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11 busy people on mental health and wellbeing

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but remember that your mental health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey and commitment. This year especially has been tough for many, and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is even more important. With 2020’s theme ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata’, we wanted to ask some busy people what they do to look after their mental health - with some inspiring and practical tips.

KRISTINA WEBB, social media influencer and artist

Do you look after your mental health?

It’s probably my number one priority in life right now equal only to my physical health.

What’s your relationship with social media and how does that impact your mental health?

As someone who’s full time career is in social media and has been since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that it’s really important to create healthy boundaries with the time you spend on there and have social media breaks when you start to feel drained from it. I took almost three years off social media, and I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t need to be that long but I highly recommend resetting yourself every so often and coming back to it with a new perspective or fresh eyes after a cleanse from it. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Wim hof breathing then getting into ice after (breathing not to be done in the bath) have both helped me a lot. They kind of reset me when my sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I’ve been too stressed (in fight or flight) too often. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I’ve noticed that I need to be more vigilant with the tools I’ve learnt. I do more journalling, more breathing, I force myself to exercise, sauna, spa, swim in the ocean even in the middle of winter to toughen myself up.  

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Definitely. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends right now. I’m going to be focusing on creating mental health content to post on my Instagram to help my friends and family/followers. I’m also going to ask my friends specifically how their mental health is when I see them. We all have a mind therefore we all have mental health. We need to drop the stigma about talking about ‘mental health’.

What does being present mean to you?

It means the exact everlasting moment of right now. All there ever was and all there ever is. The only moment in time that exists and matters. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When my apartment gets messy, it’s a sign that I’m stressed out and too busy/not coping. It feels like my external reflects my internal and my messy room is a reflection of my mind at the time/scattered and unorganised. Organising and cleaning it always makes me feel brand new. 

TERESA PATTERSON, sponsorship and marketing manager NZ Comedy Trust and co-founder Milk & Honey Festival

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do. I used to be a terrible workaholic as a full-time music manager, which was a 24/7 job,  working 12 hour plus days, travelling lots and very high stress. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive breast cancer for the first time (it also reappeared three years ago), so I decided I needed better work life balance and to look after myself. Since then I have been consciously making changes in my life which includes looking after my mental health. 

The main change I did was to slowly transition away from being a full-time music manager and to reduce my working hours. I now work three days a week for the NZ Comedy Trust doing funding and sponsorship, 1–2 days a week heading the NZ Music Managers Forum, and working with Lani Purkis and Julia Deans on the annual Milk & Honey Festival (a festival celebrating all genres of womxn and non-binary focussed music). It’s very rare now that I work weekends.

I am also on the board for the charity MusicHelps which, among other things, has a free wellbeing service for anyone working in the music or arts industry (crew, managers, publicists, artists etc.), and are still fundraising to help those in the industry whose work has been affected by Covid. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

For me it is all about that work/life balance. Making sure I have enough rest/downtime and sleep, getting outdoors into nature or at the beach (sea air and ocean swims are the BEST tonic), and spending quality time with family and friends. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I did find that during lockdown, I really needed some form of routine or structure in my day, so I would bookend my day with a walk around the neighbourhood in the morning and spending an hour or so in the garden in the evening after I had finished my work. Because I was still working,  it was really important to me to get outside every day. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

My friends and family are super important to me. I really discovered the meaning of true friendship over the last six years as they supported me through the ups and downs of my ongoing cancer journey and for my family, the death of one of my brothers, and I deeply value them all.  There is actually nothing I wouldn’t do to help any of my friends or family when times are tough, and do my best to always be there for them. 

GUY COOMBES, photographer

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes, although it took a while to figure out ways to do this.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Recognising triggers, and setting boundaries.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

Yes, I think everything has become a bit more of a chore so motivation to get certain things done is very low. Covid killed a lot of momentum. I personally have avoided things like therapy because of the cost. And from experience when people are presented with the cost of therapy compared to medication, they will take the latter to save themselves financially - whether it’s the best option or not. I would like to see more accessible mental health treatment in the community instead of prescribing medication; getting help in New Zealand can feel like hitting a brick wall.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve always been a very open book when it comes to my mental health struggles, those who know me closely know the extent to which it affected my life. I think that being open about it opens the door for anyone I know to ask for help who may not know how to go about dealing what they may be experiencing.

What does being present mean to you?

I really hate that term, but for me it means small things like spending less time online and picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of sending a text.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, it has taken years to recognise what they are. Setting boundaries and not putting yourself in situations you know will trigger you is important, but sometimes the solution is not always that straightforward. There are times when nothing in particular is triggering you: I ended up in an ambulance after having a severe panic attack watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon, and on occasions I would jolt awake in the night gasping for air because I was having nocturnal panic attacks while I was asleep. Our subconscious is a tricky and complex beast and there is not always a quick fix.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

One thing that helped me was reading. It literally didn’t even matter what it was, sometimes even just grabbing a cookbook and reading through a recipe gets me out of my own head and calms me down. Something about focusing on the words and rhythm of sentences engages your mind enough to drown out whatever else is going on. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone are probably the worst things you can do.

PAIGE, musician

Do you look after your mental health?
Of course! I definitely try my best to.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself? 

Positive affirmations through writing and music! I also have started exercising a bit more which definitely helps with a good head space.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I found Covid and lockdown a real positive in the way I look after my mental health. It encouraged me to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening right now.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care? 

For sure, it’s important to go out of your way to ask how people around you are in this weird time. I also think making an effort to show up for people and offering them a hand where they may need it is important.

What does being present mean to you? 

It means not looking at everything in your life as it is in the moment and taking it all is it comes.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Inhale through the nose and out the mouth, countdown from five and keep going.

KAREN WALKER, fashion designer

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I listen to what my instincts are telling me and act on them: if I’m feeling like I need some solitude or some help or some sunlight or some yoga or some meditation or a cry or some coaching or some journaling or an early night or whatever else it is, my subconscious is usually right and I just need to do what it’s telling me. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I’ve noticed I’ve needed my coping mechanisms more, as we all have, no doubt. Being unable to get into an actual yoga class hasn’t been great and having all the extra pressure on me and everyone around me is not great either. Plus, winter on top of it all. But, what I go to for help hasn’t really changed. I’ve just needed it more. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the power of turmeric/ginger/pepper/cinnamon/honey lattes before bed - an old ayurvedic treat and incredibly potent. And, I recently bought an app called Calm and it’s amazing - I’ve been sleeping better than I have in decades! Highlights include Cillian Murphy putting me to sleep telling me about a train ride through Ireland, Matthew McConaughey talking to me about the night sky, Joanna Lumley telling me all about elephants in Nepal and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. They also sneak Bob Ross in there too as well and many lovely stories about train rides which really do the trick. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I highly recommend it. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve been checking in with my closest circle a lot more than usual, from those right next door to those on the other side of the world. During L4 and L3 I made my neighbour an espresso every day at 10.30am and left it on the garden fence, and my friends internationally I’ve been Facetiming with a lot.

What does being present mean to you?

Just what it says: being right there, in the moment. Astonishingly helpful and very difficult to do when everything’s being thrown at you all at once. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, as we all do. For me, I notice when I start to get snappy with my family, that’s always a sign that I’m pushing myself into the red-zone and the best way for me to pull that dial back is to have some solitude: the house to myself, a podcast and some mindless but satisfying task like sorting a cupboard; or, an early night with a book and no phone and no-one bothering me with questions or tasks usually does the job. 

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

What works for me is starting by making a clear, prioritised list so everything’s out of my head. Then, I turn off any sounds or notifications of email etc., cut out any meetings and distracting tasks and work through the list systematically; or, completely walk away and do something else, preferably involving yoga, a long walk, sunshine or meditation. Also, a 2-minute, focused, quiet breathing exercise is astonishingly helpful.

AGNES NAERA, CEO of Global Women

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do but like most women, I don’t always take notice of the triggers which I attribute to that nurture side or the need to ensure everyone is going to be okay.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

My go-to is finding somewhere there is water. I come from the Hokianga in the North and the moana (sea) and awa (river) are core to grounding my wairua (spirit).

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I don’t think we have reached post-Covid - but I expect we have all had to pivot/lean in differently. Working virtually has meant being more disciplined about boundaries of work and home. Setting breaktimes away from screen, going for a walk, checking in with the team more often to ensure a good sense of workloads and anxiety levels.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Whanau and friends are never far from my thoughts but during these unusual times they have a stronger presence. Not being able to support whanau at tangihana (funeral) or when whanau were in hospital has been extremely hard. Through Covid, we set up whanau calls that integrated tikanga (process) like  karakia (prayers), to help us feel safe and more connected. Those that could gave, whether money or groceries etc. 

What does being present mean to you?

There is an expression in Māori ‘to noho’, which I loosely translated to sit and take the time you need to know where you are, who you are in the moment, who is in the space with you and your relationship with them and other living things around you. This is much more important in these unusual times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Triggers for me are related to social justice – in my role as CEO of Global Women, the voice of all women, particularly those that are often invisible, will be a push button moment. As I notice that happening, I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve and readjust my reactive response to a more reflective one.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Know that it is okay to let people know that you are feeling overwhelmed; it is okay to ask for two minutes while you take a breath; it is okay to postpone or delay a conversation if it does not feel right. Good leaders are comfortable with being vulnerable; it allows their people to know that errors or mistakes are just a path to success.

JACKIE CLARK, founder The Aunties

Do you look after your mental health?

Yeah, I do.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I do a job that I really fucking love. It's reasonably unique, and not very common. People worry about my self-care all the time and I say, ‘get fucked with the self-care thing’ because people don't really understand that it [work] drains my energy then fills me up again. I understand this is an enormous privilege I have, that's how I help my mental health.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I found the first lockdown really easy. I know I’m coming from a place of enormous privilege but because of the job I do I’m with people, emotionally supporting them all hours of the day. So not physically not being allowed to go anywhere was a whale of a holiday for me. The second one, not so much, I was a bit more antsy that time I don't know why. We had been in level 4, we came out of it, I rescheduled all my meetings, I picked up where I left off with the women physically. Then it was all stopped again.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

No, I’m not actually but that’s just because of my job. My personal friends are very understanding, I live with one of them. They understand this job is a little consuming.

What does being present mean to you?

It means that you are not focusing on anything but the person in front of you. My father was very good at being present. When you were in front of him you felt like you were the most important person in the world  - and when you were away from him he completely forgot who you were. He was a very in the moment person, my dad. I inherit some of that. My job means I have to be present; and when I’m with women that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

The only trigger I have is child sexual abuse. Not because I had been sexually abused as a child but because I find that really painful. Woman could tell me about violence, this that and the other and I’ll just go ‘oh that's really shit’ but if they start talking about sexual abuse, it does trigger me. What I tend to do is just sit with it because it passes. Unless you've got chronic depression or anxiety those feelings will likely pass, so sit with them.

I am a great believer in the Buddhist saying, “There is no way out but through” so I just sit with stuff because it passes. I’ve had a great deal of grief in my life, my best friend died seven years ago and she was my everything, and my husband died almost two years ago. I know grief, but I know that it passes.

When Carol died, I cried non-stop for about six months and my heart was in constant tachycardia - really it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It was an extreme physical grief response and I still grieve for her. When my husband died that was a very complex, different grief because he was also my abuser, I loved him very very much but he was also very abusive so when he died, that became the really complex thing. I got a professional supervisor to help with that, so once a month I go catch up with a therapist, basically.

REBECCA WADEY, Ensemble publisher and partnerships manager

Do you look after your mental health?

I somewhat obsessively monitor my mental health alongside my physical health. For me, as a cancer survivor, the two are very intertwined and front of mind

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Awareness. Being I monitor it so closely I’m very aware to pull myself back when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and implement the changes I need to get my nervous system back on track. This usually starts with cutting out alcohol and processed foods, spending more time exercising/in nature, doing breathwork and meditation, and if things still feel out of control moving into a supplement routine to balance my hormones and maybe some kind of counselling or deeper practical help.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to look after myself this year. Not being able to physically get to classes has been tough (I lack motivation without the energy of others to lift me up) and a lot of the wellbeing practices I relied on pre-Covid, I just don’t have the money for right now. Also, I’ve always been someone who lives by the adage ‘in an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first’, but with the whole world burning I definitely feel a certain amount of lethargy, a ‘what’s the point’ malaise that certainly isn’t helping.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

I always try to be there for my friends but it’s definitely harder when you have your own shit to deal with and don’t have huge amounts of energy. I called my single friends, and single mother friends, a lot during lockdown but this is a great reminder that I can actually connect with them IRL now. Nothing fills me up more than getting drunk on half a glass of wine while I catch up with my friends and all our gorgeous kids run wild.

What does being present mean to you?

To be unplugged, which really is the greatest gift in this age. After watching The Social Dilemma as a family, we are now locking all phones away when we can but it’s hard when my husband and I are both self-employed and juggling children. And while I’ve found it really hard to justify keeping up my yoga practice, at least nature is free. I love hiking and think it’s an especially great way to connect as a family. And the ocean really is my spiritual home. I cry looking at it sometimes. I have a rule that if the sun is out and the water is clear I have to get in, no matter the time of year. Some of my best swims have been in the middle of winter when the water is so incredibly crystal and I have to work hard to regulate my breathing.  I often say that the best thing yoga has given me is the ability to breathe through difficult times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

I forget to breathe when I’m stressed and it manifests in all sorts of ways; if I let it get too out of control I get a sore tummy and can’t digest my food properly. I have a number of pranayama and mindfulness practices I put into place when I notice it happening. One of my favourite exercises I often turn to at 3am is to imagine my mind as a pool of water, and each thought is a stone dropped in it. You have to work to keep the water as calm and free of ripples as possible.

TIM BATT, comedian and broadcaster

Do you look after your mental health?

Like most people, I feel like I could do more but I'm definitely aware of my mental health and do take action to protect it. Our mental health, in a very real way, defines our entire existence so I try (with varying success) to keep habits that will safeguard my mental and emotional wellbeing day to day, even when I'm feeling okay to make sure I stay that way.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

From a fairly young age I've been very interested in 'self-talk', framing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I'm pretty conscious of speaking to myself respectfully and positively inside my own head. After many, many years of repeating it to myself I feel like I've internalised the concept of some things being IN my control and a lot of things being OUT of my control and making my peace with that. I find that concept extremely helpful.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I have made a deliberate shift to spending far less time on social media and following the news. During the first lockdown I was spending an outrageous amount of time glued to my phone as a digital pacifier to quell my anxiousness, but it actually just left me stressed and unfocused and sad. 

I am trying to read physical books more, especially outside in the fresh air just to give my brain an opportunity to shift into a slower speed for a while every day. Luckily, I also have a dog so there's ALWAYS a great reason to go for a walk - something that I cannot overstate the usefulness of.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Absolutely. This has been a harder year for everyone, for simple and complicated reasons and it's crucial we keep connecting. I have a very random system of reaching out to a friend or family member when they pop into my head (or in a dream). It's not very systematic but I figure my intuition is placing that person into my mind for a reason that day.

What does being present mean to you?

I very much struggle with this and am trying to get better at it. To me being present means stopping the train system of thoughts in my head and taking in the moment. I think it's fairly crucial to give people your time in a meaningful way.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Weirdly, it's often when I stop listening to music. Since I was a kid I have listened to music most of the day, everyday. I used to hide earbuds in my sleeves during class so I could rest my head on my hands and listen to Beastie Boys and weird techno. When I notice myself starting to come apart, I start focusing on drinking a lot of water. It's a weird habit I developed while touring comedy shows at international comedy festivals. Staying hydrated is obviously helpful for the brain but I also think there's a much more powerful placebo effect at play when I take a tangible action to try and protect my mental wellbeing. Just the focus on doing SOMETHING to help my mind allows me to start putting the pieces back together.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

The four tips I have (in order of short to long term) are breathing, water, lists and self-talk.

