When the storm comes, what do you have to protect your mental wellbeing?

In blustery New Zealand, having a strong whare (house) keeps us safe and warm. It’s like that when emotional storms come. We need to build our mental whare to help us weather the storm and look after our mental wellbeing.

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is more than just the absence of mental illness or stress. It’s not just surviving. It’s when we thrive.

The WHO tells us that wellbeing is “a state in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”


A holistic perspective to wellbeing – Te Whare Tapa Wha

Te Whare Tapa Wha is a model that represents health and wellbeing for New Zealanders. The four pillars of the wharenui (a meeting house) represent Taha tinana (our physical), Taha wairua (spiritual), Taha hinengaro (mental and emotional), and Taha whanua (family and social health), all grounded on the whenua (our land and roots).

We think this model’s a great way to understand how to look after our mental wellbeing.

Building a strong whare to weather emotional storms

When stress occurs, it can shake our foundation and cause damage to our well-being.

There are many signs of stress. Our body changes or emotions swing, we want to run away or fight our way through and our minds are focused on the worst-case scenario.

Signs of stress

  • Taha tinana. We may experience physical signs of stress; Heart rate and breathing increase and we may have digestive problems, headaches, generalised aches and pains and tiredness.
  • Taha hinengaro. We may experience emotional changes such as anxiety, irritability, sadness, dread or apprehension.
  • Taha whanau. Our stress may cause relationship difficulties or social withdrawal.
  • Taha wairua. We may experience hopelessness like we’re just going through the motions or feeling like a walking zombie. We may get disconnected to our roots and what’s important to us.

What can we do to strengthen our whare and look after our mental wellbeing?

To weather the storm, we need to not just survive but thrive. Wellbeing isn’t just the absence of ill-health but also having a sense of vitality. Feeling physically healthy and having relationships that are full of love, support and connection.

Taha Tinana: How we can take care of our body in times of stress

  • Exercise is a great way to burn off the chemicals of stress, and it also releases feel-good chemicals that help us flourish.
  • Get out in nature – Walking in the forest, spending time at the beach or river, or just being outside with fresh air.
  • Try some breathing exercises down-regulate the stress response helping your body feel calm and secure (e.g. in through the nose for 4 secs and out through the mouth for 5-6 secs).
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an exercise that helps reduce tension build-up.

Get your senses involved and find things that are soothing to look at, touch, listen to, taste or smell.

Taha Hinengaro: Treating emotional wounds and setting up resilience

  • Drop the struggle with your emotions; you are human for having them!
  • Treat the emotional wound by getting out of your head and look after your emotional pain.
  • Express yourself – find ways to express your experiences (e.g. talking, writing, art).
  • Take some time each day for self-care activities.
  • Have self-compassion – recognise your pain, validate and normalise it, then do something kind!

Taha Hinengaro: Dealing with the overly helpful friend we call our mind

  • Is the overly helpful friend (i.e. your thinking self) suggesting a practical or hypothetical problem? Is it solvable or unsolvable? Controllable or not?
  • Schedule a meeting with your mind! Acknowledge the thoughts, write them down and schedule a time to deal with them.
  • Be compassionate to your overly helpful friend.
  • Talk nicely. How do you want to talk to yourself? Talk nicely and compassionately to yourself.

Taha Whānau: Follow the natural urge for social connection

  • Humans are programmed to seek social connection and belonging, so connect with people! Phone a friend, share a coffee.
  • Foster positive relationships through investment. Every act of kindness, love, and trust helps put you in the ‘green’ in the relationship bank.
  • Reflect on the qualities you want to bring into your relationships. Do you want to be loving? Supportive? Caring? Authentic?

Taha Wairua: Lighting the fire inside you and getting connected!

  • Re-connect with your why, your passion, your hope.
  • Get to know your whakapapa and where you are from.
  • Connect with activities that bring you closer to this (e.g. your native language, traditions, atua, whenua, etc).
  • Re-connect with what makes you, you!

Whenua: All whare need a good foundation

  • Do boring or hard self-care (e.g. tidy your space, have an important conversation). These are the things we do that keep us stable and strong.
  • Keep a routine.
  • Smell the roses and savour the moment.
  • Express gratitude.
  • Keep active – physically and mentally.
  • Getting out into nature.
  • Re-connect with your land, values, culture, etc.

Looking after our mental wellbeing

There are some useful things to remember. Our mind is made for survival, not to make us happy or calm! Unfortunately, human minds are negatively wired. We know we’re pre-programmed to worry and if ambiguity or uncertainty is present, then we may experience anxiety.

But remember, it’s okay not to be okay. Building our resilience and looking after our mental wellbeing will help us weather the storm and come out stronger.

TBI Health’s Health and Wellbeing service provides a range of programmes to help support your general wellbeing. With a large clinical team including Psychologists, Medical Specialists, Physiotherapists and allied health professionals, we can help you look after your mental wellbeing.