The Chicago P.D. star is passionate about helping others—and being good to oneself. Here's what she has to say about following your heart, taking action and discovering what matters most in this world.

sophia bush
Credit: Matt Jones

Matt JonesSophia Bush was born an old soul. "I was a tiny adult," she says of her childhood in Los Angeles (her mom and dad were both in the photography business). "I always wanted to save the world. My parents thought it was sweet and that I'd outgrow it—and I never did!"

Now the actress and activist, 33, is saving it in all sorts of ways. This month, she's back for a third season as crime-solving detective Erin Lindsay on the NBC drama Chicago P.D. Off camera, she works with organizations like Pencils of Promise to help children gain access to education, and I Am That Girl, which builds support networks for girls. And she recently partnered with I Smell Great, a beauty line that creates fragrances aimed at inspiring female confidence and uses new technology that makes her "little nerd-heart get excited."

She is also a longtime believer in the impact that healthy habits can have on your life—not just physically but emotionally, too. Over green tea, she opens up to Health about the morning routine that has had a profound effect on her life and shares how anyone can learn to live in the moment.

What is different about you now compared with when you were a kid?
I don't think I just trust every single person anymore. I'm really coming into myself. There's something about 33. You know, it's one of those sort of sacred years. Thirty was amazing. And 33 is really only getting better. I feel much more rooted. I've learned how to listen to my intuition. My heart still feels open and I'm still madly in love with the world, but I understand very quickly how to read a person's energy and how to better protect my own.

How do you keep your intuition strong?
I've gotten better at slowing down and sticking to my meditation practice. A lot of us seem to be on the same track: We crush it at work and we crush it with our physical health, but we haven't been attending to that mind-body connection—and that's the sweet spot. So I'm getting up at 7:30 a.m., I'm meditating for 20 minutes and then I'm going for a two-mile run. It's only been a couple of weeks, and I feel so different. And I'm not a morning person! My theme of this year is "narrow and deep." Less stuff, more depth. You just have to try to actively change your habits for one week: Get up 30 minutes earlier. Download the Headspace app and do a 10-minute meditation every day. It's great.

Your Chicago P.D. character, Erin, is a fan favorite because of how badass she is. Was she always that way?
I'm never going to pick a role that is a person who I wouldn't want to hang out with. I want to hang out with an interesting, layered, multifaceted woman who is unapologetic about her strength and her vulnerability.

Are you that type of person in real life?
Totally. I mean, I'm gushy. But I jump out of airplanes for fun and like to race cars and own three giant pit bulls. So I'm practicing allowing for my femininity more. One of my friends challenged me: "Let the man who offers to put your bag in the overhead on the plane put your bag in the overhead." I was like, "But I packed it. I can carry it!" She said, "It's not the point." So, now, every time a guy asks me if he can lift my bag up, I go, "Sure! Thank you." And I bask in the fact that someone wants to do something nice for me. It's all being just a little more open. Because saying no to someone who is offering to help you is closing a door.

sophia bush

Matt JonesDo you think it's hard to maintain body confidence in Hollywood?
I think it's hard for everyone. Do I think that there has historically been more pressure [in Hollywood than elsewhere]? Yes. Do I think that because of media and airbrushing and social media and Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, that it's now the same for everyone? I think it's crazy. We are so conditioned as women to hate on ourselves all the time, but look at what we can do.

How do you keep perspective?
This is me, whether I like it or not. I will never be as tall as Gisele. I will never have bone structure like Hilary Rhoda. I will never have Penelope Cruz's hair. So who cares?

Speaking of beauty, you have the most amazing skin.
[She points to a barely-there blemish on her left cheek.] I'm laughing because I just had a breakout.

This makes me think of that Amy Schumer skit [Compliments] about women not being able to accept a compliment.
Yeah, and they kill themselves? It's my favorite video! We've been taught that being validated by a man is something to strive for. But when we get validated by women, we brush it off, we act like it's stupid and we immediately insult ourselves. What if we took validation from our female friends and let that fill us? I would wager women wouldn't compete over men's attention the way that they do.

Your Instagram posts are often thought-provoking, like a recent one about doing what you fear because a seed needs to crack open to grow.
It was based on a quote from this woman Cynthia Occelli. We are so afraid to change careers, to end relationships, to outgrow people or places—and that's just growth. To me, choosing to go toward the cracking in order to keep expanding is the only way. The only way to get out of pain is to go through it. Pain is information—which I think is one of the most profound things anyone has ever said to me. It is literally a piece of information.

What have been the most profound cracks that have changed your life?
When I was 20, my mom was really sick. I watched her go through chemo, and that cracked me. My mother, my everything, the strongest woman I know, was literally on her knees unable to stand, and that shattered me. Losing one of my best friends a few months ago [Google executive Dan Fredinburg] shattered me. There were days I felt like my body had been turned inside out. I felt like my heart was on the outside of my body and everyone who came near me was stabbing me. And the crazy thing is that since Dan died, the lessons have come like Mack trucks. There is no next time. There is no excuse to wait a day to do what you want to do and to change the way that you want to change.

What is your greatest fear?
The word enough is a monster for me. I don't know how anyone ever feels that they are enough: successful enough, smart enough, pretty enough, healthy enough. I got so scared the first time I decided to say, "I am terrified of not being enough." And what came back tenfold—women who identify, women who sympathize and women who experience all of that—was mind-boggling to me. We are so in this together. And that helps. A friend said to me, "Let it be enough, whatever you did today. You went on a two-mile run and you didn't do a circuit-training workout? Who cares? Let it be enough."

Do you have a smallest fear?
I am irrationally afraid of spiders. I kill them. All of them. People are like, "Let them live!" And I'm like, "Never! You came in my house. You are an intruder. Get out!" [Laughs]

Finish this sentence for us: I am my absolute happiest when...
Twenty of our friends are over, we have a great band at my house and we're having long conversations around a fire pit.

What is your go-to way to de-stress?
I can't believe it took me 32 years to feel like I deserve to get massages, but a super deep tissue. Game changer.

Sophia's Hit List
Orphan Black and nine other things that rock her world.

Favorite social media account: Tiny Atlas Quarterly magazine on Instagram. "They make me want to travel everywhere."

Herb she loves to cook with: "It's a tie between basil and thyme. I put them on everything."

Book worth returning to: "I am rereading Cheryl Strayed's book of essays, Tiny Beautiful Things, for the fourth time. She's my hero."

Binge-worthy show: "Orphan Black. You need it in your life."

Podcast: "Tara Brach's on mindfulness. I've sent the episode 'Attend and Befriend: Healing the Fear Body' to 20 people, who have all called me and said, 'From the bottom of my heart, thank you.'"

App she's addicted to: "Meerkat, the live-streaming app. My roommate and I will do Meerkat chats after we watch Orphan Black."

Skin-care products: "There's a really great line, S.W. Basics out of Brooklyn, and they're so clean. Sometimes I'll take my makeup off with their oil makeup remover and just leave that oil on my face because it's so hydrating."

Surprising thing she collects: "Vintage cameras. I grew up working with them in my dad's studio. I love what they look like, and I have them all over my house."

Natural-beauty trick: "Neem honey is really good for your hair. You do a 20-minute hair mask. But don't go anywhere—it's disgusting. It's so gooey! And then, pro tip: You have to get shampoo in your hair before you get the honey wet. Because if you try to rinse [the honey], it's a disaster."