Everyone talks about breathing for a reason - it is psychologically linked to your mood. Your breathing will change when you're stressed but you can work it backwards and consciously slow your breathing to take some control in the moment when the shit is really hitting the fan.

Dehydration is surprisingly affecting so make sure you're topped off throughout the day - get a nice drink bottle and hold on to it!

List making is a secret weapon of effective people. You can use it to break a huge scary project into its achievable parts, you can use it for goal setting, you can use it to write down your fears to try and understand them. I often get paralysed and work avoidant by the different commitments I have in my life, and nothing breaks the paralysis better than starting a To Do list for that day on a piece of paper and following it through.

Self-talk is a practice that makes a huge impact but it takes a long time. Get disciplined about never talking about yourself being stupid or unworthy in your head. Never ever use that language about yourself out loud. People underestimate the power of language. Learn how to respect yourself while owning your mistakes. Crucially, accept that there is a whole universe of things out of your control so do the best with the things IN your control. That's literally all any of us can do.

WENDY THOMPSON, co-CEO of Socialites, The Social Club and Social Academy

Do you look after your mental health?

Absolutely. I am passionate about my businesses, my work and my family and I know if I’m not in good shape then I will let them down. And I’m not going to let that happen. I have to prioritise my mental health for their sake.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

At the root of it, the most valuable tool I’ve developed is self-awareness. I am continually checking in to make sure I’m making decisions calmly and rationally. If I catch myself acting out of emotion then I know I’ve slipped and need to reset. I watch what I fuel myself with (no caffeine or alcohol for me) and make sure I prioritise sleep. I’m also a big fan of a spa before bed, which is great for sleeping.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I learnt a really valuable lesson in the first Covid lockdown. With my usual work I’m out and about a lot. With the lockdowns, it is very easy to spend days working hard and not leaving the house. In the first lockdown I did four days like this and I became quite erratic and emotional and really not myself. I was not popular in my bubble! All the advice out there is correct. Getting outside for some exercise is so key to mental health. It’s so simple and so powerful, if it hadn’t happened to me so visibly I wouldn’t have believed it!

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’m on social media more than I am usually, giving lots of likes, loves and comments and sprinkling digital love and hugs around. People primarily use social media to connect, so I have made an effort here, and I can see from the messages back it's really valued.

What does being present mean to you?

It means living in the moment. It’s really, really hard haha! I try to do this by blocking my diary into set work/play/family blocks of time. I’ve also recently invested in a gorgeous sailing catamaran as I love the ocean and am lucky enough to live in one of the best sailing harbours in the world. You HAVE to be present when sailing so it’s a great teacher!

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When I have trouble making decisions. Then I know it's time to stop, take a walk, change the scenery and reset.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

I’m a huge fan of learning to breathe properly. Something as a Type A female I naturally am terrible at! One exercise that works really well for me is, imagine a line drawing of a square box. Now breathe in for four seconds as you imagine tracing a line up one side of the box, then out for four as you trace along the next side. Trace the box, with the four counts in and four courts out until you feel calm. It is so simple and it works.

Yogamani photographed by Sacha Stejko for Cathy Pope Jewellery

YOGAMANI, mediation and yoga practitioner

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Tricky question, for me… it is not just one thing, it is a combination of things that are a constant work on, that are all integral. From getting enough quality sleep, staying drug and alcohol free, eating regular clean food, hydration, daily Yoga, breathwork and meditation, getting into the ocean and nature, not over committing and overloading my schedule, staying in the day, not living in the past or future tripping. 

These all are a big part of stopping the wheels falling off. For me, they are non negotiable. I suppose ultimately, the particular kind of yoga that I am lucky enough to be a guardian of has been the engine room for my wellbeing and certainly has been my lifesaver.

Mind is the driver, body is the car, where the mind goes the energy flows, so learning to manage the mind rather than the wild monkey mind leading us down the rabbit hole or being blown about by the winds of the world. Our mental wealth is where we need to be making deposits on a daily basis, and all these practises are the deposits. Stay in the day, focusing on what we have, not what is lost.

Have you noticed a change in people's behaviours post-Covid? (ie people less likely to seek out self-care due to isolation, finances etc, or more likely to prioritise looking after themselves)

Generally I have witnessed a lot of heaviness in society, aggression, people’s stress and anxiety is up, finances for some are down, priorities have changed. The weight on people’s shoulders is heavy. We are creatures of habit and people’s routines have been turned on their heads. We are ritualistic by nature as human beings, so establishing and maintaining new routines is very helpful, and being aware and responsible for all of our choices.  

What’s something everyone should/could do to look after themselves?  

Keep it simple, stay in the day. Be gentle, kind and compassionate, towards self first then others.

And/or triggers they should look for?

Holding of breath, mouth breathing, insomnia, agitation in communication, physical tensions, lack of appetite or overeating.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed? 

Grab a pen and paper, sit down, quietly consider and write five things you are grateful for here and now.

Become an Ensemble Member and receive four complimentary yoga and/or meditation classes with Yogamani valued at $100 through October (classes take place via Zoom), as well as other great perks - find out more here.

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but remember that your mental health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey and commitment. This year especially has been tough for many, and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is even more important. With 2020’s theme ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata’, we wanted to ask some busy people what they do to look after their mental health - with some inspiring and practical tips.

KRISTINA WEBB, social media influencer and artist

Do you look after your mental health?

It’s probably my number one priority in life right now equal only to my physical health.

What’s your relationship with social media and how does that impact your mental health?

As someone who’s full time career is in social media and has been since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that it’s really important to create healthy boundaries with the time you spend on there and have social media breaks when you start to feel drained from it. I took almost three years off social media, and I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t need to be that long but I highly recommend resetting yourself every so often and coming back to it with a new perspective or fresh eyes after a cleanse from it. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Wim hof breathing then getting into ice after (breathing not to be done in the bath) have both helped me a lot. They kind of reset me when my sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I’ve been too stressed (in fight or flight) too often. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I’ve noticed that I need to be more vigilant with the tools I’ve learnt. I do more journalling, more breathing, I force myself to exercise, sauna, spa, swim in the ocean even in the middle of winter to toughen myself up.  

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Definitely. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends right now. I’m going to be focusing on creating mental health content to post on my Instagram to help my friends and family/followers. I’m also going to ask my friends specifically how their mental health is when I see them. We all have a mind therefore we all have mental health. We need to drop the stigma about talking about ‘mental health’.

What does being present mean to you?

It means the exact everlasting moment of right now. All there ever was and all there ever is. The only moment in time that exists and matters. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When my apartment gets messy, it’s a sign that I’m stressed out and too busy/not coping. It feels like my external reflects my internal and my messy room is a reflection of my mind at the time/scattered and unorganised. Organising and cleaning it always makes me feel brand new. 

TERESA PATTERSON, sponsorship and marketing manager NZ Comedy Trust and co-founder Milk & Honey Festival

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do. I used to be a terrible workaholic as a full-time music manager, which was a 24/7 job,  working 12 hour plus days, travelling lots and very high stress. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive breast cancer for the first time (it also reappeared three years ago), so I decided I needed better work life balance and to look after myself. Since then I have been consciously making changes in my life which includes looking after my mental health. 

The main change I did was to slowly transition away from being a full-time music manager and to reduce my working hours. I now work three days a week for the NZ Comedy Trust doing funding and sponsorship, 1–2 days a week heading the NZ Music Managers Forum, and working with Lani Purkis and Julia Deans on the annual Milk & Honey Festival (a festival celebrating all genres of womxn and non-binary focussed music). It’s very rare now that I work weekends.

I am also on the board for the charity MusicHelps which, among other things, has a free wellbeing service for anyone working in the music or arts industry (crew, managers, publicists, artists etc.), and are still fundraising to help those in the industry whose work has been affected by Covid. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

For me it is all about that work/life balance. Making sure I have enough rest/downtime and sleep, getting outdoors into nature or at the beach (sea air and ocean swims are the BEST tonic), and spending quality time with family and friends. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I did find that during lockdown, I really needed some form of routine or structure in my day, so I would bookend my day with a walk around the neighbourhood in the morning and spending an hour or so in the garden in the evening after I had finished my work. Because I was still working,  it was really important to me to get outside every day. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

My friends and family are super important to me. I really discovered the meaning of true friendship over the last six years as they supported me through the ups and downs of my ongoing cancer journey and for my family, the death of one of my brothers, and I deeply value them all.  There is actually nothing I wouldn’t do to help any of my friends or family when times are tough, and do my best to always be there for them. 

GUY COOMBES, photographer

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes, although it took a while to figure out ways to do this.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Recognising triggers, and setting boundaries.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

Yes, I think everything has become a bit more of a chore so motivation to get certain things done is very low. Covid killed a lot of momentum. I personally have avoided things like therapy because of the cost. And from experience when people are presented with the cost of therapy compared to medication, they will take the latter to save themselves financially - whether it’s the best option or not. I would like to see more accessible mental health treatment in the community instead of prescribing medication; getting help in New Zealand can feel like hitting a brick wall.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve always been a very open book when it comes to my mental health struggles, those who know me closely know the extent to which it affected my life. I think that being open about it opens the door for anyone I know to ask for help who may not know how to go about dealing what they may be experiencing.

What does being present mean to you?

I really hate that term, but for me it means small things like spending less time online and picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of sending a text.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, it has taken years to recognise what they are. Setting boundaries and not putting yourself in situations you know will trigger you is important, but sometimes the solution is not always that straightforward. There are times when nothing in particular is triggering you: I ended up in an ambulance after having a severe panic attack watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon, and on occasions I would jolt awake in the night gasping for air because I was having nocturnal panic attacks while I was asleep. Our subconscious is a tricky and complex beast and there is not always a quick fix.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

One thing that helped me was reading. It literally didn’t even matter what it was, sometimes even just grabbing a cookbook and reading through a recipe gets me out of my own head and calms me down. Something about focusing on the words and rhythm of sentences engages your mind enough to drown out whatever else is going on. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone are probably the worst things you can do.

PAIGE, musician

Do you look after your mental health?
Of course! I definitely try my best to.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself? 

Positive affirmations through writing and music! I also have started exercising a bit more which definitely helps with a good head space.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I found Covid and lockdown a real positive in the way I look after my mental health. It encouraged me to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening right now.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care? 

For sure, it’s important to go out of your way to ask how people around you are in this weird time. I also think making an effort to show up for people and offering them a hand where they may need it is important.

What does being present mean to you? 

It means not looking at everything in your life as it is in the moment and taking it all is it comes.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Inhale through the nose and out the mouth, countdown from five and keep going.

KAREN WALKER, fashion designer

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I listen to what my instincts are telling me and act on them: if I’m feeling like I need some solitude or some help or some sunlight or some yoga or some meditation or a cry or some coaching or some journaling or an early night or whatever else it is, my subconscious is usually right and I just need to do what it’s telling me. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I’ve noticed I’ve needed my coping mechanisms more, as we all have, no doubt. Being unable to get into an actual yoga class hasn’t been great and having all the extra pressure on me and everyone around me is not great either. Plus, winter on top of it all. But, what I go to for help hasn’t really changed. I’ve just needed it more. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the power of turmeric/ginger/pepper/cinnamon/honey lattes before bed - an old ayurvedic treat and incredibly potent. And, I recently bought an app called Calm and it’s amazing - I’ve been sleeping better than I have in decades! Highlights include Cillian Murphy putting me to sleep telling me about a train ride through Ireland, Matthew McConaughey talking to me about the night sky, Joanna Lumley telling me all about elephants in Nepal and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. They also sneak Bob Ross in there too as well and many lovely stories about train rides which really do the trick. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I highly recommend it. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve been checking in with my closest circle a lot more than usual, from those right next door to those on the other side of the world. During L4 and L3 I made my neighbour an espresso every day at 10.30am and left it on the garden fence, and my friends internationally I’ve been Facetiming with a lot.

What does being present mean to you?

Just what it says: being right there, in the moment. Astonishingly helpful and very difficult to do when everything’s being thrown at you all at once. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, as we all do. For me, I notice when I start to get snappy with my family, that’s always a sign that I’m pushing myself into the red-zone and the best way for me to pull that dial back is to have some solitude: the house to myself, a podcast and some mindless but satisfying task like sorting a cupboard; or, an early night with a book and no phone and no-one bothering me with questions or tasks usually does the job. 

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

What works for me is starting by making a clear, prioritised list so everything’s out of my head. Then, I turn off any sounds or notifications of email etc., cut out any meetings and distracting tasks and work through the list systematically; or, completely walk away and do something else, preferably involving yoga, a long walk, sunshine or meditation. Also, a 2-minute, focused, quiet breathing exercise is astonishingly helpful.

AGNES NAERA, CEO of Global Women

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do but like most women, I don’t always take notice of the triggers which I attribute to that nurture side or the need to ensure everyone is going to be okay.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

My go-to is finding somewhere there is water. I come from the Hokianga in the North and the moana (sea) and awa (river) are core to grounding my wairua (spirit).

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I don’t think we have reached post-Covid - but I expect we have all had to pivot/lean in differently. Working virtually has meant being more disciplined about boundaries of work and home. Setting breaktimes away from screen, going for a walk, checking in with the team more often to ensure a good sense of workloads and anxiety levels.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Whanau and friends are never far from my thoughts but during these unusual times they have a stronger presence. Not being able to support whanau at tangihana (funeral) or when whanau were in hospital has been extremely hard. Through Covid, we set up whanau calls that integrated tikanga (process) like  karakia (prayers), to help us feel safe and more connected. Those that could gave, whether money or groceries etc. 

What does being present mean to you?

There is an expression in Māori ‘to noho’, which I loosely translated to sit and take the time you need to know where you are, who you are in the moment, who is in the space with you and your relationship with them and other living things around you. This is much more important in these unusual times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Triggers for me are related to social justice – in my role as CEO of Global Women, the voice of all women, particularly those that are often invisible, will be a push button moment. As I notice that happening, I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve and readjust my reactive response to a more reflective one.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Know that it is okay to let people know that you are feeling overwhelmed; it is okay to ask for two minutes while you take a breath; it is okay to postpone or delay a conversation if it does not feel right. Good leaders are comfortable with being vulnerable; it allows their people to know that errors or mistakes are just a path to success.

JACKIE CLARK, founder The Aunties

Do you look after your mental health?

Yeah, I do.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I do a job that I really fucking love. It's reasonably unique, and not very common. People worry about my self-care all the time and I say, ‘get fucked with the self-care thing’ because people don't really understand that it [work] drains my energy then fills me up again. I understand this is an enormous privilege I have, that's how I help my mental health.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I found the first lockdown really easy. I know I’m coming from a place of enormous privilege but because of the job I do I’m with people, emotionally supporting them all hours of the day. So not physically not being allowed to go anywhere was a whale of a holiday for me. The second one, not so much, I was a bit more antsy that time I don't know why. We had been in level 4, we came out of it, I rescheduled all my meetings, I picked up where I left off with the women physically. Then it was all stopped again.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

No, I’m not actually but that’s just because of my job. My personal friends are very understanding, I live with one of them. They understand this job is a little consuming.

What does being present mean to you?

