Sir John Kirwan’s simple tips for looking after your mental health every day

Sir John Kirwan’s darkest days led him to tackle anxiety and depression head on. Now the rugby champion is on a mission to help others improve their mental health using some simple but effective techniques.

While he was unstoppable on the rugby field, All Blacks legend Sir John (JK) Kirwan was struggling on the inside with his own mental demons.

When his mental health hit rock bottom in 1991, JK finally reached out for professional help.

“I’d just had a gutful of battling this inner demon; I’d been hiding my anxiety, which then turned into depression,” says JK of his lowest point.

“I was just surviving back then, I was dead inside. Finally I started to get some understanding and some help around mental health and what I needed to do to go from surviving to thriving.”

Since then, he has spoken openly of his battles with depression to raise awareness about mental health – he has even been knighted for his amazing efforts.

Increasing our mental wellbeing is vital at a time when around three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression – and it’s particularly pertinent now, with the coronavirus pandemic taking a huge toll on mental health.

Sir John’s top mental health-boosting tips

Be kind to yourself and others

Amid the rollercoaster that is the COVID-19 pandemic, JK is urging people to consciously look after themselves and each other.

“Give yourself a bit of a break, make peace with your emotions and don’t be too hard on yourself,” says the Kiwi sporting icon.

“It’s OK to give yourself a little bit more care, do things you enjoy like having a longer bath or pamper yourself a little.”

He says spreading kindness is also important and, as an added bonus, helps you feel good too.

Research shows that being kind can increase happiness levels, self-esteem and energy levels, reduce stress and strengthen social bonds.

Take a breather

After realising meditation wasn’t right for him, JK created a daily mental health plan using techniques such as breathing and visualisation.

He stresses there are no hard and fast rules when figuring out what works best for you. Instead, it’s about appreciating life as individual moments and enjoying each one.

“I take habitual life moments and turn them into celebrations,” he says.

Shower zen

JK’s day kicks off with a mindful shower, a ritual he savours as an opportunity to cleanse the mind and body.

Rather than jumping in and out of the shower while racing to get ready for the day, JK suggests focusing on the warm sensation of the water as it hits your body, smelling the scent of soap and listening to sounds around you.

Have a mindful morning cuppa

Enjoying an espresso with no distractions is next on JK’s daily program. He puts his phone aside while he relishes each sip of his daily brew in a special terracotta cup.

Build a soothing bedtime ritual

Sleeping difficulties are common during times of uncertainty.

If sleep is proving elusive, JK suggests creating a bedtime ritual to calm your mind and relax your body, including reading, listening to nature sounds or deep belly breathing.

Use a good mental wellbeing app

JK, together with a team of clinical experts, developed the Mentemia app that offers practical tips and techniques to help people take control of their mental wellbeing.

He says Mentemia – Italian for “my mind” – has been developed as an engaging, easy-to-use app that turns medically proven techniques into practical tools.

“It’s like having a personalised mental health coach in your pocket,” says JK.

The interactive app includes a mood tracker, conscious breathing training and a worry map to help turn ruminating thoughts into an action plan. It is free to download and is available from the App Store or Google Play.

Catch Sir John Kirwan on The House of Wellness TV show or watch the extended interview here.

Written by Bianca Carmona.