When it comes to staying sane, focused and efficient, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern knows what to do. But she admits it took her a long time to realize you don’t need to feel guilty when taking the space and time to look after yourself and your mental health.
“When we’re in a responsible role, we can have this idea that it’s somehow selfish to take time out. People have an expectation you work every moment that you have. And for the most part, many of us do. But if we don’t take the space and time to look after ourselves, we can’t do our jobs well and we let others down,” said Aotearoa New Zealand’s prime minister last month, chatting on YouTube with Sir John Kirwan of mental health organization ‘Mentemia’.
Prioritizing sleep, eating well and ‘chilling’ by watching bad television are Ardern’s three main strategies for keeping herself mentally and emotionally robust. “That’s how I zone out, with bad crime shows”, she said, without revealing which ones.
Jacinda Ardern counts herself lucky for being a good sleeper. “I meet a lot of people who do jobs like mine and don’t sleep well. I think I would really struggle. Sleep is really key for me. I can tell when I’m tired, and that will get me down a bit. Rest makes a big difference.” She also simply exhausts herself by working and interacting. Exhaustion is a strategy to sleep well that works for the New Zealand prime minister. It also leaves her no time for self-doubt (something she admits being prone to).
According to Mentemia, who’s recently developed a cool free app to help Australians and New Zealanders coping with everyday stress and anxiety, there are 6 pillars of mental wellbeing. You do something from each of these pillars every day: ‘chill’, ‘do’, ‘connect’, ‘move’, ‘celebrate’ and ‘enjoy’.
Ardern pointed out she finds ‘connection’ a two-edged sword: “I think most politicians are extroverts, but I don’t mind a bit of quiet time, time to regroup. I love being around people, it makes me feel good about the world. At the same time, being around people takes a lot of energy.”
On the couch for hours reading recipe books
While her extended family tried to get the Prime Minister to ‘sit down’ to relax during the Christmas break, she prefers what she calls ‘active relaxation’. When she does eventually sit down to read something that’s not government papers (often reading about 500 pages a day) she’s probably on the couch reading cookbooks. “Clarke teases me a lot because I will literally sit down for hours reading recipe books. I love doing that during the summer break.”
Dancing to bad children’s music
When it comes to movement, Ardern is ‘almost embarrassed’ at how little she walks or runs: “I used to be a big walker. But when you’ve got a little one, time out for those things gets much harder. So instead, now, Neve [Ardern’s daughter] loves to dance. In the morning and often before she goes to bed, she’ll say, ‘I want to dance’. And so we’ll put on some really bad children’s music — we’ll ruin Clarke’s Spotify-algorithms — and we’ll play something to dance to.”
Keeping self-doubt at bay
Jacinda Ardern also talked about being her own worst enemy. “Internally, I’m a harsh critic of myself. And when you are your own worst enemy, you have to find some allies, that’s always been very important to me. People who see I’m in such a state and can help me out, shift my perspective.” She said keeping busy keeps self-doubt at bay: “In this last year, self-doubt hasn’t been as pronounced for me. There’s been no time for it. And what are we judging each other against right now?”
© Sitara Morgenster