It means that you are not focusing on anything but the person in front of you. My father was very good at being present. When you were in front of him you felt like you were the most important person in the world  - and when you were away from him he completely forgot who you were. He was a very in the moment person, my dad. I inherit some of that. My job means I have to be present; and when I’m with women that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

The only trigger I have is child sexual abuse. Not because I had been sexually abused as a child but because I find that really painful. Woman could tell me about violence, this that and the other and I’ll just go ‘oh that's really shit’ but if they start talking about sexual abuse, it does trigger me. What I tend to do is just sit with it because it passes. Unless you've got chronic depression or anxiety those feelings will likely pass, so sit with them.

I am a great believer in the Buddhist saying, “There is no way out but through” so I just sit with stuff because it passes. I’ve had a great deal of grief in my life, my best friend died seven years ago and she was my everything, and my husband died almost two years ago. I know grief, but I know that it passes.

When Carol died, I cried non-stop for about six months and my heart was in constant tachycardia - really it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It was an extreme physical grief response and I still grieve for her. When my husband died that was a very complex, different grief because he was also my abuser, I loved him very very much but he was also very abusive so when he died, that became the really complex thing. I got a professional supervisor to help with that, so once a month I go catch up with a therapist, basically.

REBECCA WADEY, Ensemble publisher and partnerships manager

Do you look after your mental health?

I somewhat obsessively monitor my mental health alongside my physical health. For me, as a cancer survivor, the two are very intertwined and front of mind

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Awareness. Being I monitor it so closely I’m very aware to pull myself back when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and implement the changes I need to get my nervous system back on track. This usually starts with cutting out alcohol and processed foods, spending more time exercising/in nature, doing breathwork and meditation, and if things still feel out of control moving into a supplement routine to balance my hormones and maybe some kind of counselling or deeper practical help.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to look after myself this year. Not being able to physically get to classes has been tough (I lack motivation without the energy of others to lift me up) and a lot of the wellbeing practices I relied on pre-Covid, I just don’t have the money for right now. Also, I’ve always been someone who lives by the adage ‘in an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first’, but with the whole world burning I definitely feel a certain amount of lethargy, a ‘what’s the point’ malaise that certainly isn’t helping.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

I always try to be there for my friends but it’s definitely harder when you have your own shit to deal with and don’t have huge amounts of energy. I called my single friends, and single mother friends, a lot during lockdown but this is a great reminder that I can actually connect with them IRL now. Nothing fills me up more than getting drunk on half a glass of wine while I catch up with my friends and all our gorgeous kids run wild.

What does being present mean to you?

To be unplugged, which really is the greatest gift in this age. After watching The Social Dilemma as a family, we are now locking all phones away when we can but it’s hard when my husband and I are both self-employed and juggling children. And while I’ve found it really hard to justify keeping up my yoga practice, at least nature is free. I love hiking and think it’s an especially great way to connect as a family. And the ocean really is my spiritual home. I cry looking at it sometimes. I have a rule that if the sun is out and the water is clear I have to get in, no matter the time of year. Some of my best swims have been in the middle of winter when the water is so incredibly crystal and I have to work hard to regulate my breathing.  I often say that the best thing yoga has given me is the ability to breathe through difficult times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

I forget to breathe when I’m stressed and it manifests in all sorts of ways; if I let it get too out of control I get a sore tummy and can’t digest my food properly. I have a number of pranayama and mindfulness practices I put into place when I notice it happening. One of my favourite exercises I often turn to at 3am is to imagine my mind as a pool of water, and each thought is a stone dropped in it. You have to work to keep the water as calm and free of ripples as possible.

TIM BATT, comedian and broadcaster

Do you look after your mental health?

Like most people, I feel like I could do more but I'm definitely aware of my mental health and do take action to protect it. Our mental health, in a very real way, defines our entire existence so I try (with varying success) to keep habits that will safeguard my mental and emotional wellbeing day to day, even when I'm feeling okay to make sure I stay that way.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

From a fairly young age I've been very interested in 'self-talk', framing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I'm pretty conscious of speaking to myself respectfully and positively inside my own head. After many, many years of repeating it to myself I feel like I've internalised the concept of some things being IN my control and a lot of things being OUT of my control and making my peace with that. I find that concept extremely helpful.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I have made a deliberate shift to spending far less time on social media and following the news. During the first lockdown I was spending an outrageous amount of time glued to my phone as a digital pacifier to quell my anxiousness, but it actually just left me stressed and unfocused and sad. 

I am trying to read physical books more, especially outside in the fresh air just to give my brain an opportunity to shift into a slower speed for a while every day. Luckily, I also have a dog so there's ALWAYS a great reason to go for a walk - something that I cannot overstate the usefulness of.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Absolutely. This has been a harder year for everyone, for simple and complicated reasons and it's crucial we keep connecting. I have a very random system of reaching out to a friend or family member when they pop into my head (or in a dream). It's not very systematic but I figure my intuition is placing that person into my mind for a reason that day.

What does being present mean to you?

I very much struggle with this and am trying to get better at it. To me being present means stopping the train system of thoughts in my head and taking in the moment. I think it's fairly crucial to give people your time in a meaningful way.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Weirdly, it's often when I stop listening to music. Since I was a kid I have listened to music most of the day, everyday. I used to hide earbuds in my sleeves during class so I could rest my head on my hands and listen to Beastie Boys and weird techno. When I notice myself starting to come apart, I start focusing on drinking a lot of water. It's a weird habit I developed while touring comedy shows at international comedy festivals. Staying hydrated is obviously helpful for the brain but I also think there's a much more powerful placebo effect at play when I take a tangible action to try and protect my mental wellbeing. Just the focus on doing SOMETHING to help my mind allows me to start putting the pieces back together.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

The four tips I have (in order of short to long term) are breathing, water, lists and self-talk.

Everyone talks about breathing for a reason - it is psychologically linked to your mood. Your breathing will change when you're stressed but you can work it backwards and consciously slow your breathing to take some control in the moment when the shit is really hitting the fan.

Dehydration is surprisingly affecting so make sure you're topped off throughout the day - get a nice drink bottle and hold on to it!

List making is a secret weapon of effective people. You can use it to break a huge scary project into its achievable parts, you can use it for goal setting, you can use it to write down your fears to try and understand them. I often get paralysed and work avoidant by the different commitments I have in my life, and nothing breaks the paralysis better than starting a To Do list for that day on a piece of paper and following it through.

Self-talk is a practice that makes a huge impact but it takes a long time. Get disciplined about never talking about yourself being stupid or unworthy in your head. Never ever use that language about yourself out loud. People underestimate the power of language. Learn how to respect yourself while owning your mistakes. Crucially, accept that there is a whole universe of things out of your control so do the best with the things IN your control. That's literally all any of us can do.

WENDY THOMPSON, co-CEO of Socialites, The Social Club and Social Academy

Do you look after your mental health?

Absolutely. I am passionate about my businesses, my work and my family and I know if I’m not in good shape then I will let them down. And I’m not going to let that happen. I have to prioritise my mental health for their sake.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

At the root of it, the most valuable tool I’ve developed is self-awareness. I am continually checking in to make sure I’m making decisions calmly and rationally. If I catch myself acting out of emotion then I know I’ve slipped and need to reset. I watch what I fuel myself with (no caffeine or alcohol for me) and make sure I prioritise sleep. I’m also a big fan of a spa before bed, which is great for sleeping.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I learnt a really valuable lesson in the first Covid lockdown. With my usual work I’m out and about a lot. With the lockdowns, it is very easy to spend days working hard and not leaving the house. In the first lockdown I did four days like this and I became quite erratic and emotional and really not myself. I was not popular in my bubble! All the advice out there is correct. Getting outside for some exercise is so key to mental health. It’s so simple and so powerful, if it hadn’t happened to me so visibly I wouldn’t have believed it!

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’m on social media more than I am usually, giving lots of likes, loves and comments and sprinkling digital love and hugs around. People primarily use social media to connect, so I have made an effort here, and I can see from the messages back it's really valued.

What does being present mean to you?

It means living in the moment. It’s really, really hard haha! I try to do this by blocking my diary into set work/play/family blocks of time. I’ve also recently invested in a gorgeous sailing catamaran as I love the ocean and am lucky enough to live in one of the best sailing harbours in the world. You HAVE to be present when sailing so it’s a great teacher!

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When I have trouble making decisions. Then I know it's time to stop, take a walk, change the scenery and reset.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

I’m a huge fan of learning to breathe properly. Something as a Type A female I naturally am terrible at! One exercise that works really well for me is, imagine a line drawing of a square box. Now breathe in for four seconds as you imagine tracing a line up one side of the box, then out for four as you trace along the next side. Trace the box, with the four counts in and four courts out until you feel calm. It is so simple and it works.

Yogamani photographed by Sacha Stejko for Cathy Pope Jewellery

YOGAMANI, mediation and yoga practitioner

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Tricky question, for me… it is not just one thing, it is a combination of things that are a constant work on, that are all integral. From getting enough quality sleep, staying drug and alcohol free, eating regular clean food, hydration, daily Yoga, breathwork and meditation, getting into the ocean and nature, not over committing and overloading my schedule, staying in the day, not living in the past or future tripping. 

These all are a big part of stopping the wheels falling off. For me, they are non negotiable. I suppose ultimately, the particular kind of yoga that I am lucky enough to be a guardian of has been the engine room for my wellbeing and certainly has been my lifesaver.

Mind is the driver, body is the car, where the mind goes the energy flows, so learning to manage the mind rather than the wild monkey mind leading us down the rabbit hole or being blown about by the winds of the world. Our mental wealth is where we need to be making deposits on a daily basis, and all these practises are the deposits. Stay in the day, focusing on what we have, not what is lost.

Have you noticed a change in people's behaviours post-Covid? (ie people less likely to seek out self-care due to isolation, finances etc, or more likely to prioritise looking after themselves)

Generally I have witnessed a lot of heaviness in society, aggression, people’s stress and anxiety is up, finances for some are down, priorities have changed. The weight on people’s shoulders is heavy. We are creatures of habit and people’s routines have been turned on their heads. We are ritualistic by nature as human beings, so establishing and maintaining new routines is very helpful, and being aware and responsible for all of our choices.  

What’s something everyone should/could do to look after themselves?  

Keep it simple, stay in the day. Be gentle, kind and compassionate, towards self first then others.

And/or triggers they should look for?

Holding of breath, mouth breathing, insomnia, agitation in communication, physical tensions, lack of appetite or overeating.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed? 

Grab a pen and paper, sit down, quietly consider and write five things you are grateful for here and now.

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11 busy people on mental health and wellbeing

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but remember that your mental health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey and commitment. This year especially has been tough for many, and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is even more important. With 2020’s theme ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata’, we wanted to ask some busy people what they do to look after their mental health - with some inspiring and practical tips.

KRISTINA WEBB, social media influencer and artist

Do you look after your mental health?

It’s probably my number one priority in life right now equal only to my physical health.

What’s your relationship with social media and how does that impact your mental health?

As someone who’s full time career is in social media and has been since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that it’s really important to create healthy boundaries with the time you spend on there and have social media breaks when you start to feel drained from it. I took almost three years off social media, and I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t need to be that long but I highly recommend resetting yourself every so often and coming back to it with a new perspective or fresh eyes after a cleanse from it. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Wim hof breathing then getting into ice after (breathing not to be done in the bath) have both helped me a lot. They kind of reset me when my sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I’ve been too stressed (in fight or flight) too often. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I’ve noticed that I need to be more vigilant with the tools I’ve learnt. I do more journalling, more breathing, I force myself to exercise, sauna, spa, swim in the ocean even in the middle of winter to toughen myself up.  

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Definitely. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends right now. I’m going to be focusing on creating mental health content to post on my Instagram to help my friends and family/followers. I’m also going to ask my friends specifically how their mental health is when I see them. We all have a mind therefore we all have mental health. We need to drop the stigma about talking about ‘mental health’.

What does being present mean to you?

It means the exact everlasting moment of right now. All there ever was and all there ever is. The only moment in time that exists and matters. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When my apartment gets messy, it’s a sign that I’m stressed out and too busy/not coping. It feels like my external reflects my internal and my messy room is a reflection of my mind at the time/scattered and unorganised. Organising and cleaning it always makes me feel brand new. 

TERESA PATTERSON, sponsorship and marketing manager NZ Comedy Trust and co-founder Milk & Honey Festival

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do. I used to be a terrible workaholic as a full-time music manager, which was a 24/7 job,  working 12 hour plus days, travelling lots and very high stress. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive breast cancer for the first time (it also reappeared three years ago), so I decided I needed better work life balance and to look after myself. Since then I have been consciously making changes in my life which includes looking after my mental health. 

The main change I did was to slowly transition away from being a full-time music manager and to reduce my working hours. I now work three days a week for the NZ Comedy Trust doing funding and sponsorship, 1–2 days a week heading the NZ Music Managers Forum, and working with Lani Purkis and Julia Deans on the annual Milk & Honey Festival (a festival celebrating all genres of womxn and non-binary focussed music). It’s very rare now that I work weekends.

I am also on the board for the charity MusicHelps which, among other things, has a free wellbeing service for anyone working in the music or arts industry (crew, managers, publicists, artists etc.), and are still fundraising to help those in the industry whose work has been affected by Covid. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

For me it is all about that work/life balance. Making sure I have enough rest/downtime and sleep, getting outdoors into nature or at the beach (sea air and ocean swims are the BEST tonic), and spending quality time with family and friends. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I did find that during lockdown, I really needed some form of routine or structure in my day, so I would bookend my day with a walk around the neighbourhood in the morning and spending an hour or so in the garden in the evening after I had finished my work. Because I was still working,  it was really important to me to get outside every day. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

My friends and family are super important to me. I really discovered the meaning of true friendship over the last six years as they supported me through the ups and downs of my ongoing cancer journey and for my family, the death of one of my brothers, and I deeply value them all.  There is actually nothing I wouldn’t do to help any of my friends or family when times are tough, and do my best to always be there for them. 

GUY COOMBES, photographer

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes, although it took a while to figure out ways to do this.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Recognising triggers, and setting boundaries.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

Yes, I think everything has become a bit more of a chore so motivation to get certain things done is very low. Covid killed a lot of momentum. I personally have avoided things like therapy because of the cost. And from experience when people are presented with the cost of therapy compared to medication, they will take the latter to save themselves financially - whether it’s the best option or not. I would like to see more accessible mental health treatment in the community instead of prescribing medication; getting help in New Zealand can feel like hitting a brick wall.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve always been a very open book when it comes to my mental health struggles, those who know me closely know the extent to which it affected my life. I think that being open about it opens the door for anyone I know to ask for help who may not know how to go about dealing what they may be experiencing.

What does being present mean to you?

I really hate that term, but for me it means small things like spending less time online and picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of sending a text.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, it has taken years to recognise what they are. Setting boundaries and not putting yourself in situations you know will trigger you is important, but sometimes the solution is not always that straightforward. There are times when nothing in particular is triggering you: I ended up in an ambulance after having a severe panic attack watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon, and on occasions I would jolt awake in the night gasping for air because I was having nocturnal panic attacks while I was asleep. Our subconscious is a tricky and complex beast and there is not always a quick fix.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

One thing that helped me was reading. It literally didn’t even matter what it was, sometimes even just grabbing a cookbook and reading through a recipe gets me out of my own head and calms me down. Something about focusing on the words and rhythm of sentences engages your mind enough to drown out whatever else is going on. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone are probably the worst things you can do.

PAIGE, musician

Do you look after your mental health?
Of course! I definitely try my best to.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself? 

Positive affirmations through writing and music! I also have started exercising a bit more which definitely helps with a good head space.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I found Covid and lockdown a real positive in the way I look after my mental health. It encouraged me to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening right now.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care? 

For sure, it’s important to go out of your way to ask how people around you are in this weird time. I also think making an effort to show up for people and offering them a hand where they may need it is important.

