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How Julianne Hough Overcame Depression and Anxiety: ‘Dancing Was My Superpower’

Before Julianne Hough became a two-time Dancing With the Stars champion, she coped with mental health issues.

“I struggled with anxiety and depression growing up,” the 30-year-old told PEOPLE. “I don’t think a lot of people would know that about me because I come off as sunshine and happiness and positivity.”

Hough opened up about her personal struggles on Thursday, at #WOW The Wonder of Women Summit in Los Angeles. The annual conference, which took place at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center at UCLA, was created to inspire the next generation of female leaders through the enhancement of mental and physical health.

“I just wanted to be involved and lend my voice but also to just meet incredible, powerful women who are making change and a difference in the world,” she said of her involvement in the #WOW summit.

The America’s Got Talent judge revealed that dance is the tool that made a difference in her world when she lacked confidence.

“Since I’m a dancer, I felt like that was my superpower my whole life,” she said. “It really transformed my experience and gave me a way to express myself.”

“[Dance] actually breaks the barrier so you get confidence within yourself, and it’s for nobody else but you.”

Hough is currently working with fellow panelist Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist, to discover the effects that dance has on the brain.

“We’ve been really closely looking at that and how it affects the brain, and our memory, and our ability to create endorphins and mood boost.”

The star said that dance is essential to her daily routine to stay both physically and mentally fit. “I believe that those two work hand in hand,” she said.

“I put music on immediately, which helps my auditory and sensory experience with my body,” she said. “So then my body is activated and I’m moving my body, which changes my whole energy level for the day.”

“So I get to choose how I show up in the world, with all the external pressures.”

The actress also avoids using her phone for the first hour of her day. Though she admits it can be challenging, she does this as a way to clear her mind and create space for innovation.

“When you first wake up, you’re in this Beta wave state so you’re apt to [being creative], your subconscious can come out,” she said.

Hough was among other influential women at the summit, including singer Sara Bareilles, actress Lisa Kudrow and Maria Shriver, who announced The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Research Initiative.

Hough was moved to attend the conference and share her journey with anxiety and depression after her friend, Poppy Jamie, founder of a mental wellness app called Happy Not Perfect, invited her to speak.

“We have a lot of the same passions with mental health, and how we can just get this information and tools to actually help not just young people, but everyone.”

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