Grey’s Anatomy Alum Sandra Oh Gets Candid About The Health Struggles She Faced As The Show Became A Hit

Sandra Oh as Cristina on Grey's Anatomy.
(Image credit: ABC)

Cristina Yang left Grey Sloan Memorial in the Season 10 finale of Grey’s Anatomy — “Fear (Of The Unknown),” one of the series’ best episodes — after she got a dream job opportunity in Zurich. While the gifted cardiothoracic surgeon may have been leaving behind a complicated relationship with ex-husband Owen and traumatic memories of hospital shooters, plane crashes and her BFF’s multiple near-death experiences, Sandra Oh as an actress was also getting some distance from her own trauma. She recently spoke about her time on the show, including her health struggles amid the rise to fame.

When Grey’s Anatomy came in as a midseason replacement for Boston Legal in 2005, few expected the ABC drama to get as big as it did, as quickly as it did. Creator Shonda Rhimes skyrocketed to fame, as well as the series’ young cast, most of whom were relatively unknown. Sandra Oh has spoken candidly about how the unexpected loss of her anonymity affected her, and during Variety's Actors on Actors series with Jung Ho-yeon, she detailed some of the physical effects she experienced:

When Grey’s Anatomy came, I think my life changed very much. It’s tricky to imagine, because this is almost 20 years ago. So the context is very different. But the stress is the same, or the confusion is the same … when people are in extremely amazing, privileged, heavy responsibility positions like this. Your personal health is, I think I realized, came first. Because I feel like, honestly, I got sick. I think my whole body was very, very sick. Even though you keep on working, but it’s just like, ‘Oh, I can’t sleep. Oh, my back hurts, I don’t know what’s wrong with my skin.’

Stress can show itself in all kinds of ways, and Sandra Oh felt the pressure, not just of being recognized on the street but of representing her Asian culture. That anxiety manifested for the Turning Red actress physically, and she learned she had to pay attention to what her body and mind were telling her, and ultimately put her needs first.

I learned that I had to take care of my health first. But that’s not only your body. That is your soul. That is definitely your mind. So even those things like doubt, question. ‘Cause you can’t, ultimately, depend on anyone else. You have to somehow find it within yourself. You ask people’s opinions, yes of course, but ultimately, we are alone with ourselves.

The star has said that she did see a therapist to help her understand her fame more clearly. However, it sounds like she also learned to trust her own instincts and not depend on others when it came to her well-being. 

She’s not the only Grey’s Anatomy actress who has taken a stand for their own mental health. Ellen Pompeo, who plays Cristina’s “person” Meredith Grey, said on her podcast Tell Me recently that there are things she’s not willing to put herself through on the show anymore — including scenes like Derek getting shot, and she and Sandra Oh had to react to that horrifying event “30 fucking times,” Pompeo said. She said she no longer wants to make herself miserable like that, because it takes a toll.

Sandra Oh now seems to be in a good place, with a grasp on what she needs to do to maintain her mental health. Maybe she’ll even feel good enough to return to the long-running show someday? Even though she’s basically said it’s not going to happen, we’ll never give up hope of seeing Meredith and Cristina dance it out again. Grey’s Anatomy will return to ABC for Season 19 this fall, and you can catch Sandra Oh in some other great movies and TV shows, as well as in Turning Red, available on with a Disney+ subscription.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.