What does being present mean to you? 

It means not looking at everything in your life as it is in the moment and taking it all is it comes.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Inhale through the nose and out the mouth, countdown from five and keep going.

KAREN WALKER, fashion designer

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I listen to what my instincts are telling me and act on them: if I’m feeling like I need some solitude or some help or some sunlight or some yoga or some meditation or a cry or some coaching or some journaling or an early night or whatever else it is, my subconscious is usually right and I just need to do what it’s telling me. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I’ve noticed I’ve needed my coping mechanisms more, as we all have, no doubt. Being unable to get into an actual yoga class hasn’t been great and having all the extra pressure on me and everyone around me is not great either. Plus, winter on top of it all. But, what I go to for help hasn’t really changed. I’ve just needed it more. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the power of turmeric/ginger/pepper/cinnamon/honey lattes before bed - an old ayurvedic treat and incredibly potent. And, I recently bought an app called Calm and it’s amazing - I’ve been sleeping better than I have in decades! Highlights include Cillian Murphy putting me to sleep telling me about a train ride through Ireland, Matthew McConaughey talking to me about the night sky, Joanna Lumley telling me all about elephants in Nepal and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. They also sneak Bob Ross in there too as well and many lovely stories about train rides which really do the trick. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I highly recommend it. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve been checking in with my closest circle a lot more than usual, from those right next door to those on the other side of the world. During L4 and L3 I made my neighbour an espresso every day at 10.30am and left it on the garden fence, and my friends internationally I’ve been Facetiming with a lot.

What does being present mean to you?

Just what it says: being right there, in the moment. Astonishingly helpful and very difficult to do when everything’s being thrown at you all at once. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, as we all do. For me, I notice when I start to get snappy with my family, that’s always a sign that I’m pushing myself into the red-zone and the best way for me to pull that dial back is to have some solitude: the house to myself, a podcast and some mindless but satisfying task like sorting a cupboard; or, an early night with a book and no phone and no-one bothering me with questions or tasks usually does the job. 

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

What works for me is starting by making a clear, prioritised list so everything’s out of my head. Then, I turn off any sounds or notifications of email etc., cut out any meetings and distracting tasks and work through the list systematically; or, completely walk away and do something else, preferably involving yoga, a long walk, sunshine or meditation. Also, a 2-minute, focused, quiet breathing exercise is astonishingly helpful.

AGNES NAERA, CEO of Global Women

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do but like most women, I don’t always take notice of the triggers which I attribute to that nurture side or the need to ensure everyone is going to be okay.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

My go-to is finding somewhere there is water. I come from the Hokianga in the North and the moana (sea) and awa (river) are core to grounding my wairua (spirit).

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I don’t think we have reached post-Covid - but I expect we have all had to pivot/lean in differently. Working virtually has meant being more disciplined about boundaries of work and home. Setting breaktimes away from screen, going for a walk, checking in with the team more often to ensure a good sense of workloads and anxiety levels.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Whanau and friends are never far from my thoughts but during these unusual times they have a stronger presence. Not being able to support whanau at tangihana (funeral) or when whanau were in hospital has been extremely hard. Through Covid, we set up whanau calls that integrated tikanga (process) like  karakia (prayers), to help us feel safe and more connected. Those that could gave, whether money or groceries etc. 

What does being present mean to you?

There is an expression in Māori ‘to noho’, which I loosely translated to sit and take the time you need to know where you are, who you are in the moment, who is in the space with you and your relationship with them and other living things around you. This is much more important in these unusual times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Triggers for me are related to social justice – in my role as CEO of Global Women, the voice of all women, particularly those that are often invisible, will be a push button moment. As I notice that happening, I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve and readjust my reactive response to a more reflective one.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Know that it is okay to let people know that you are feeling overwhelmed; it is okay to ask for two minutes while you take a breath; it is okay to postpone or delay a conversation if it does not feel right. Good leaders are comfortable with being vulnerable; it allows their people to know that errors or mistakes are just a path to success.

JACKIE CLARK, founder The Aunties

Do you look after your mental health?

Yeah, I do.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I do a job that I really fucking love. It's reasonably unique, and not very common. People worry about my self-care all the time and I say, ‘get fucked with the self-care thing’ because people don't really understand that it [work] drains my energy then fills me up again. I understand this is an enormous privilege I have, that's how I help my mental health.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I found the first lockdown really easy. I know I’m coming from a place of enormous privilege but because of the job I do I’m with people, emotionally supporting them all hours of the day. So not physically not being allowed to go anywhere was a whale of a holiday for me. The second one, not so much, I was a bit more antsy that time I don't know why. We had been in level 4, we came out of it, I rescheduled all my meetings, I picked up where I left off with the women physically. Then it was all stopped again.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

No, I’m not actually but that’s just because of my job. My personal friends are very understanding, I live with one of them. They understand this job is a little consuming.

What does being present mean to you?

It means that you are not focusing on anything but the person in front of you. My father was very good at being present. When you were in front of him you felt like you were the most important person in the world  - and when you were away from him he completely forgot who you were. He was a very in the moment person, my dad. I inherit some of that. My job means I have to be present; and when I’m with women that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

The only trigger I have is child sexual abuse. Not because I had been sexually abused as a child but because I find that really painful. Woman could tell me about violence, this that and the other and I’ll just go ‘oh that's really shit’ but if they start talking about sexual abuse, it does trigger me. What I tend to do is just sit with it because it passes. Unless you've got chronic depression or anxiety those feelings will likely pass, so sit with them.

I am a great believer in the Buddhist saying, “There is no way out but through” so I just sit with stuff because it passes. I’ve had a great deal of grief in my life, my best friend died seven years ago and she was my everything, and my husband died almost two years ago. I know grief, but I know that it passes.

When Carol died, I cried non-stop for about six months and my heart was in constant tachycardia - really it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It was an extreme physical grief response and I still grieve for her. When my husband died that was a very complex, different grief because he was also my abuser, I loved him very very much but he was also very abusive so when he died, that became the really complex thing. I got a professional supervisor to help with that, so once a month I go catch up with a therapist, basically.

REBECCA WADEY, Ensemble publisher and partnerships manager

Do you look after your mental health?

I somewhat obsessively monitor my mental health alongside my physical health. For me, as a cancer survivor, the two are very intertwined and front of mind

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Awareness. Being I monitor it so closely I’m very aware to pull myself back when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and implement the changes I need to get my nervous system back on track. This usually starts with cutting out alcohol and processed foods, spending more time exercising/in nature, doing breathwork and meditation, and if things still feel out of control moving into a supplement routine to balance my hormones and maybe some kind of counselling or deeper practical help.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to look after myself this year. Not being able to physically get to classes has been tough (I lack motivation without the energy of others to lift me up) and a lot of the wellbeing practices I relied on pre-Covid, I just don’t have the money for right now. Also, I’ve always been someone who lives by the adage ‘in an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first’, but with the whole world burning I definitely feel a certain amount of lethargy, a ‘what’s the point’ malaise that certainly isn’t helping.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

I always try to be there for my friends but it’s definitely harder when you have your own shit to deal with and don’t have huge amounts of energy. I called my single friends, and single mother friends, a lot during lockdown but this is a great reminder that I can actually connect with them IRL now. Nothing fills me up more than getting drunk on half a glass of wine while I catch up with my friends and all our gorgeous kids run wild.

What does being present mean to you?

To be unplugged, which really is the greatest gift in this age. After watching The Social Dilemma as a family, we are now locking all phones away when we can but it’s hard when my husband and I are both self-employed and juggling children. And while I’ve found it really hard to justify keeping up my yoga practice, at least nature is free. I love hiking and think it’s an especially great way to connect as a family. And the ocean really is my spiritual home. I cry looking at it sometimes. I have a rule that if the sun is out and the water is clear I have to get in, no matter the time of year. Some of my best swims have been in the middle of winter when the water is so incredibly crystal and I have to work hard to regulate my breathing.  I often say that the best thing yoga has given me is the ability to breathe through difficult times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

I forget to breathe when I’m stressed and it manifests in all sorts of ways; if I let it get too out of control I get a sore tummy and can’t digest my food properly. I have a number of pranayama and mindfulness practices I put into place when I notice it happening. One of my favourite exercises I often turn to at 3am is to imagine my mind as a pool of water, and each thought is a stone dropped in it. You have to work to keep the water as calm and free of ripples as possible.

TIM BATT, comedian and broadcaster

Do you look after your mental health?

Like most people, I feel like I could do more but I'm definitely aware of my mental health and do take action to protect it. Our mental health, in a very real way, defines our entire existence so I try (with varying success) to keep habits that will safeguard my mental and emotional wellbeing day to day, even when I'm feeling okay to make sure I stay that way.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

From a fairly young age I've been very interested in 'self-talk', framing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I'm pretty conscious of speaking to myself respectfully and positively inside my own head. After many, many years of repeating it to myself I feel like I've internalised the concept of some things being IN my control and a lot of things being OUT of my control and making my peace with that. I find that concept extremely helpful.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I have made a deliberate shift to spending far less time on social media and following the news. During the first lockdown I was spending an outrageous amount of time glued to my phone as a digital pacifier to quell my anxiousness, but it actually just left me stressed and unfocused and sad. 

I am trying to read physical books more, especially outside in the fresh air just to give my brain an opportunity to shift into a slower speed for a while every day. Luckily, I also have a dog so there's ALWAYS a great reason to go for a walk - something that I cannot overstate the usefulness of.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Absolutely. This has been a harder year for everyone, for simple and complicated reasons and it's crucial we keep connecting. I have a very random system of reaching out to a friend or family member when they pop into my head (or in a dream). It's not very systematic but I figure my intuition is placing that person into my mind for a reason that day.

What does being present mean to you?

I very much struggle with this and am trying to get better at it. To me being present means stopping the train system of thoughts in my head and taking in the moment. I think it's fairly crucial to give people your time in a meaningful way.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Weirdly, it's often when I stop listening to music. Since I was a kid I have listened to music most of the day, everyday. I used to hide earbuds in my sleeves during class so I could rest my head on my hands and listen to Beastie Boys and weird techno. When I notice myself starting to come apart, I start focusing on drinking a lot of water. It's a weird habit I developed while touring comedy shows at international comedy festivals. Staying hydrated is obviously helpful for the brain but I also think there's a much more powerful placebo effect at play when I take a tangible action to try and protect my mental wellbeing. Just the focus on doing SOMETHING to help my mind allows me to start putting the pieces back together.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

The four tips I have (in order of short to long term) are breathing, water, lists and self-talk.

Everyone talks about breathing for a reason - it is psychologically linked to your mood. Your breathing will change when you're stressed but you can work it backwards and consciously slow your breathing to take some control in the moment when the shit is really hitting the fan.

Dehydration is surprisingly affecting so make sure you're topped off throughout the day - get a nice drink bottle and hold on to it!

List making is a secret weapon of effective people. You can use it to break a huge scary project into its achievable parts, you can use it for goal setting, you can use it to write down your fears to try and understand them. I often get paralysed and work avoidant by the different commitments I have in my life, and nothing breaks the paralysis better than starting a To Do list for that day on a piece of paper and following it through.

Self-talk is a practice that makes a huge impact but it takes a long time. Get disciplined about never talking about yourself being stupid or unworthy in your head. Never ever use that language about yourself out loud. People underestimate the power of language. Learn how to respect yourself while owning your mistakes. Crucially, accept that there is a whole universe of things out of your control so do the best with the things IN your control. That's literally all any of us can do.

WENDY THOMPSON, co-CEO of Socialites, The Social Club and Social Academy

Do you look after your mental health?

Absolutely. I am passionate about my businesses, my work and my family and I know if I’m not in good shape then I will let them down. And I’m not going to let that happen. I have to prioritise my mental health for their sake.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

At the root of it, the most valuable tool I’ve developed is self-awareness. I am continually checking in to make sure I’m making decisions calmly and rationally. If I catch myself acting out of emotion then I know I’ve slipped and need to reset. I watch what I fuel myself with (no caffeine or alcohol for me) and make sure I prioritise sleep. I’m also a big fan of a spa before bed, which is great for sleeping.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I learnt a really valuable lesson in the first Covid lockdown. With my usual work I’m out and about a lot. With the lockdowns, it is very easy to spend days working hard and not leaving the house. In the first lockdown I did four days like this and I became quite erratic and emotional and really not myself. I was not popular in my bubble! All the advice out there is correct. Getting outside for some exercise is so key to mental health. It’s so simple and so powerful, if it hadn’t happened to me so visibly I wouldn’t have believed it!

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’m on social media more than I am usually, giving lots of likes, loves and comments and sprinkling digital love and hugs around. People primarily use social media to connect, so I have made an effort here, and I can see from the messages back it's really valued.

What does being present mean to you?

It means living in the moment. It’s really, really hard haha! I try to do this by blocking my diary into set work/play/family blocks of time. I’ve also recently invested in a gorgeous sailing catamaran as I love the ocean and am lucky enough to live in one of the best sailing harbours in the world. You HAVE to be present when sailing so it’s a great teacher!

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When I have trouble making decisions. Then I know it's time to stop, take a walk, change the scenery and reset.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

I’m a huge fan of learning to breathe properly. Something as a Type A female I naturally am terrible at! One exercise that works really well for me is, imagine a line drawing of a square box. Now breathe in for four seconds as you imagine tracing a line up one side of the box, then out for four as you trace along the next side. Trace the box, with the four counts in and four courts out until you feel calm. It is so simple and it works.

Yogamani photographed by Sacha Stejko for Cathy Pope Jewellery

YOGAMANI, mediation and yoga practitioner

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Tricky question, for me… it is not just one thing, it is a combination of things that are a constant work on, that are all integral. From getting enough quality sleep, staying drug and alcohol free, eating regular clean food, hydration, daily Yoga, breathwork and meditation, getting into the ocean and nature, not over committing and overloading my schedule, staying in the day, not living in the past or future tripping. 

These all are a big part of stopping the wheels falling off. For me, they are non negotiable. I suppose ultimately, the particular kind of yoga that I am lucky enough to be a guardian of has been the engine room for my wellbeing and certainly has been my lifesaver.

Mind is the driver, body is the car, where the mind goes the energy flows, so learning to manage the mind rather than the wild monkey mind leading us down the rabbit hole or being blown about by the winds of the world. Our mental wealth is where we need to be making deposits on a daily basis, and all these practises are the deposits. Stay in the day, focusing on what we have, not what is lost.

Have you noticed a change in people's behaviours post-Covid? (ie people less likely to seek out self-care due to isolation, finances etc, or more likely to prioritise looking after themselves)

Generally I have witnessed a lot of heaviness in society, aggression, people’s stress and anxiety is up, finances for some are down, priorities have changed. The weight on people’s shoulders is heavy. We are creatures of habit and people’s routines have been turned on their heads. We are ritualistic by nature as human beings, so establishing and maintaining new routines is very helpful, and being aware and responsible for all of our choices.  

What’s something everyone should/could do to look after themselves?  

Keep it simple, stay in the day. Be gentle, kind and compassionate, towards self first then others.

And/or triggers they should look for?

Holding of breath, mouth breathing, insomnia, agitation in communication, physical tensions, lack of appetite or overeating.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed? 

Grab a pen and paper, sit down, quietly consider and write five things you are grateful for here and now.

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11 busy people on mental health and wellbeing

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but remember that your mental health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey and commitment. This year especially has been tough for many, and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is even more important. With 2020’s theme ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata’, we wanted to ask some busy people what they do to look after their mental health - with some inspiring and practical tips.

KRISTINA WEBB, social media influencer and artist

Do you look after your mental health?

