whole body and your spirit, physically. It's great to be able to donate some money or time or these different things, but really think about doing it, you know, not just thinking about it, not just wondering about it, not just posting a hashtag, but actually being active and engaging. When we engage, we deepen our connections with each other. We feel more fortified.

The mom and activist believes the great outdoors is a natural antidepressant for folks of all ages. (Credit: Michael Simon)
The mom and activist believes the great outdoors is a natural antidepressant for folks of all ages. (Credit: Michael Simon)

How have your Latina roots shaped your perspectives on life?

It's a double-edged sword, or two-sided coin. I grew up with my grandmother from Puerto Rico and she would just talk about how beautiful it was. People want to vacation in places where she grew up, and like, that connection to nature was so important to her. She lived on the beach. She did all the things you weren't supposed to do: She laid out there with oil on for like 10 hours and felt fine. Being born in Coney Island and growing up in Manhattan, I've always thought of myself as a mermaid, just having that breeze, having that sun on you, getting that melanin has always just been so important. At the same time, though, I recognize that was really one of the few and only times and places that she prioritized her mental health.

What we got taught, oftentimes, was toxic masculinity and really negative patriarchy in a maternal household. It was my great-grandmother, it was my grandmother, it was my mom [in our house]. It was me and her uncles and my brothers, but some of the worst things about machismo and everything continue down. [My mother] ate last and she put the boys first and she did all these things that were very confusing. She had this idea of, like, if you're not stressed out and burning the candles at both ends you're not trying hard enough. So I love that as we have our Hispanic Heritage Month, we're having conversations around mental health that my grandmother and previous generations never had access to.

Spending too much time online is hazardous to your health, but also some of the positive messages we forget about, because we always concentrate on the trolls. Think about how many times we were being reminded just by random memes and videos to go take a breath, go for a walk, shut off for a little while and enjoy get some sun on your face. We went from, like, Tonya Harding "win at all costs" aggression to Simone Biles going, "I'm good. I'm gonna sit this out right now." And that is a huge shift... I think about that a lot with my grandma, all the great lessons I learned from her, but also so much that she was cut off from because there was a certain lifestyle that was normalized.

Do you have a philosophy by which you live?

There is a guy who was stoned to death in Somalia when he was 21 [Dan Eldon]. He was a photojournalist for Reuters and he coined this phrase, the name of the book, called The Journey is the Destination. It's something [Dan and his friends] used to say all the time. Growing up, it's a very "eye on the prize" goal, at all costs. But as life goes on, you start to realize, I don't know if I'll ever make it to that mountaintop that I'm trying to go for, but I don't want to have my blinders on because I'll miss the view and I'll miss the journey. So, for me, that's what I always go back to: The journey is the destination.