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Mind

'I'm a lot more peaceful now': Kanoa Lloyd shares her new approach to handling anxiety

The past few months have thrown a few big curveballs at Kanoa Lloyd. She talks to Phoebe Watt about her new approach to handling her anxiety and taking things as they come.

By Phoebe Watt
Summer looks good on Kanoa Lloyd. I mean, everything looks good on Kanoa Lloyd. But you get the sense that if she could spend the rest of her days in togs, jandals and billowy shirts, chasing her salty, sandy, boisterous dog Brown down the beach, she would.
Even with no ocean views to speak of – say, at a central Auckland café a stone's throw from the television studio where she co-hosts Three's The Project five nights a week – she'll find a patch of sun and be instantly in her happy place. At our interview, she shows up wearing a white dress, a huge smile, and little hint of the anxiety that has crippled her in the past.
"I think it comes down to having built a solid enough foundation that I'm not rocked by the unexpected," says the 33-year-old, reflecting on the progress she's made in managing her mental health. When we spoke a year ago, she was all about identifying the things that would help her get back on track after an anxious episode.
"Now I'm more focused on what I need to do to be on track all the time, so that change isn't derailing, it's just a fork in the road and I'm in charge of deciding which way to go."
It occurs that this progress was achieved just in time. In October, Kanoa was among the 500-plus MediaWorks employees to learn – allegedly just six minutes before the general public – that the cash-strapped media company was putting its TV arm up for sale.
With no interested buyers to speak of, and rumours then-circulating that the network could be closed by Christmas, joblessness was a real possibility. The old Kanoa might've spiralled into a panic at the prospect.
"But when the news came through, I was just like, 'Okay, I guess this is what we're dealing with now!'"

Optimistic thinking

At the time of our interview, MediaWorks's future is still up in the air, but 'business as usual' is Three's party line. Naturally, there's still a sense that for Kanoa and her colleagues, the rug could be swept out from underneath at any moment. But compared to the storms they've weathered together in the past, she says the current situation has been "the opposite of stressful".
"People were surprised, of course, but there's a real feeling of optimism. You have to remember that change is intrinsic to the industry we work in. I've gone from children's TV presenter, to music presenter, to weather presenter, to hosting the 7pm show, and there's no way I could've predicted at any point what the next thing was going to be. I kind of just rolled with it.
"So I don't want to say that I'm blasé about what happens next, but I've had so many new opportunities thrust upon me throughout my career, and they've all turned out so amazingly that however it unfolds, the future doesn't scare me."

As always, a key player in alleviating her fears is husband of three years, Mikee Carpinter. In the immediate aftermath of the MediaWorks announcement, Kanoa phoned him and they locked in a plan to unpack the news over dinner that evening.
"He's really sensitive to scenarios that might trigger my anxiety, and so in that instance was probably quite concerned about how I would handle it. But I wasn't drinking at the time, and as much as I hate to admit it, that makes a huge difference," she says.
Yoga continues to be another major anxiety alleviator, and resigned, at last, to the fact that she needs to start prioritising her physical health as much as her mental health, she's added sweating it out on the exercise bike to the mix.
"In your 30s you don't get much of that natural cardio, you've actually got to try!" she laughs, explaining her exercise hack of circuit training while watching TV.
"So I'll go at a steady pace while each segment is on, and cycle my ass off through the ad break."

Back to her brain for a minute, because this card-carrying therapy convert is on her soap-box now.
"I know I'm constantly harping on about it", she says, "but if I can do anything from this privileged spot that I am in, let it be destigmatising that kind of care."
There's no doubt it's been a game-changer for her, helping her to establish constructive coping mechanisms, and to cut down on the negative self-talk.
"Therapy has made me a lot less judgemental of myself when I'm in that anxious state," she says.
"Previously I might've been like, 'Why are you worried about this? You're worrying too much', and gotten even more worked up. I've since learned that my anxious voice isn't something to shut down or berate, it's more something to check in with. So instead I'm asking myself, 'Are you all right? What can we do about this?'
"It's not that nothing fazes me, I'm not a robot. I'm definitely a lot more peaceful though, and perhaps that comes down to having much more perspective than I used to. And it's been hard-earned, but I can use that to not panic."

