When the country went into its August lockdown, Sir John Kirwan’s anxiety levels shot up. Then he realised he couldn’t do much about controlling lockdown, so he focused on what he could control in his life.

It is just one of the strategies the mental wellbeing coach employs to manage anxiety – and anxiety in uncertain times such as Covid and lockdowns is quite normal. Covid cases and the subsequent lockdown is good reason for anxiety and the former All Black, who has been through his own mental health journey, outlined his reaction and strategies on a recent webinar.

“There’s this feeling of having no control and how do you take control back? Sometimes you get into that spiral, so what can I control and what can I look forward to?”

For Kirwan, it was setting goals like increasing time learning the guitar, getting fitter, connecting with family, listening to podcasts and only listening to the news once a day. All things he could control through the day – and dealing with one day at a time instead of worrying about how long lockdown might go on or those things beyond his control.

His strategies are all on the Mentemia phone app which has a variety of tools including the worry map, breath training, being kind, a mood tracker and a personality quiz – as well as videos, articles and audios. The worry map enables you to describe your worry, create a plan of action and let go of the worry. Breath training improves the body’s stress response, while being kind is an interactive feature where you spin a wheel of kindness, select an action and commit to doing it. A mood tracker tracks your mood and the reasons you feel that way and a personality quiz helps you find out a bit more about yourself.

Health psychology specialist Dr Fiona Crichton joined Kirwan on the webinar and pointed out that it is normal to have moments of anxiety because the body is wired that way to keep us safe. At times like Covid and lockdown, she says the information can be overwhelming and can push people more toward negative anxiety and that’s when they need to do something about it.

“What we know about anxiety is it’s important to take one day at a time and be present in the moment,” she says. “Listening to a podcast can be a circuit breaker just to give your brain a break.”

She says it is also good to have routine through the day because that reassures our brain. It helps us remember things when we are anxious and the brain is becoming foggy.

Kirwan agrees with routine and says the tools on Mentemia have saved his life. He uses breathing techniques to breathe his way through those times of heightened anxiety and uses the worry map to get a plan of action to quit the worry. He says it is also important to be kind to yourself and accept it is okay to feel the way you do. A turning point for him was when he stopped asking himself why it was happening to him and accepted that it “just is”.

“That was really healthy for me. ‘It just is’ brought me back to the present so I could work on the solution.”

The pair pointed to the six pillars that Mentemia uses as the path to wellbeing: connect, do, chill, move, celebrate and enjoy. Taking small, daily actions around each of the pillars helps reduce stress levels and also increases resilience and happiness.

The term ‘connect’ is about being with family and people who are uplifting in your life. ‘Do’ is engaging your brain for brain health such as learning something or listening to podcasts. ‘Chill’ is reducing stress and includes the things you do to calm your mind, relax the body and switch off the fight or flight response. ‘Move’ is keeping physically active in a way that feels good. ‘Celebrate’ is recognising and building on strengths – being kind to yourself and looking after your values. While ‘enjoy’ is having things to look forward to – those things you do for pleasure and fun.

12 ways for Mental Wellbeing in the age of coronavirus

  • Focus on the things you can control
  • Be in the now
  • Take breaks
  • Go easy on yourself
  • Have things to look forward to
  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Look after your body
  • Stay connected
  • Take time out from the news
  • Appreciate the small things
  • Keep to a routine
  • Find the funny