It’s probably my number one priority in life right now equal only to my physical health.

What’s your relationship with social media and how does that impact your mental health?

As someone who’s full time career is in social media and has been since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that it’s really important to create healthy boundaries with the time you spend on there and have social media breaks when you start to feel drained from it. I took almost three years off social media, and I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t need to be that long but I highly recommend resetting yourself every so often and coming back to it with a new perspective or fresh eyes after a cleanse from it. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Wim hof breathing then getting into ice after (breathing not to be done in the bath) have both helped me a lot. They kind of reset me when my sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I’ve been too stressed (in fight or flight) too often. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I’ve noticed that I need to be more vigilant with the tools I’ve learnt. I do more journalling, more breathing, I force myself to exercise, sauna, spa, swim in the ocean even in the middle of winter to toughen myself up.  

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Definitely. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends right now. I’m going to be focusing on creating mental health content to post on my Instagram to help my friends and family/followers. I’m also going to ask my friends specifically how their mental health is when I see them. We all have a mind therefore we all have mental health. We need to drop the stigma about talking about ‘mental health’.

What does being present mean to you?

It means the exact everlasting moment of right now. All there ever was and all there ever is. The only moment in time that exists and matters. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When my apartment gets messy, it’s a sign that I’m stressed out and too busy/not coping. It feels like my external reflects my internal and my messy room is a reflection of my mind at the time/scattered and unorganised. Organising and cleaning it always makes me feel brand new. 

TERESA PATTERSON, sponsorship and marketing manager NZ Comedy Trust and co-founder Milk & Honey Festival

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do. I used to be a terrible workaholic as a full-time music manager, which was a 24/7 job,  working 12 hour plus days, travelling lots and very high stress. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive breast cancer for the first time (it also reappeared three years ago), so I decided I needed better work life balance and to look after myself. Since then I have been consciously making changes in my life which includes looking after my mental health. 

The main change I did was to slowly transition away from being a full-time music manager and to reduce my working hours. I now work three days a week for the NZ Comedy Trust doing funding and sponsorship, 1–2 days a week heading the NZ Music Managers Forum, and working with Lani Purkis and Julia Deans on the annual Milk & Honey Festival (a festival celebrating all genres of womxn and non-binary focussed music). It’s very rare now that I work weekends.

I am also on the board for the charity MusicHelps which, among other things, has a free wellbeing service for anyone working in the music or arts industry (crew, managers, publicists, artists etc.), and are still fundraising to help those in the industry whose work has been affected by Covid. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

For me it is all about that work/life balance. Making sure I have enough rest/downtime and sleep, getting outdoors into nature or at the beach (sea air and ocean swims are the BEST tonic), and spending quality time with family and friends. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I did find that during lockdown, I really needed some form of routine or structure in my day, so I would bookend my day with a walk around the neighbourhood in the morning and spending an hour or so in the garden in the evening after I had finished my work. Because I was still working,  it was really important to me to get outside every day. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

My friends and family are super important to me. I really discovered the meaning of true friendship over the last six years as they supported me through the ups and downs of my ongoing cancer journey and for my family, the death of one of my brothers, and I deeply value them all.  There is actually nothing I wouldn’t do to help any of my friends or family when times are tough, and do my best to always be there for them. 

GUY COOMBES, photographer

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes, although it took a while to figure out ways to do this.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Recognising triggers, and setting boundaries.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

Yes, I think everything has become a bit more of a chore so motivation to get certain things done is very low. Covid killed a lot of momentum. I personally have avoided things like therapy because of the cost. And from experience when people are presented with the cost of therapy compared to medication, they will take the latter to save themselves financially - whether it’s the best option or not. I would like to see more accessible mental health treatment in the community instead of prescribing medication; getting help in New Zealand can feel like hitting a brick wall.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve always been a very open book when it comes to my mental health struggles, those who know me closely know the extent to which it affected my life. I think that being open about it opens the door for anyone I know to ask for help who may not know how to go about dealing what they may be experiencing.

What does being present mean to you?

I really hate that term, but for me it means small things like spending less time online and picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of sending a text.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, it has taken years to recognise what they are. Setting boundaries and not putting yourself in situations you know will trigger you is important, but sometimes the solution is not always that straightforward. There are times when nothing in particular is triggering you: I ended up in an ambulance after having a severe panic attack watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon, and on occasions I would jolt awake in the night gasping for air because I was having nocturnal panic attacks while I was asleep. Our subconscious is a tricky and complex beast and there is not always a quick fix.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

One thing that helped me was reading. It literally didn’t even matter what it was, sometimes even just grabbing a cookbook and reading through a recipe gets me out of my own head and calms me down. Something about focusing on the words and rhythm of sentences engages your mind enough to drown out whatever else is going on. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone are probably the worst things you can do.

PAIGE, musician

Do you look after your mental health?
Of course! I definitely try my best to.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself? 

Positive affirmations through writing and music! I also have started exercising a bit more which definitely helps with a good head space.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I found Covid and lockdown a real positive in the way I look after my mental health. It encouraged me to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening right now.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care? 

For sure, it’s important to go out of your way to ask how people around you are in this weird time. I also think making an effort to show up for people and offering them a hand where they may need it is important.

What does being present mean to you? 

It means not looking at everything in your life as it is in the moment and taking it all is it comes.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Inhale through the nose and out the mouth, countdown from five and keep going.

KAREN WALKER, fashion designer

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I listen to what my instincts are telling me and act on them: if I’m feeling like I need some solitude or some help or some sunlight or some yoga or some meditation or a cry or some coaching or some journaling or an early night or whatever else it is, my subconscious is usually right and I just need to do what it’s telling me. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I’ve noticed I’ve needed my coping mechanisms more, as we all have, no doubt. Being unable to get into an actual yoga class hasn’t been great and having all the extra pressure on me and everyone around me is not great either. Plus, winter on top of it all. But, what I go to for help hasn’t really changed. I’ve just needed it more. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the power of turmeric/ginger/pepper/cinnamon/honey lattes before bed - an old ayurvedic treat and incredibly potent. And, I recently bought an app called Calm and it’s amazing - I’ve been sleeping better than I have in decades! Highlights include Cillian Murphy putting me to sleep telling me about a train ride through Ireland, Matthew McConaughey talking to me about the night sky, Joanna Lumley telling me all about elephants in Nepal and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. They also sneak Bob Ross in there too as well and many lovely stories about train rides which really do the trick. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I highly recommend it. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve been checking in with my closest circle a lot more than usual, from those right next door to those on the other side of the world. During L4 and L3 I made my neighbour an espresso every day at 10.30am and left it on the garden fence, and my friends internationally I’ve been Facetiming with a lot.

What does being present mean to you?

Just what it says: being right there, in the moment. Astonishingly helpful and very difficult to do when everything’s being thrown at you all at once. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, as we all do. For me, I notice when I start to get snappy with my family, that’s always a sign that I’m pushing myself into the red-zone and the best way for me to pull that dial back is to have some solitude: the house to myself, a podcast and some mindless but satisfying task like sorting a cupboard; or, an early night with a book and no phone and no-one bothering me with questions or tasks usually does the job. 

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

What works for me is starting by making a clear, prioritised list so everything’s out of my head. Then, I turn off any sounds or notifications of email etc., cut out any meetings and distracting tasks and work through the list systematically; or, completely walk away and do something else, preferably involving yoga, a long walk, sunshine or meditation. Also, a 2-minute, focused, quiet breathing exercise is astonishingly helpful.

AGNES NAERA, CEO of Global Women

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do but like most women, I don’t always take notice of the triggers which I attribute to that nurture side or the need to ensure everyone is going to be okay.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

My go-to is finding somewhere there is water. I come from the Hokianga in the North and the moana (sea) and awa (river) are core to grounding my wairua (spirit).

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I don’t think we have reached post-Covid - but I expect we have all had to pivot/lean in differently. Working virtually has meant being more disciplined about boundaries of work and home. Setting breaktimes away from screen, going for a walk, checking in with the team more often to ensure a good sense of workloads and anxiety levels.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Whanau and friends are never far from my thoughts but during these unusual times they have a stronger presence. Not being able to support whanau at tangihana (funeral) or when whanau were in hospital has been extremely hard. Through Covid, we set up whanau calls that integrated tikanga (process) like  karakia (prayers), to help us feel safe and more connected. Those that could gave, whether money or groceries etc. 

What does being present mean to you?

There is an expression in Māori ‘to noho’, which I loosely translated to sit and take the time you need to know where you are, who you are in the moment, who is in the space with you and your relationship with them and other living things around you. This is much more important in these unusual times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Triggers for me are related to social justice – in my role as CEO of Global Women, the voice of all women, particularly those that are often invisible, will be a push button moment. As I notice that happening, I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve and readjust my reactive response to a more reflective one.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Know that it is okay to let people know that you are feeling overwhelmed; it is okay to ask for two minutes while you take a breath; it is okay to postpone or delay a conversation if it does not feel right. Good leaders are comfortable with being vulnerable; it allows their people to know that errors or mistakes are just a path to success.

JACKIE CLARK, founder The Aunties

Do you look after your mental health?

Yeah, I do.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I do a job that I really fucking love. It's reasonably unique, and not very common. People worry about my self-care all the time and I say, ‘get fucked with the self-care thing’ because people don't really understand that it [work] drains my energy then fills me up again. I understand this is an enormous privilege I have, that's how I help my mental health.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I found the first lockdown really easy. I know I’m coming from a place of enormous privilege but because of the job I do I’m with people, emotionally supporting them all hours of the day. So not physically not being allowed to go anywhere was a whale of a holiday for me. The second one, not so much, I was a bit more antsy that time I don't know why. We had been in level 4, we came out of it, I rescheduled all my meetings, I picked up where I left off with the women physically. Then it was all stopped again.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

No, I’m not actually but that’s just because of my job. My personal friends are very understanding, I live with one of them. They understand this job is a little consuming.

What does being present mean to you?

It means that you are not focusing on anything but the person in front of you. My father was very good at being present. When you were in front of him you felt like you were the most important person in the world  - and when you were away from him he completely forgot who you were. He was a very in the moment person, my dad. I inherit some of that. My job means I have to be present; and when I’m with women that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

The only trigger I have is child sexual abuse. Not because I had been sexually abused as a child but because I find that really painful. Woman could tell me about violence, this that and the other and I’ll just go ‘oh that's really shit’ but if they start talking about sexual abuse, it does trigger me. What I tend to do is just sit with it because it passes. Unless you've got chronic depression or anxiety those feelings will likely pass, so sit with them.

I am a great believer in the Buddhist saying, “There is no way out but through” so I just sit with stuff because it passes. I’ve had a great deal of grief in my life, my best friend died seven years ago and she was my everything, and my husband died almost two years ago. I know grief, but I know that it passes.

When Carol died, I cried non-stop for about six months and my heart was in constant tachycardia - really it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It was an extreme physical grief response and I still grieve for her. When my husband died that was a very complex, different grief because he was also my abuser, I loved him very very much but he was also very abusive so when he died, that became the really complex thing. I got a professional supervisor to help with that, so once a month I go catch up with a therapist, basically.

REBECCA WADEY, Ensemble publisher and partnerships manager

Do you look after your mental health?

I somewhat obsessively monitor my mental health alongside my physical health. For me, as a cancer survivor, the two are very intertwined and front of mind

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Awareness. Being I monitor it so closely I’m very aware to pull myself back when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and implement the changes I need to get my nervous system back on track. This usually starts with cutting out alcohol and processed foods, spending more time exercising/in nature, doing breathwork and meditation, and if things still feel out of control moving into a supplement routine to balance my hormones and maybe some kind of counselling or deeper practical help.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to look after myself this year. Not being able to physically get to classes has been tough (I lack motivation without the energy of others to lift me up) and a lot of the wellbeing practices I relied on pre-Covid, I just don’t have the money for right now. Also, I’ve always been someone who lives by the adage ‘in an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first’, but with the whole world burning I definitely feel a certain amount of lethargy, a ‘what’s the point’ malaise that certainly isn’t helping.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

I always try to be there for my friends but it’s definitely harder when you have your own shit to deal with and don’t have huge amounts of energy. I called my single friends, and single mother friends, a lot during lockdown but this is a great reminder that I can actually connect with them IRL now. Nothing fills me up more than getting drunk on half a glass of wine while I catch up with my friends and all our gorgeous kids run wild.

What does being present mean to you?

To be unplugged, which really is the greatest gift in this age. After watching The Social Dilemma as a family, we are now locking all phones away when we can but it’s hard when my husband and I are both self-employed and juggling children. And while I’ve found it really hard to justify keeping up my yoga practice, at least nature is free. I love hiking and think it’s an especially great way to connect as a family. And the ocean really is my spiritual home. I cry looking at it sometimes. I have a rule that if the sun is out and the water is clear I have to get in, no matter the time of year. Some of my best swims have been in the middle of winter when the water is so incredibly crystal and I have to work hard to regulate my breathing.  I often say that the best thing yoga has given me is the ability to breathe through difficult times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

I forget to breathe when I’m stressed and it manifests in all sorts of ways; if I let it get too out of control I get a sore tummy and can’t digest my food properly. I have a number of pranayama and mindfulness practices I put into place when I notice it happening. One of my favourite exercises I often turn to at 3am is to imagine my mind as a pool of water, and each thought is a stone dropped in it. You have to work to keep the water as calm and free of ripples as possible.

TIM BATT, comedian and broadcaster

Do you look after your mental health?

Like most people, I feel like I could do more but I'm definitely aware of my mental health and do take action to protect it. Our mental health, in a very real way, defines our entire existence so I try (with varying success) to keep habits that will safeguard my mental and emotional wellbeing day to day, even when I'm feeling okay to make sure I stay that way.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

From a fairly young age I've been very interested in 'self-talk', framing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I'm pretty conscious of speaking to myself respectfully and positively inside my own head. After many, many years of repeating it to myself I feel like I've internalised the concept of some things being IN my control and a lot of things being OUT of my control and making my peace with that. I find that concept extremely helpful.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I have made a deliberate shift to spending far less time on social media and following the news. During the first lockdown I was spending an outrageous amount of time glued to my phone as a digital pacifier to quell my anxiousness, but it actually just left me stressed and unfocused and sad. 

I am trying to read physical books more, especially outside in the fresh air just to give my brain an opportunity to shift into a slower speed for a while every day. Luckily, I also have a dog so there's ALWAYS a great reason to go for a walk - something that I cannot overstate the usefulness of.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Absolutely. This has been a harder year for everyone, for simple and complicated reasons and it's crucial we keep connecting. I have a very random system of reaching out to a friend or family member when they pop into my head (or in a dream). It's not very systematic but I figure my intuition is placing that person into my mind for a reason that day.

What does being present mean to you?

I very much struggle with this and am trying to get better at it. To me being present means stopping the train system of thoughts in my head and taking in the moment. I think it's fairly crucial to give people your time in a meaningful way.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Weirdly, it's often when I stop listening to music. Since I was a kid I have listened to music most of the day, everyday. I used to hide earbuds in my sleeves during class so I could rest my head on my hands and listen to Beastie Boys and weird techno. When I notice myself starting to come apart, I start focusing on drinking a lot of water. It's a weird habit I developed while touring comedy shows at international comedy festivals. Staying hydrated is obviously helpful for the brain but I also think there's a much more powerful placebo effect at play when I take a tangible action to try and protect my mental wellbeing. Just the focus on doing SOMETHING to help my mind allows me to start putting the pieces back together.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

The four tips I have (in order of short to long term) are breathing, water, lists and self-talk.

