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Just Listen is a seven-part mental health podcast series, exploring how to support a person in serious and ongoing mental distress. Six New Zealanders and their support people share their mental health journey and challenges with journalist and host Juliette Sivertsen. Made with support from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and Like Minds, Like Mine.

When Mathew Nuttall was a teenager, he learnt to put on a smiley face for his friends. But deep inside, his anxiety would get the better of him.

"It was the inability to concentrate. I would lie in bed, but I couldn't tell you what movies I'd be watching. It would be things like not being able to eat. Having absolutely no appetite. In two weeks, I lost eight kilos, which is a hell of a lot of weight to lose."

Nuttall says he was always an anxious child, but as he got older, it turned into an anxiety disorder. "It was a sense of self doubt, self-loathing. And then it snowballed from there. I've had the really vicious inner critic. It's always told me I'm not good enough."

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Listen to Mathew Nuttall's full story in the Just Listen podcast, here.

Feeling anxious is a normal human emotion, but having mental distress in the form of an anxiety disorder is much more serious, debilitating and can prevent a person from taking part in normal day-to-day activities. "The symptoms of nausea, loss of concentration, completely despondent, I couldn't tell you if I wanted to go left or right if you asked me the question which way to go."

Over time, Matthew has learnt to open up about his anxiety and not hide away from it like he did in the past. He has created a toolbox of coping strategies, which include a group of supportive friends, physical activity and getting out in nature.

When he starts to feel overwhelmed, Nuttall tries to ground himself by focusing on the sights around him. "If I'm walking in the bush, it's what different shades of green can I see? What birds can I find? Can I name some of the plants? If I'm at the beach, it's counting how many seconds between the waves roll in. It's taking your mind off what's going on. It's a circuit breaker."

Nuttall says when a person has severe anxiety, it is natural for friends and family to want to fix the situation, or downplay the distress a person is experiencing. But he warns against that type of verbal support.

"It's not your problem. You cannot fix it. You can tell me until your heart's content that I'm going to be okay, but it's a journey I have to go on."

Nuttall says a good support person will walk alongside their loved one on their journey.

"Be there and support and encourage, but don't try to tell them how to fix it. That's the one thing that's always been the biggest frustration."

Matthew Nuttall suffers from anxiety. Photo / Leon Menzies
Matthew Nuttall suffers from anxiety. Photo / Leon Menzies

A big part of Matthew's coping strategy is getting physical exercise. And so he decided to open up about his distress to his personal trainer, Mark Shaw.

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Shaw says he initially wanted to avoid talking about, thinking that was the right thing to do.

"In time, as we built trust he helped me understand more about mental health and I helped him to cope with it."

Shaw says vulnerability towards each other is the secret to being a good support person.

"It goes both ways, I've found it quite healing for me as well."

Listen to Mathew Nuttall's full story in the Just Listen podcast, embedded at the beginning of this article.

Mathew and Mark's tips for supporting a person with anxiety

• Don't try to "fix" the situation, but walk alongside the person in their journey.
• Be vulnerable with one another.
• Learn when to push, and when to step back
• A person's presence may be all that is needed to show support, not necessarily to talk about what's going on.
• Let your loved one journey at their own speed, not yours.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.​