The Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has opened up about how dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic put pressure on his mental health.
Speaking to Sir John Kirwan on his podcast titled Open-Minded: Leadership During A Pandemic, Bloomfield discussed the stresses he faced while offering advice to Kiwis who may be struggling with their mental health.
When asked about how he kept his mental health in check, Bloomfield said he had a couple of small reminders to keep him focused on the job at hand while ignoring unwarranted noise.
He told Kirwan even after fronting to the public for eight months, he still gets nervous.
"I was nervous as heck, 27th January [the first time Bloomfield fronted the public]. I still get nervous now.
"But right from day one it was just being myself and being true to myself. Whilst you know something like this [a pandemic] will come along, you're never quite prepared for it.
"All you can do is get up every day, play what's in front of you, work with your team members but remain true to your values.
"If something hasn't gone right, we'll say how can we go and fix it."
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Despite being at the forefront of the country's Covid-19 health crisis, Bloomfield admitted the role came with a number of stresses.
He told Kirwan there came a time where he noticed he was starting to get stressed, recognising particular triggers, something he says is important for everyone who is dealing with mental health to understand.
Bloomfield revealed he initially struggled to sleep but identified stress points and came up with a plan to combat any mental health concerns.
"Giving the advice to lock the country down for four weeks is pretty high stakes.
"I found it really hard at the start. I wasn't sleeping well. I was dreaming about Covid-19 for the first few weeks and I knew it was impacting my performance.
"There was this pivotal moment where I made a shift. What can I control? Because most of this I can't. I can control how I behave, how I come across, the information I've got and how I communicate it and the advice I give. The rest of it I needn't worry. I got up each day, played what's in front of me and draw on my skills, experience, and backed myself.
"I had moments of self-doubt. Heck yes. Is my advice good?
"What I found good was using the people around me ... The more I used people around me the better I slept.
"When I know when I need to take a break is when I speed up. What I've found over the past eight months is I'd get to 10 in the morning and my cortisol levels would start to rise and I'd start to sweat.
"It was when I got to a day when I didn't have a 1pm standup and it got 10am and I had the same reaction. It was a trigger and I realised I needed a break otherwise I wouldn't be at my best as a leader, an adviser and as a person."
How did Bloomfield deal with uncertainty and perceived failures?
He told Kirwan you can't sweat the small stuff and you must bring yourself back to your core values, look at the big picture and lean on those around you to get through.
"It's not going to go 100 per cent right. But we can't afford to let every little thing that isn't perfect become a failure... because we'll stop learning and stop adapting.
"There were a couple of moments where there was a perceived major failure and I said I'm responsible for the system so I'll take responsibility for what happened. It was a pretty tough time. I got asked several times when I was going to resign.
"You've got to go back to centring yourself on your values, working with your team, drawing on your reserves of energy and thinking about the bigger picture. You can't let yourself trip up with things that might not go 100 per cent.
"Asking other people how they are [is most important]. It's okay not to be okay. Look out for other people. Be kind. That's being kind to yourself as well.
"Resilient people are people who get stressed and anxious but recognise it and have ways to manage it and prevent it.
"It's an uncertain time. But there are things we can control. Gratitude, being grateful ... It's don't let Covid-19 define your life. Most of what makes us happy are the people around us."
Sir John Kirwan started the podcast, Open Minded, in a bid to collect stories and advice from those who are making mental health wellbeing a priority.
For Kirwan's full interview with Ashley Bloomfield, click here.