Everyone talks about breathing for a reason - it is psychologically linked to your mood. Your breathing will change when you're stressed but you can work it backwards and consciously slow your breathing to take some control in the moment when the shit is really hitting the fan.

Dehydration is surprisingly affecting so make sure you're topped off throughout the day - get a nice drink bottle and hold on to it!

List making is a secret weapon of effective people. You can use it to break a huge scary project into its achievable parts, you can use it for goal setting, you can use it to write down your fears to try and understand them. I often get paralysed and work avoidant by the different commitments I have in my life, and nothing breaks the paralysis better than starting a To Do list for that day on a piece of paper and following it through.

Self-talk is a practice that makes a huge impact but it takes a long time. Get disciplined about never talking about yourself being stupid or unworthy in your head. Never ever use that language about yourself out loud. People underestimate the power of language. Learn how to respect yourself while owning your mistakes. Crucially, accept that there is a whole universe of things out of your control so do the best with the things IN your control. That's literally all any of us can do.

WENDY THOMPSON, co-CEO of Socialites, The Social Club and Social Academy

Do you look after your mental health?

Absolutely. I am passionate about my businesses, my work and my family and I know if I’m not in good shape then I will let them down. And I’m not going to let that happen. I have to prioritise my mental health for their sake.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

At the root of it, the most valuable tool I’ve developed is self-awareness. I am continually checking in to make sure I’m making decisions calmly and rationally. If I catch myself acting out of emotion then I know I’ve slipped and need to reset. I watch what I fuel myself with (no caffeine or alcohol for me) and make sure I prioritise sleep. I’m also a big fan of a spa before bed, which is great for sleeping.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I learnt a really valuable lesson in the first Covid lockdown. With my usual work I’m out and about a lot. With the lockdowns, it is very easy to spend days working hard and not leaving the house. In the first lockdown I did four days like this and I became quite erratic and emotional and really not myself. I was not popular in my bubble! All the advice out there is correct. Getting outside for some exercise is so key to mental health. It’s so simple and so powerful, if it hadn’t happened to me so visibly I wouldn’t have believed it!

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’m on social media more than I am usually, giving lots of likes, loves and comments and sprinkling digital love and hugs around. People primarily use social media to connect, so I have made an effort here, and I can see from the messages back it's really valued.

What does being present mean to you?

It means living in the moment. It’s really, really hard haha! I try to do this by blocking my diary into set work/play/family blocks of time. I’ve also recently invested in a gorgeous sailing catamaran as I love the ocean and am lucky enough to live in one of the best sailing harbours in the world. You HAVE to be present when sailing so it’s a great teacher!

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When I have trouble making decisions. Then I know it's time to stop, take a walk, change the scenery and reset.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

I’m a huge fan of learning to breathe properly. Something as a Type A female I naturally am terrible at! One exercise that works really well for me is, imagine a line drawing of a square box. Now breathe in for four seconds as you imagine tracing a line up one side of the box, then out for four as you trace along the next side. Trace the box, with the four counts in and four courts out until you feel calm. It is so simple and it works.

Yogamani photographed by Sacha Stejko for Cathy Pope Jewellery

YOGAMANI, mediation and yoga practitioner

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Tricky question, for me… it is not just one thing, it is a combination of things that are a constant work on, that are all integral. From getting enough quality sleep, staying drug and alcohol free, eating regular clean food, hydration, daily Yoga, breathwork and meditation, getting into the ocean and nature, not over committing and overloading my schedule, staying in the day, not living in the past or future tripping. 

These all are a big part of stopping the wheels falling off. For me, they are non negotiable. I suppose ultimately, the particular kind of yoga that I am lucky enough to be a guardian of has been the engine room for my wellbeing and certainly has been my lifesaver.

Mind is the driver, body is the car, where the mind goes the energy flows, so learning to manage the mind rather than the wild monkey mind leading us down the rabbit hole or being blown about by the winds of the world. Our mental wealth is where we need to be making deposits on a daily basis, and all these practises are the deposits. Stay in the day, focusing on what we have, not what is lost.

Have you noticed a change in people's behaviours post-Covid? (ie people less likely to seek out self-care due to isolation, finances etc, or more likely to prioritise looking after themselves)

Generally I have witnessed a lot of heaviness in society, aggression, people’s stress and anxiety is up, finances for some are down, priorities have changed. The weight on people’s shoulders is heavy. We are creatures of habit and people’s routines have been turned on their heads. We are ritualistic by nature as human beings, so establishing and maintaining new routines is very helpful, and being aware and responsible for all of our choices.  

What’s something everyone should/could do to look after themselves?  

Keep it simple, stay in the day. Be gentle, kind and compassionate, towards self first then others.

And/or triggers they should look for?

Holding of breath, mouth breathing, insomnia, agitation in communication, physical tensions, lack of appetite or overeating.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed? 

Grab a pen and paper, sit down, quietly consider and write five things you are grateful for here and now.

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but remember that your mental health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey and commitment. This year especially has been tough for many, and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is even more important. With 2020’s theme ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata’, we wanted to ask some busy people what they do to look after their mental health - with some inspiring and practical tips.

KRISTINA WEBB, social media influencer and artist

Do you look after your mental health?

It’s probably my number one priority in life right now equal only to my physical health.

What’s your relationship with social media and how does that impact your mental health?

As someone who’s full time career is in social media and has been since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that it’s really important to create healthy boundaries with the time you spend on there and have social media breaks when you start to feel drained from it. I took almost three years off social media, and I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t need to be that long but I highly recommend resetting yourself every so often and coming back to it with a new perspective or fresh eyes after a cleanse from it. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Wim hof breathing then getting into ice after (breathing not to be done in the bath) have both helped me a lot. They kind of reset me when my sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I’ve been too stressed (in fight or flight) too often. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I’ve noticed that I need to be more vigilant with the tools I’ve learnt. I do more journalling, more breathing, I force myself to exercise, sauna, spa, swim in the ocean even in the middle of winter to toughen myself up.  

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Definitely. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends right now. I’m going to be focusing on creating mental health content to post on my Instagram to help my friends and family/followers. I’m also going to ask my friends specifically how their mental health is when I see them. We all have a mind therefore we all have mental health. We need to drop the stigma about talking about ‘mental health’.

What does being present mean to you?

It means the exact everlasting moment of right now. All there ever was and all there ever is. The only moment in time that exists and matters. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When my apartment gets messy, it’s a sign that I’m stressed out and too busy/not coping. It feels like my external reflects my internal and my messy room is a reflection of my mind at the time/scattered and unorganised. Organising and cleaning it always makes me feel brand new. 

TERESA PATTERSON, sponsorship and marketing manager NZ Comedy Trust and co-founder Milk & Honey Festival

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do. I used to be a terrible workaholic as a full-time music manager, which was a 24/7 job,  working 12 hour plus days, travelling lots and very high stress. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive breast cancer for the first time (it also reappeared three years ago), so I decided I needed better work life balance and to look after myself. Since then I have been consciously making changes in my life which includes looking after my mental health. 

The main change I did was to slowly transition away from being a full-time music manager and to reduce my working hours. I now work three days a week for the NZ Comedy Trust doing funding and sponsorship, 1–2 days a week heading the NZ Music Managers Forum, and working with Lani Purkis and Julia Deans on the annual Milk & Honey Festival (a festival celebrating all genres of womxn and non-binary focussed music). It’s very rare now that I work weekends.

I am also on the board for the charity MusicHelps which, among other things, has a free wellbeing service for anyone working in the music or arts industry (crew, managers, publicists, artists etc.), and are still fundraising to help those in the industry whose work has been affected by Covid. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

For me it is all about that work/life balance. Making sure I have enough rest/downtime and sleep, getting outdoors into nature or at the beach (sea air and ocean swims are the BEST tonic), and spending quality time with family and friends. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I did find that during lockdown, I really needed some form of routine or structure in my day, so I would bookend my day with a walk around the neighbourhood in the morning and spending an hour or so in the garden in the evening after I had finished my work. Because I was still working,  it was really important to me to get outside every day. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

My friends and family are super important to me. I really discovered the meaning of true friendship over the last six years as they supported me through the ups and downs of my ongoing cancer journey and for my family, the death of one of my brothers, and I deeply value them all.  There is actually nothing I wouldn’t do to help any of my friends or family when times are tough, and do my best to always be there for them. 

GUY COOMBES, photographer

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes, although it took a while to figure out ways to do this.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Recognising triggers, and setting boundaries.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

Yes, I think everything has become a bit more of a chore so motivation to get certain things done is very low. Covid killed a lot of momentum. I personally have avoided things like therapy because of the cost. And from experience when people are presented with the cost of therapy compared to medication, they will take the latter to save themselves financially - whether it’s the best option or not. I would like to see more accessible mental health treatment in the community instead of prescribing medication; getting help in New Zealand can feel like hitting a brick wall.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve always been a very open book when it comes to my mental health struggles, those who know me closely know the extent to which it affected my life. I think that being open about it opens the door for anyone I know to ask for help who may not know how to go about dealing what they may be experiencing.

What does being present mean to you?

I really hate that term, but for me it means small things like spending less time online and picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of sending a text.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, it has taken years to recognise what they are. Setting boundaries and not putting yourself in situations you know will trigger you is important, but sometimes the solution is not always that straightforward. There are times when nothing in particular is triggering you: I ended up in an ambulance after having a severe panic attack watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon, and on occasions I would jolt awake in the night gasping for air because I was having nocturnal panic attacks while I was asleep. Our subconscious is a tricky and complex beast and there is not always a quick fix.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

One thing that helped me was reading. It literally didn’t even matter what it was, sometimes even just grabbing a cookbook and reading through a recipe gets me out of my own head and calms me down. Something about focusing on the words and rhythm of sentences engages your mind enough to drown out whatever else is going on. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone are probably the worst things you can do.

PAIGE, musician

Do you look after your mental health?
Of course! I definitely try my best to.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself? 

Positive affirmations through writing and music! I also have started exercising a bit more which definitely helps with a good head space.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I found Covid and lockdown a real positive in the way I look after my mental health. It encouraged me to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening right now.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care? 

For sure, it’s important to go out of your way to ask how people around you are in this weird time. I also think making an effort to show up for people and offering them a hand where they may need it is important.

What does being present mean to you? 

It means not looking at everything in your life as it is in the moment and taking it all is it comes.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Inhale through the nose and out the mouth, countdown from five and keep going.

KAREN WALKER, fashion designer

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I listen to what my instincts are telling me and act on them: if I’m feeling like I need some solitude or some help or some sunlight or some yoga or some meditation or a cry or some coaching or some journaling or an early night or whatever else it is, my subconscious is usually right and I just need to do what it’s telling me. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I’ve noticed I’ve needed my coping mechanisms more, as we all have, no doubt. Being unable to get into an actual yoga class hasn’t been great and having all the extra pressure on me and everyone around me is not great either. Plus, winter on top of it all. But, what I go to for help hasn’t really changed. I’ve just needed it more. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the power of turmeric/ginger/pepper/cinnamon/honey lattes before bed - an old ayurvedic treat and incredibly potent. And, I recently bought an app called Calm and it’s amazing - I’ve been sleeping better than I have in decades! Highlights include Cillian Murphy putting me to sleep telling me about a train ride through Ireland, Matthew McConaughey talking to me about the night sky, Joanna Lumley telling me all about elephants in Nepal and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. They also sneak Bob Ross in there too as well and many lovely stories about train rides which really do the trick. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I highly recommend it. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve been checking in with my closest circle a lot more than usual, from those right next door to those on the other side of the world. During L4 and L3 I made my neighbour an espresso every day at 10.30am and left it on the garden fence, and my friends internationally I’ve been Facetiming with a lot.

What does being present mean to you?

Just what it says: being right there, in the moment. Astonishingly helpful and very difficult to do when everything’s being thrown at you all at once. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, as we all do. For me, I notice when I start to get snappy with my family, that’s always a sign that I’m pushing myself into the red-zone and the best way for me to pull that dial back is to have some solitude: the house to myself, a podcast and some mindless but satisfying task like sorting a cupboard; or, an early night with a book and no phone and no-one bothering me with questions or tasks usually does the job. 

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

What works for me is starting by making a clear, prioritised list so everything’s out of my head. Then, I turn off any sounds or notifications of email etc., cut out any meetings and distracting tasks and work through the list systematically; or, completely walk away and do something else, preferably involving yoga, a long walk, sunshine or meditation. Also, a 2-minute, focused, quiet breathing exercise is astonishingly helpful.

AGNES NAERA, CEO of Global Women

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do but like most women, I don’t always take notice of the triggers which I attribute to that nurture side or the need to ensure everyone is going to be okay.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

My go-to is finding somewhere there is water. I come from the Hokianga in the North and the moana (sea) and awa (river) are core to grounding my wairua (spirit).

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I don’t think we have reached post-Covid - but I expect we have all had to pivot/lean in differently. Working virtually has meant being more disciplined about boundaries of work and home. Setting breaktimes away from screen, going for a walk, checking in with the team more often to ensure a good sense of workloads and anxiety levels.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Whanau and friends are never far from my thoughts but during these unusual times they have a stronger presence. Not being able to support whanau at tangihana (funeral) or when whanau were in hospital has been extremely hard. Through Covid, we set up whanau calls that integrated tikanga (process) like  karakia (prayers), to help us feel safe and more connected. Those that could gave, whether money or groceries etc. 

What does being present mean to you?

There is an expression in Māori ‘to noho’, which I loosely translated to sit and take the time you need to know where you are, who you are in the moment, who is in the space with you and your relationship with them and other living things around you. This is much more important in these unusual times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Triggers for me are related to social justice – in my role as CEO of Global Women, the voice of all women, particularly those that are often invisible, will be a push button moment. As I notice that happening, I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve and readjust my reactive response to a more reflective one.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Know that it is okay to let people know that you are feeling overwhelmed; it is okay to ask for two minutes while you take a breath; it is okay to postpone or delay a conversation if it does not feel right. Good leaders are comfortable with being vulnerable; it allows their people to know that errors or mistakes are just a path to success.

JACKIE CLARK, founder The Aunties

Do you look after your mental health?

Yeah, I do.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I do a job that I really fucking love. It's reasonably unique, and not very common. People worry about my self-care all the time and I say, ‘get fucked with the self-care thing’ because people don't really understand that it [work] drains my energy then fills me up again. I understand this is an enormous privilege I have, that's how I help my mental health.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I found the first lockdown really easy. I know I’m coming from a place of enormous privilege but because of the job I do I’m with people, emotionally supporting them all hours of the day. So not physically not being allowed to go anywhere was a whale of a holiday for me. The second one, not so much, I was a bit more antsy that time I don't know why. We had been in level 4, we came out of it, I rescheduled all my meetings, I picked up where I left off with the women physically. Then it was all stopped again.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

No, I’m not actually but that’s just because of my job. My personal friends are very understanding, I live with one of them. They understand this job is a little consuming.

What does being present mean to you?

It means that you are not focusing on anything but the person in front of you. My father was very good at being present. When you were in front of him you felt like you were the most important person in the world  - and when you were away from him he completely forgot who you were. He was a very in the moment person, my dad. I inherit some of that. My job means I have to be present; and when I’m with women that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

The only trigger I have is child sexual abuse. Not because I had been sexually abused as a child but because I find that really painful. Woman could tell me about violence, this that and the other and I’ll just go ‘oh that's really shit’ but if they start talking about sexual abuse, it does trigger me. What I tend to do is just sit with it because it passes. Unless you've got chronic depression or anxiety those feelings will likely pass, so sit with them.

