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Steph Claire Smith Interview on Normalising Mental Health

Steph Claire-Smith On Why It's Important to Normalise the Conversation Around Mental Health

When it comes to mental health, we're all about normalising the conversation. We aim to give you the tools, tips and tricks you need to get through the down days and create better ones.

Ahead of World Mental Health Day (Saturday, October 10) we caught up with our girl Steph Claire-Smith to have an open and honest conversation about mental health, getting through one of the toughest lockdowns in the world and how she balances everything from work to relationships when she's having down days.

Scroll to read the full interview.

POPSUGAR Australia: As someone with a huge social media following and a big community in KIC, how important do you think it is to be open and honest about your mental health?

Steph Claire Smith: I think it's important for everyone to be open and honest about their mental health. I can see there is definitely an improvement with people opening up about their struggles and conversations are happening, but there is still such a stigma around mental health.

I take my social media responsibility very seriously. That's why I think it's so important to be open and honest, so we can normalise mental health battles in the hope of reducing solo struggles. Hopefully by normalising it people in the community feel more confident and comfortable opening up to friends and family or seeking professional help — because in my experience, speaking to others has been one of the most helpful things I've done for myself in my journey through certain mental health battles.

Our Keep It Cleaner virtual community is full of supportive, respectful, and kind individuals from around the world sharing their wellness journeys together — and they are all so honest. Laura and I wouldn't be doing them justice if we weren't being open and honest too.

PS: You guys down in Melbs are just coming out the other side of some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the world, how was that period for you mentally? What helped you get through it?

Steph Claire Smith: It has been and still is, extraordinarily tough. At the beginning of lockdown when the whole country was in it together, it was easier. The second round when the lockdown was just Melbourne, that's when I really struggled. Seeing images of people from other states going outside and enjoying each other's company did affect me — and I'm sure everyone else living in Melbourne!

When I realised that it's something totally out of my control, but my mental health and happiness were within my control I really started to shift my perspective. I used the downtime to focus on myself, my family and my relationships. It was nice to stop and reflect for a while. I find practising gratitude really helps me at times because I acknowledge the privileges I do have, but on the days that it doesn't seem to help, I give myself permission to sit with my feelings — and I think that's really important too.

PS: When you're having a bad day, what's your go-to pick me up?

Steph Claire Smith: Spending time doing something for myself is so important for my well-being. Sitting and binging Netflix or listening to old jazz tunes in the bath and just relaxing helps so much.

I also need to move my body in some way, whether that's just a nice walk with Ari or a strength workout or Yoga flow on the KIC app . . . moving my body especially if it gets me out of the house, helps me clear my mind and makes me feel better from the inside and out.

PS: Do you have any activities that help you move through anxious times?

Steph Claire Smith: I'm incredibly lucky to have both Ari (my fur baby) and Josh to cuddle and comfort me in this time. Whilst I love my alone time, there's no doubt in my mind that I would've struggled more this year if I was without them. Calling my mum is another big thing that often helps me when I'm anxious, she just always knows what to say . . . I just miss her hugs.

PS: Last time we spoke, you were getting into meditating and yoga, do you think picking up that practice has made a difference for you mentally?

Steph Claire Smith: Absolutely. I was pretty hesitant when I first started meditation, as I had no idea how powerful it can be and how I could sit and not think of anything. I thought that was impossible!

The KIC guided meditations are great for people new to the practice. I just remind myself anytime a thought or an outside noise distracts me from it, to take my mind back to the voice in the meditation. Laura and I believe that holistic wellness is mind, body and what you eat, and for such a long time I ignored exercising my mind. It's definitely helped me, particularly during lockdown.

I was the same with Yoga, years ago I would've told you I was too fidgety or impatient to practice yoga — but now I can't go a week without at least one flow. It's so incredibly grounding, and I love learning something new about myself or the practice of yoga every time I flow.

PS: You often speak about how exercise helps mental health — we totally agree! Any advice for those days where you really just can't bring yourself to workout?

Steph Claire Smith: Some people think exercising means a super-intensive HIIT workout or a long boxing session. Exercising doesn't mean you have to even break a sweat!

Often, I wake up some mornings and feel lethargic and don't want to do something that will totally tire me out. Exercising is moving your body in one way or another and it's so important we all listen to our bodies. Yoga and Pilates are great if you just want to stretch your body out but still challenge yourself. Otherwise, a nice walk with your partner, friends or dog to get some fresh air and move your body and clear your mind can also have the same effect mentally as a HIIT workout (minus the sweat).

PS: When we're having down days, life doesn't just stop, how do you manage to balance work and your mental health on those down days?

Steph Claire Smith: Everyone has down days, even your boss. At KIC, we make it totally acceptable to talk about how you're feeling and check in on each other. I'm really open and honest with my team, which I hope sets the benchmark for the returned approach to mental health.

At KIC we are such a tight team and always check in on each other — particularly during lockdown. We used to have a weekly scheduled KIC workout lunch session with everyone in the office and lately have been doing it on Zoom. Everyone looks forward to it, we all have a laugh and sweat the stress away.

PS: Do you have any tips for someone who might be struggling with their mental health?

Steph Claire Smith: Find your support network. Everyone needs someone to be totally honest and transparent with and seek advice. Whether that's a councillor, partner, friend, virtual community or family member — you need to talk to someone.

Some people would be surprised at how many people around them are affected by mental health. As friends, partners and family members we too need to do our bit and ask our significant others in our community if they are okay.

PS: When you're struggling with your mental health, how do you lean on your husband?

Steph Claire Smith: Often it starts in an unproductive way if I'm honest. Stress is something that I really struggle to manage, and I sometimes struggle to express my emotions and feelings when I'm feeling that way — but Josh is incredibly patient, supportive and always knows how to make me feel better. He knows when I need space Vs when I need a hug and is an incredible listener.

PS: Is this different from the way you would seek counsel/advice from friends?

Steph Claire Smith: My friends are incredible. So many of them have reached out particularly over this time to just check-in and I appreciate that so much in someone. When it comes to speaking to a professional, it can be uncomfortable at first . . . but I felt like with anything I said when I've spoken to professionals in the past, they knew exactly what to say or what to ask right away, and have helped me figure things out for myself in many ways.

PS: Any tips for supporting a partner or friend when you're both feeling down?

Steph Claire Smith: Communication, unconditional support, and most importantly no judgement.

If you aren't feeling great and you need to talk to someone, remember: you are not alone. There are people just on the other side of the phone waiting to speak to you — just call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636.

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