Michelle Obama opens up about coping with depression: ‘Don’t wallow in your low’

Michelle Obama gestures with her hands as she speaks
Michelle Obama, seen at August’s Democratic National Convention, discussed mental health on Tuesday’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
(Democratic National Convention via AP)

Former First Lady Michelle Obama again addressed her experience with anxiety and depression during the pandemic in an in-person sitdown with frequent interviewer Stephen Colbert.

On Tuesday’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” she described the tools she uses to climb out of those “valleys,” such as “turning off the noise,” adhering to a schedule and being with the ones she loves.

Colbert referred to her past comments on “low-grade depression,” saying, “It’s very common for people this year — very common in general, but especially this year — but how’d you cope with it, and why just low grade? Because I get the high-octane.”


“This is a part of life,” Obama responded. “Nobody rides life on a high. And I think it’s important for young people to know that. No, you’re not going to feel great all the time. There are moments in all of our lives, particularly in the middle of a pandemic and racial unrest, you’re gonna feel a kind of way about it, so give yourself a break.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama discusses coping with “low-grade depression” and anxiety during the pandemic on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

“Being 57, I know that that’s true. Over the course of your adulthood, you develop your own tools, and for me, it’s turning off the noise that is upsetting,” she added. “Knowing that I can’t keep reading all the feeds that are fueling my anxiety and taking a break from it. I did that as first lady. There were just times that I couldn’t hear the bad news about the country that I had to serve. Because I know that the news is not a full reflection of what the country is ...

“I pull back from it. I surround myself with things that make me feel good: Family, friends, walks, exercise. So when I talk to my kids about that, I try to urge them to understand that the valleys are temporary and so are the peaks. They can be temporary. And they have to be prepared to handle the highs and the lows.”

In her first feature documentary, Nadia Hallgren gets up close and personal with the former first lady.

Aug. 19, 2020

When Colbert said things that make him feel better sometimes require more effort than he can muster when he’s feeling down, Obama said one has to push through it.

“Having a schedule, even in quarantine, was something that I did. I woke up, I took a shower, I worked out, I got dressed every day,” Obama said. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t do that, because it’s just the doing that gets you out of the funk.

“I find that if I spend the whole day in a sour mood, lights out in the bed, the next day I’ll feel the same way,” she added. “But if I get up and I shower ... something might happen in the course of me doing something that really knocks me into a positive place. So I try to fight the tendency to sort of wallow in my low ...


“Don’t wallow in your low, Stephen.”

The former first lady said her “heart had fallen harder and faster than I can remember” as violent supporters of President Trump stormed the Capitol.

Jan. 7, 2021

Obama has discussed her personal experiences with depression before. In August 2020, on Spotify’s “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” she talked about how her emotional state was being affected by the pandemic (including some venting about those refusing to honor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public-health guidelines) and racial strife in America, particularly in response to the murder of George Floyd.

“I’m waking up in the middle of the night because I’m worrying about something or there’s a heaviness,” she said on her show last year. “I try to make sure I get a workout in, although there have been periods throughout this quarantine, where I just have felt too low.”

The Colbert interview was hardly a downer, however. She said she and daughter Sasha are the Obamas who prefer “some frivolity” in their movie choices. Meanwhile, her husband, former President Obama, and daughter Malia (“the movie savant,” as the former first lady called her) prefer “dark and sad” choices on the family movie nights.

“Barack’s taste in movies is, ‘everybody is sad and then they die,’” Obama said.

She and Colbert — who on Thursday turns the same age as she is (57) — also had some fun at the expense of her husband, whom they gleefully pointed out will soon be 60. Colbert asked her, “As a fellow Gen Xer, is it hard for you to relate to a baby boomer like your husband?”

“Yeah ... ‘Did you have TV when you were growing up?’ He’s gonna be old! 60,” she said, as they laughed together. “But he looks good. I like him. ‘Ohhh, you’re cute.’”