I am a great believer in the Buddhist saying, “There is no way out but through” so I just sit with stuff because it passes. I’ve had a great deal of grief in my life, my best friend died seven years ago and she was my everything, and my husband died almost two years ago. I know grief, but I know that it passes.

When Carol died, I cried non-stop for about six months and my heart was in constant tachycardia - really it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It was an extreme physical grief response and I still grieve for her. When my husband died that was a very complex, different grief because he was also my abuser, I loved him very very much but he was also very abusive so when he died, that became the really complex thing. I got a professional supervisor to help with that, so once a month I go catch up with a therapist, basically.

REBECCA WADEY, Ensemble publisher and partnerships manager

Do you look after your mental health?

I somewhat obsessively monitor my mental health alongside my physical health. For me, as a cancer survivor, the two are very intertwined and front of mind

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Awareness. Being I monitor it so closely I’m very aware to pull myself back when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and implement the changes I need to get my nervous system back on track. This usually starts with cutting out alcohol and processed foods, spending more time exercising/in nature, doing breathwork and meditation, and if things still feel out of control moving into a supplement routine to balance my hormones and maybe some kind of counselling or deeper practical help.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to look after myself this year. Not being able to physically get to classes has been tough (I lack motivation without the energy of others to lift me up) and a lot of the wellbeing practices I relied on pre-Covid, I just don’t have the money for right now. Also, I’ve always been someone who lives by the adage ‘in an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first’, but with the whole world burning I definitely feel a certain amount of lethargy, a ‘what’s the point’ malaise that certainly isn’t helping.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

I always try to be there for my friends but it’s definitely harder when you have your own shit to deal with and don’t have huge amounts of energy. I called my single friends, and single mother friends, a lot during lockdown but this is a great reminder that I can actually connect with them IRL now. Nothing fills me up more than getting drunk on half a glass of wine while I catch up with my friends and all our gorgeous kids run wild.

What does being present mean to you?

To be unplugged, which really is the greatest gift in this age. After watching The Social Dilemma as a family, we are now locking all phones away when we can but it’s hard when my husband and I are both self-employed and juggling children. And while I’ve found it really hard to justify keeping up my yoga practice, at least nature is free. I love hiking and think it’s an especially great way to connect as a family. And the ocean really is my spiritual home. I cry looking at it sometimes. I have a rule that if the sun is out and the water is clear I have to get in, no matter the time of year. Some of my best swims have been in the middle of winter when the water is so incredibly crystal and I have to work hard to regulate my breathing.  I often say that the best thing yoga has given me is the ability to breathe through difficult times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

I forget to breathe when I’m stressed and it manifests in all sorts of ways; if I let it get too out of control I get a sore tummy and can’t digest my food properly. I have a number of pranayama and mindfulness practices I put into place when I notice it happening. One of my favourite exercises I often turn to at 3am is to imagine my mind as a pool of water, and each thought is a stone dropped in it. You have to work to keep the water as calm and free of ripples as possible.

TIM BATT, comedian and broadcaster

Do you look after your mental health?

Like most people, I feel like I could do more but I'm definitely aware of my mental health and do take action to protect it. Our mental health, in a very real way, defines our entire existence so I try (with varying success) to keep habits that will safeguard my mental and emotional wellbeing day to day, even when I'm feeling okay to make sure I stay that way.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

From a fairly young age I've been very interested in 'self-talk', framing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I'm pretty conscious of speaking to myself respectfully and positively inside my own head. After many, many years of repeating it to myself I feel like I've internalised the concept of some things being IN my control and a lot of things being OUT of my control and making my peace with that. I find that concept extremely helpful.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I have made a deliberate shift to spending far less time on social media and following the news. During the first lockdown I was spending an outrageous amount of time glued to my phone as a digital pacifier to quell my anxiousness, but it actually just left me stressed and unfocused and sad. 

I am trying to read physical books more, especially outside in the fresh air just to give my brain an opportunity to shift into a slower speed for a while every day. Luckily, I also have a dog so there's ALWAYS a great reason to go for a walk - something that I cannot overstate the usefulness of.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Absolutely. This has been a harder year for everyone, for simple and complicated reasons and it's crucial we keep connecting. I have a very random system of reaching out to a friend or family member when they pop into my head (or in a dream). It's not very systematic but I figure my intuition is placing that person into my mind for a reason that day.

What does being present mean to you?

I very much struggle with this and am trying to get better at it. To me being present means stopping the train system of thoughts in my head and taking in the moment. I think it's fairly crucial to give people your time in a meaningful way.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Weirdly, it's often when I stop listening to music. Since I was a kid I have listened to music most of the day, everyday. I used to hide earbuds in my sleeves during class so I could rest my head on my hands and listen to Beastie Boys and weird techno. When I notice myself starting to come apart, I start focusing on drinking a lot of water. It's a weird habit I developed while touring comedy shows at international comedy festivals. Staying hydrated is obviously helpful for the brain but I also think there's a much more powerful placebo effect at play when I take a tangible action to try and protect my mental wellbeing. Just the focus on doing SOMETHING to help my mind allows me to start putting the pieces back together.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

The four tips I have (in order of short to long term) are breathing, water, lists and self-talk.

Everyone talks about breathing for a reason - it is psychologically linked to your mood. Your breathing will change when you're stressed but you can work it backwards and consciously slow your breathing to take some control in the moment when the shit is really hitting the fan.

Dehydration is surprisingly affecting so make sure you're topped off throughout the day - get a nice drink bottle and hold on to it!

List making is a secret weapon of effective people. You can use it to break a huge scary project into its achievable parts, you can use it for goal setting, you can use it to write down your fears to try and understand them. I often get paralysed and work avoidant by the different commitments I have in my life, and nothing breaks the paralysis better than starting a To Do list for that day on a piece of paper and following it through.

Self-talk is a practice that makes a huge impact but it takes a long time. Get disciplined about never talking about yourself being stupid or unworthy in your head. Never ever use that language about yourself out loud. People underestimate the power of language. Learn how to respect yourself while owning your mistakes. Crucially, accept that there is a whole universe of things out of your control so do the best with the things IN your control. That's literally all any of us can do.

WENDY THOMPSON, co-CEO of Socialites, The Social Club and Social Academy

Do you look after your mental health?

Absolutely. I am passionate about my businesses, my work and my family and I know if I’m not in good shape then I will let them down. And I’m not going to let that happen. I have to prioritise my mental health for their sake.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

At the root of it, the most valuable tool I’ve developed is self-awareness. I am continually checking in to make sure I’m making decisions calmly and rationally. If I catch myself acting out of emotion then I know I’ve slipped and need to reset. I watch what I fuel myself with (no caffeine or alcohol for me) and make sure I prioritise sleep. I’m also a big fan of a spa before bed, which is great for sleeping.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I learnt a really valuable lesson in the first Covid lockdown. With my usual work I’m out and about a lot. With the lockdowns, it is very easy to spend days working hard and not leaving the house. In the first lockdown I did four days like this and I became quite erratic and emotional and really not myself. I was not popular in my bubble! All the advice out there is correct. Getting outside for some exercise is so key to mental health. It’s so simple and so powerful, if it hadn’t happened to me so visibly I wouldn’t have believed it!

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’m on social media more than I am usually, giving lots of likes, loves and comments and sprinkling digital love and hugs around. People primarily use social media to connect, so I have made an effort here, and I can see from the messages back it's really valued.

What does being present mean to you?

It means living in the moment. It’s really, really hard haha! I try to do this by blocking my diary into set work/play/family blocks of time. I’ve also recently invested in a gorgeous sailing catamaran as I love the ocean and am lucky enough to live in one of the best sailing harbours in the world. You HAVE to be present when sailing so it’s a great teacher!

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When I have trouble making decisions. Then I know it's time to stop, take a walk, change the scenery and reset.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

I’m a huge fan of learning to breathe properly. Something as a Type A female I naturally am terrible at! One exercise that works really well for me is, imagine a line drawing of a square box. Now breathe in for four seconds as you imagine tracing a line up one side of the box, then out for four as you trace along the next side. Trace the box, with the four counts in and four courts out until you feel calm. It is so simple and it works.

Yogamani photographed by Sacha Stejko for Cathy Pope Jewellery

YOGAMANI, mediation and yoga practitioner

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Tricky question, for me… it is not just one thing, it is a combination of things that are a constant work on, that are all integral. From getting enough quality sleep, staying drug and alcohol free, eating regular clean food, hydration, daily Yoga, breathwork and meditation, getting into the ocean and nature, not over committing and overloading my schedule, staying in the day, not living in the past or future tripping. 

These all are a big part of stopping the wheels falling off. For me, they are non negotiable. I suppose ultimately, the particular kind of yoga that I am lucky enough to be a guardian of has been the engine room for my wellbeing and certainly has been my lifesaver.

Mind is the driver, body is the car, where the mind goes the energy flows, so learning to manage the mind rather than the wild monkey mind leading us down the rabbit hole or being blown about by the winds of the world. Our mental wealth is where we need to be making deposits on a daily basis, and all these practises are the deposits. Stay in the day, focusing on what we have, not what is lost.

Have you noticed a change in people's behaviours post-Covid? (ie people less likely to seek out self-care due to isolation, finances etc, or more likely to prioritise looking after themselves)

Generally I have witnessed a lot of heaviness in society, aggression, people’s stress and anxiety is up, finances for some are down, priorities have changed. The weight on people’s shoulders is heavy. We are creatures of habit and people’s routines have been turned on their heads. We are ritualistic by nature as human beings, so establishing and maintaining new routines is very helpful, and being aware and responsible for all of our choices.  

What’s something everyone should/could do to look after themselves?  

Keep it simple, stay in the day. Be gentle, kind and compassionate, towards self first then others.

And/or triggers they should look for?

Holding of breath, mouth breathing, insomnia, agitation in communication, physical tensions, lack of appetite or overeating.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed? 

Grab a pen and paper, sit down, quietly consider and write five things you are grateful for here and now.

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11 busy people on mental health and wellbeing

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but remember that your mental health and wellbeing is a lifelong journey and commitment. This year especially has been tough for many, and taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is even more important. With 2020’s theme ‘Reimagine Wellbeing Together – He Tirohanga Anamata’, we wanted to ask some busy people what they do to look after their mental health - with some inspiring and practical tips.

KRISTINA WEBB, social media influencer and artist

Do you look after your mental health?

It’s probably my number one priority in life right now equal only to my physical health.

What’s your relationship with social media and how does that impact your mental health?

As someone who’s full time career is in social media and has been since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that it’s really important to create healthy boundaries with the time you spend on there and have social media breaks when you start to feel drained from it. I took almost three years off social media, and I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t need to be that long but I highly recommend resetting yourself every so often and coming back to it with a new perspective or fresh eyes after a cleanse from it. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Wim hof breathing then getting into ice after (breathing not to be done in the bath) have both helped me a lot. They kind of reset me when my sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and I’ve been too stressed (in fight or flight) too often. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I’ve noticed that I need to be more vigilant with the tools I’ve learnt. I do more journalling, more breathing, I force myself to exercise, sauna, spa, swim in the ocean even in the middle of winter to toughen myself up.  

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Definitely. It’s more important than ever to reach out to your friends right now. I’m going to be focusing on creating mental health content to post on my Instagram to help my friends and family/followers. I’m also going to ask my friends specifically how their mental health is when I see them. We all have a mind therefore we all have mental health. We need to drop the stigma about talking about ‘mental health’.

What does being present mean to you?

It means the exact everlasting moment of right now. All there ever was and all there ever is. The only moment in time that exists and matters. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When my apartment gets messy, it’s a sign that I’m stressed out and too busy/not coping. It feels like my external reflects my internal and my messy room is a reflection of my mind at the time/scattered and unorganised. Organising and cleaning it always makes me feel brand new. 

TERESA PATTERSON, sponsorship and marketing manager NZ Comedy Trust and co-founder Milk & Honey Festival

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do. I used to be a terrible workaholic as a full-time music manager, which was a 24/7 job,  working 12 hour plus days, travelling lots and very high stress. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive breast cancer for the first time (it also reappeared three years ago), so I decided I needed better work life balance and to look after myself. Since then I have been consciously making changes in my life which includes looking after my mental health. 

The main change I did was to slowly transition away from being a full-time music manager and to reduce my working hours. I now work three days a week for the NZ Comedy Trust doing funding and sponsorship, 1–2 days a week heading the NZ Music Managers Forum, and working with Lani Purkis and Julia Deans on the annual Milk & Honey Festival (a festival celebrating all genres of womxn and non-binary focussed music). It’s very rare now that I work weekends.

I am also on the board for the charity MusicHelps which, among other things, has a free wellbeing service for anyone working in the music or arts industry (crew, managers, publicists, artists etc.), and are still fundraising to help those in the industry whose work has been affected by Covid. 

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

For me it is all about that work/life balance. Making sure I have enough rest/downtime and sleep, getting outdoors into nature or at the beach (sea air and ocean swims are the BEST tonic), and spending quality time with family and friends. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I did find that during lockdown, I really needed some form of routine or structure in my day, so I would bookend my day with a walk around the neighbourhood in the morning and spending an hour or so in the garden in the evening after I had finished my work. Because I was still working,  it was really important to me to get outside every day. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

My friends and family are super important to me. I really discovered the meaning of true friendship over the last six years as they supported me through the ups and downs of my ongoing cancer journey and for my family, the death of one of my brothers, and I deeply value them all.  There is actually nothing I wouldn’t do to help any of my friends or family when times are tough, and do my best to always be there for them. 

GUY COOMBES, photographer

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes, although it took a while to figure out ways to do this.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Recognising triggers, and setting boundaries.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

Yes, I think everything has become a bit more of a chore so motivation to get certain things done is very low. Covid killed a lot of momentum. I personally have avoided things like therapy because of the cost. And from experience when people are presented with the cost of therapy compared to medication, they will take the latter to save themselves financially - whether it’s the best option or not. I would like to see more accessible mental health treatment in the community instead of prescribing medication; getting help in New Zealand can feel like hitting a brick wall.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve always been a very open book when it comes to my mental health struggles, those who know me closely know the extent to which it affected my life. I think that being open about it opens the door for anyone I know to ask for help who may not know how to go about dealing what they may be experiencing.

What does being present mean to you?

I really hate that term, but for me it means small things like spending less time online and picking up the phone to talk to someone instead of sending a text.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, it has taken years to recognise what they are. Setting boundaries and not putting yourself in situations you know will trigger you is important, but sometimes the solution is not always that straightforward. There are times when nothing in particular is triggering you: I ended up in an ambulance after having a severe panic attack watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon, and on occasions I would jolt awake in the night gasping for air because I was having nocturnal panic attacks while I was asleep. Our subconscious is a tricky and complex beast and there is not always a quick fix.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

One thing that helped me was reading. It literally didn’t even matter what it was, sometimes even just grabbing a cookbook and reading through a recipe gets me out of my own head and calms me down. Something about focusing on the words and rhythm of sentences engages your mind enough to drown out whatever else is going on. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone are probably the worst things you can do.

PAIGE, musician

Do you look after your mental health?
Of course! I definitely try my best to.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself? 

Positive affirmations through writing and music! I also have started exercising a bit more which definitely helps with a good head space.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I found Covid and lockdown a real positive in the way I look after my mental health. It encouraged me to live in the moment and focus on what’s happening right now.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care? 

For sure, it’s important to go out of your way to ask how people around you are in this weird time. I also think making an effort to show up for people and offering them a hand where they may need it is important.

What does being present mean to you? 

It means not looking at everything in your life as it is in the moment and taking it all is it comes.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Inhale through the nose and out the mouth, countdown from five and keep going.

KAREN WALKER, fashion designer

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I listen to what my instincts are telling me and act on them: if I’m feeling like I need some solitude or some help or some sunlight or some yoga or some meditation or a cry or some coaching or some journaling or an early night or whatever else it is, my subconscious is usually right and I just need to do what it’s telling me. 

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I’ve noticed I’ve needed my coping mechanisms more, as we all have, no doubt. Being unable to get into an actual yoga class hasn’t been great and having all the extra pressure on me and everyone around me is not great either. Plus, winter on top of it all. But, what I go to for help hasn’t really changed. I’ve just needed it more. Having said that, I’ve recently discovered the power of turmeric/ginger/pepper/cinnamon/honey lattes before bed - an old ayurvedic treat and incredibly potent. And, I recently bought an app called Calm and it’s amazing - I’ve been sleeping better than I have in decades! Highlights include Cillian Murphy putting me to sleep telling me about a train ride through Ireland, Matthew McConaughey talking to me about the night sky, Joanna Lumley telling me all about elephants in Nepal and John McEnroe reading the rules of tennis. They also sneak Bob Ross in there too as well and many lovely stories about train rides which really do the trick. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought and I highly recommend it. 

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’ve been checking in with my closest circle a lot more than usual, from those right next door to those on the other side of the world. During L4 and L3 I made my neighbour an espresso every day at 10.30am and left it on the garden fence, and my friends internationally I’ve been Facetiming with a lot.

What does being present mean to you?

Just what it says: being right there, in the moment. Astonishingly helpful and very difficult to do when everything’s being thrown at you all at once. 

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Yes, as we all do. For me, I notice when I start to get snappy with my family, that’s always a sign that I’m pushing myself into the red-zone and the best way for me to pull that dial back is to have some solitude: the house to myself, a podcast and some mindless but satisfying task like sorting a cupboard; or, an early night with a book and no phone and no-one bothering me with questions or tasks usually does the job. 

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

What works for me is starting by making a clear, prioritised list so everything’s out of my head. Then, I turn off any sounds or notifications of email etc., cut out any meetings and distracting tasks and work through the list systematically; or, completely walk away and do something else, preferably involving yoga, a long walk, sunshine or meditation. Also, a 2-minute, focused, quiet breathing exercise is astonishingly helpful.

AGNES NAERA, CEO of Global Women

Do you look after your mental health?

Yes I do but like most women, I don’t always take notice of the triggers which I attribute to that nurture side or the need to ensure everyone is going to be okay.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

My go-to is finding somewhere there is water. I come from the Hokianga in the North and the moana (sea) and awa (river) are core to grounding my wairua (spirit).

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I don’t think we have reached post-Covid - but I expect we have all had to pivot/lean in differently. Working virtually has meant being more disciplined about boundaries of work and home. Setting breaktimes away from screen, going for a walk, checking in with the team more often to ensure a good sense of workloads and anxiety levels.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Whanau and friends are never far from my thoughts but during these unusual times they have a stronger presence. Not being able to support whanau at tangihana (funeral) or when whanau were in hospital has been extremely hard. Through Covid, we set up whanau calls that integrated tikanga (process) like  karakia (prayers), to help us feel safe and more connected. Those that could gave, whether money or groceries etc. 

What does being present mean to you?

There is an expression in Māori ‘to noho’, which I loosely translated to sit and take the time you need to know where you are, who you are in the moment, who is in the space with you and your relationship with them and other living things around you. This is much more important in these unusual times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Triggers for me are related to social justice – in my role as CEO of Global Women, the voice of all women, particularly those that are often invisible, will be a push button moment. As I notice that happening, I ask myself what it is that I want to achieve and readjust my reactive response to a more reflective one.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

Know that it is okay to let people know that you are feeling overwhelmed; it is okay to ask for two minutes while you take a breath; it is okay to postpone or delay a conversation if it does not feel right. Good leaders are comfortable with being vulnerable; it allows their people to know that errors or mistakes are just a path to success.

JACKIE CLARK, founder The Aunties

Do you look after your mental health?

Yeah, I do.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

I do a job that I really fucking love. It's reasonably unique, and not very common. People worry about my self-care all the time and I say, ‘get fucked with the self-care thing’ because people don't really understand that it [work] drains my energy then fills me up again. I understand this is an enormous privilege I have, that's how I help my mental health.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

I found the first lockdown really easy. I know I’m coming from a place of enormous privilege but because of the job I do I’m with people, emotionally supporting them all hours of the day. So not physically not being allowed to go anywhere was a whale of a holiday for me. The second one, not so much, I was a bit more antsy that time I don't know why. We had been in level 4, we came out of it, I rescheduled all my meetings, I picked up where I left off with the women physically. Then it was all stopped again.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

No, I’m not actually but that’s just because of my job. My personal friends are very understanding, I live with one of them. They understand this job is a little consuming.

What does being present mean to you?

It means that you are not focusing on anything but the person in front of you. My father was very good at being present. When you were in front of him you felt like you were the most important person in the world  - and when you were away from him he completely forgot who you were. He was a very in the moment person, my dad. I inherit some of that. My job means I have to be present; and when I’m with women that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

The only trigger I have is child sexual abuse. Not because I had been sexually abused as a child but because I find that really painful. Woman could tell me about violence, this that and the other and I’ll just go ‘oh that's really shit’ but if they start talking about sexual abuse, it does trigger me. What I tend to do is just sit with it because it passes. Unless you've got chronic depression or anxiety those feelings will likely pass, so sit with them.

I am a great believer in the Buddhist saying, “There is no way out but through” so I just sit with stuff because it passes. I’ve had a great deal of grief in my life, my best friend died seven years ago and she was my everything, and my husband died almost two years ago. I know grief, but I know that it passes.

When Carol died, I cried non-stop for about six months and my heart was in constant tachycardia - really it felt like I was going to have a heart attack. It was an extreme physical grief response and I still grieve for her. When my husband died that was a very complex, different grief because he was also my abuser, I loved him very very much but he was also very abusive so when he died, that became the really complex thing. I got a professional supervisor to help with that, so once a month I go catch up with a therapist, basically.

REBECCA WADEY, Ensemble publisher and partnerships manager

Do you look after your mental health?

I somewhat obsessively monitor my mental health alongside my physical health. For me, as a cancer survivor, the two are very intertwined and front of mind

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Awareness. Being I monitor it so closely I’m very aware to pull myself back when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and implement the changes I need to get my nervous system back on track. This usually starts with cutting out alcohol and processed foods, spending more time exercising/in nature, doing breathwork and meditation, and if things still feel out of control moving into a supplement routine to balance my hormones and maybe some kind of counselling or deeper practical help.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms during and post-Covid?

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve found it overwhelmingly difficult to look after myself this year. Not being able to physically get to classes has been tough (I lack motivation without the energy of others to lift me up) and a lot of the wellbeing practices I relied on pre-Covid, I just don’t have the money for right now. Also, I’ve always been someone who lives by the adage ‘in an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first’, but with the whole world burning I definitely feel a certain amount of lethargy, a ‘what’s the point’ malaise that certainly isn’t helping.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? And if so what do you do to show them you care?

I always try to be there for my friends but it’s definitely harder when you have your own shit to deal with and don’t have huge amounts of energy. I called my single friends, and single mother friends, a lot during lockdown but this is a great reminder that I can actually connect with them IRL now. Nothing fills me up more than getting drunk on half a glass of wine while I catch up with my friends and all our gorgeous kids run wild.

What does being present mean to you?

To be unplugged, which really is the greatest gift in this age. After watching The Social Dilemma as a family, we are now locking all phones away when we can but it’s hard when my husband and I are both self-employed and juggling children. And while I’ve found it really hard to justify keeping up my yoga practice, at least nature is free. I love hiking and think it’s an especially great way to connect as a family. And the ocean really is my spiritual home. I cry looking at it sometimes. I have a rule that if the sun is out and the water is clear I have to get in, no matter the time of year. Some of my best swims have been in the middle of winter when the water is so incredibly crystal and I have to work hard to regulate my breathing.  I often say that the best thing yoga has given me is the ability to breathe through difficult times.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

I forget to breathe when I’m stressed and it manifests in all sorts of ways; if I let it get too out of control I get a sore tummy and can’t digest my food properly. I have a number of pranayama and mindfulness practices I put into place when I notice it happening. One of my favourite exercises I often turn to at 3am is to imagine my mind as a pool of water, and each thought is a stone dropped in it. You have to work to keep the water as calm and free of ripples as possible.

TIM BATT, comedian and broadcaster

Do you look after your mental health?

Like most people, I feel like I could do more but I'm definitely aware of my mental health and do take action to protect it. Our mental health, in a very real way, defines our entire existence so I try (with varying success) to keep habits that will safeguard my mental and emotional wellbeing day to day, even when I'm feeling okay to make sure I stay that way.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

From a fairly young age I've been very interested in 'self-talk', framing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I'm pretty conscious of speaking to myself respectfully and positively inside my own head. After many, many years of repeating it to myself I feel like I've internalised the concept of some things being IN my control and a lot of things being OUT of my control and making my peace with that. I find that concept extremely helpful.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I have made a deliberate shift to spending far less time on social media and following the news. During the first lockdown I was spending an outrageous amount of time glued to my phone as a digital pacifier to quell my anxiousness, but it actually just left me stressed and unfocused and sad. 

I am trying to read physical books more, especially outside in the fresh air just to give my brain an opportunity to shift into a slower speed for a while every day. Luckily, I also have a dog so there's ALWAYS a great reason to go for a walk - something that I cannot overstate the usefulness of.

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

Absolutely. This has been a harder year for everyone, for simple and complicated reasons and it's crucial we keep connecting. I have a very random system of reaching out to a friend or family member when they pop into my head (or in a dream). It's not very systematic but I figure my intuition is placing that person into my mind for a reason that day.

What does being present mean to you?

I very much struggle with this and am trying to get better at it. To me being present means stopping the train system of thoughts in my head and taking in the moment. I think it's fairly crucial to give people your time in a meaningful way.

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

Weirdly, it's often when I stop listening to music. Since I was a kid I have listened to music most of the day, everyday. I used to hide earbuds in my sleeves during class so I could rest my head on my hands and listen to Beastie Boys and weird techno. When I notice myself starting to come apart, I start focusing on drinking a lot of water. It's a weird habit I developed while touring comedy shows at international comedy festivals. Staying hydrated is obviously helpful for the brain but I also think there's a much more powerful placebo effect at play when I take a tangible action to try and protect my mental wellbeing. Just the focus on doing SOMETHING to help my mind allows me to start putting the pieces back together.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

The four tips I have (in order of short to long term) are breathing, water, lists and self-talk.

Everyone talks about breathing for a reason - it is psychologically linked to your mood. Your breathing will change when you're stressed but you can work it backwards and consciously slow your breathing to take some control in the moment when the shit is really hitting the fan.

Dehydration is surprisingly affecting so make sure you're topped off throughout the day - get a nice drink bottle and hold on to it!

List making is a secret weapon of effective people. You can use it to break a huge scary project into its achievable parts, you can use it for goal setting, you can use it to write down your fears to try and understand them. I often get paralysed and work avoidant by the different commitments I have in my life, and nothing breaks the paralysis better than starting a To Do list for that day on a piece of paper and following it through.

Self-talk is a practice that makes a huge impact but it takes a long time. Get disciplined about never talking about yourself being stupid or unworthy in your head. Never ever use that language about yourself out loud. People underestimate the power of language. Learn how to respect yourself while owning your mistakes. Crucially, accept that there is a whole universe of things out of your control so do the best with the things IN your control. That's literally all any of us can do.

WENDY THOMPSON, co-CEO of Socialites, The Social Club and Social Academy

Do you look after your mental health?

Absolutely. I am passionate about my businesses, my work and my family and I know if I’m not in good shape then I will let them down. And I’m not going to let that happen. I have to prioritise my mental health for their sake.

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

At the root of it, the most valuable tool I’ve developed is self-awareness. I am continually checking in to make sure I’m making decisions calmly and rationally. If I catch myself acting out of emotion then I know I’ve slipped and need to reset. I watch what I fuel myself with (no caffeine or alcohol for me) and make sure I prioritise sleep. I’m also a big fan of a spa before bed, which is great for sleeping.

Have you noticed a change in your coping mechanisms post-Covid?

I learnt a really valuable lesson in the first Covid lockdown. With my usual work I’m out and about a lot. With the lockdowns, it is very easy to spend days working hard and not leaving the house. In the first lockdown I did four days like this and I became quite erratic and emotional and really not myself. I was not popular in my bubble! All the advice out there is correct. Getting outside for some exercise is so key to mental health. It’s so simple and so powerful, if it hadn’t happened to me so visibly I wouldn’t have believed it!

Are you more inclined to keep an eye out for your friends this year? What do you do to show them you care?

I’m on social media more than I am usually, giving lots of likes, loves and comments and sprinkling digital love and hugs around. People primarily use social media to connect, so I have made an effort here, and I can see from the messages back it's really valued.

What does being present mean to you?

It means living in the moment. It’s really, really hard haha! I try to do this by blocking my diary into set work/play/family blocks of time. I’ve also recently invested in a gorgeous sailing catamaran as I love the ocean and am lucky enough to live in one of the best sailing harbours in the world. You HAVE to be present when sailing so it’s a great teacher!

Do you have triggers you watch out for and what do you do when you notice them coming on?

When I have trouble making decisions. Then I know it's time to stop, take a walk, change the scenery and reset.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed?

I’m a huge fan of learning to breathe properly. Something as a Type A female I naturally am terrible at! One exercise that works really well for me is, imagine a line drawing of a square box. Now breathe in for four seconds as you imagine tracing a line up one side of the box, then out for four as you trace along the next side. Trace the box, with the four counts in and four courts out until you feel calm. It is so simple and it works.

Yogamani photographed by Sacha Stejko for Cathy Pope Jewellery

YOGAMANI, mediation and yoga practitioner

What’s the number one tool you use to look after yourself?

Tricky question, for me… it is not just one thing, it is a combination of things that are a constant work on, that are all integral. From getting enough quality sleep, staying drug and alcohol free, eating regular clean food, hydration, daily Yoga, breathwork and meditation, getting into the ocean and nature, not over committing and overloading my schedule, staying in the day, not living in the past or future tripping. 

These all are a big part of stopping the wheels falling off. For me, they are non negotiable. I suppose ultimately, the particular kind of yoga that I am lucky enough to be a guardian of has been the engine room for my wellbeing and certainly has been my lifesaver.

Mind is the driver, body is the car, where the mind goes the energy flows, so learning to manage the mind rather than the wild monkey mind leading us down the rabbit hole or being blown about by the winds of the world. Our mental wealth is where we need to be making deposits on a daily basis, and all these practises are the deposits. Stay in the day, focusing on what we have, not what is lost.

Have you noticed a change in people's behaviours post-Covid? (ie people less likely to seek out self-care due to isolation, finances etc, or more likely to prioritise looking after themselves)

Generally I have witnessed a lot of heaviness in society, aggression, people’s stress and anxiety is up, finances for some are down, priorities have changed. The weight on people’s shoulders is heavy. We are creatures of habit and people’s routines have been turned on their heads. We are ritualistic by nature as human beings, so establishing and maintaining new routines is very helpful, and being aware and responsible for all of our choices.  

What’s something everyone should/could do to look after themselves?  

Keep it simple, stay in the day. Be gentle, kind and compassionate, towards self first then others.

And/or triggers they should look for?

Holding of breath, mouth breathing, insomnia, agitation in communication, physical tensions, lack of appetite or overeating.

What’s a quick exercise people can do to look after themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed? 

Grab a pen and paper, sit down, quietly consider and write five things you are grateful for here and now.

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