In her thoughts

If part of that perspective comes from on-the-job exposure to real-world tragedies, then 2019 over-delivered. The last two months of the year alone brought the Grace Millane trial, the measles outbreak in Samoa, and the Whakaari/White Island eruption. Before all of this came the Christchurch terror attacks.
"Sometimes that feels like a lifetime ago, and at other times it's like it's been a split second," she says of the devastating events of March 15.
Travelling down to the shell-shocked city the following day, Kanoa and a satellite crew spent the week meeting and interviewing dozens of those directly impacted, relaying their stories each night to a confused and grieving nation. No matter that she frequently has Hollywood A-listers on the other end of her microphone, ask Kanoa who tops her 'most inspirational' list for 2019 and there's no contest.
"The reality of what those victims and their families have had to deal with is beyond what most people can even fathom," she says.
"There's one woman in particular who I've kept in touch with. She lost both her husband and her son and even in just a practical sense, the fallout of that has been immense. Her household income is gone, she's had to learn to drive… I'm actually conscious of not wanting to impose all the time and have her think she needs to give me a comment for a story or whatever. But she's always in my thoughts."

Moving forward

It's an occupational hazard, apparently, becoming somewhat emotionally invested in the people you meet on the job.
"We're not putting together a six o'clock news bulletin or a front page, so there's space to lead with the heart and be a human first."
Understandably, this takes its toll at times. Thankfully, news environments are evolving, and steely, hard-nosed journalism is no longer an expectation. Back in the day, says Kanoa, being a ghoulish newshound might've earned young reporters their stripes, but now it's perfectly acceptable to tap out of a story that pushes your buttons.
"You don't need to be tough and charge through it, you don't even need to justify it. You can say, 'This is a yucky one for me', and that's okay.
I have the utmost respect for journalists who do go into those hard situations, but it's fine to come at this job with whatever tools you do have, and if your tools are that you're actually a bit of a soppy bleeding heart, that has value as well."
Not just a catalyst for change within the media industry, events like Christchurch obviously have a deep and important impact on the national psyche – something that Kanoa has witnessed in her daily dealings with ordinary Kiwis.
"I think all of us are on the lookout for opportunities to be more inclusive," she says.
"It's not on your mind all the time, but it's become a bigger part of the fabric of what we do."
The other side of the coin is that we're more sensitive to exclusion.
"And that's not a pretty pair of glasses to have on," says Kanoa. "But it's emboldened me to have some uncomfortable conversations, and that's only going to move things forward".

Kanoa's referring specifically to an event she attended recently, where she noticed she was the only non-Caucasian speaker on a half-day programme.
"It was a really amazing day and an honour to be there, but I remember thinking, 'Could this look a bit different next year?' So afterwards I emailed the event organiser and said as much, and I provided a list of names for her to think about getting in touch with next time. She was so receptive to that and really understanding. And it wouldn't have been an email I'd have sent a year before because I don't think I could've counted on getting that response."
It's safe to say we're a different New Zealand than the one we were in 12 months ago. And with much on the agenda for 2020 – including the End of Life Choice Bill, the cannabis referendum, and a general election – even more change is afoot. For Kanoa and her team, it'll make for an interesting year ahead.
"Some of the discussions we've already started to have with academics and experts on those subjects have been really eye-opening," she says, adding that the nice part about her role is that she doesn't need to have formed an opinion one way or the other.
"In fact, it's better if I don't, and I just talk to people and get a sense of what they're feeling."
Indecisive by nature, she's interested in all perspectives.
"But obviously I take everything with a pinch of salt. I'm really aware that in our format it's just small conversations that we're having, so I never think I've learned everything that I need to know on a subject. I just have a lot of great barbecue chat for the summer!"

One wave at a time

As for what the new year holds on a personal level? Beyond getting her full driver's licence ("it's embarrassing, but an adult I am not!"), she isn't putting pressure on herself to achieve anything in particular.
"I think because my work has afforded me so many fortuitous moments, I'm not an especially goal-driven person. My MO is to just show up, do my best, be nice to people and stay open for anything. Some people are adrenaline junkies and all about chasing the next high, but I'm very content to take things as they come."
She's momentarily apologetic, realising it's not the go-getting, ceiling-smashing, ultra-motivational quote that I was probably wanting to finish on. But true to the new and improved Kanoa, the moment passes quickly.
"I was going to say it's not very inspirational," she begins, "but maybe there's something to be said for not looking too far ahead. Being too focused on the next thing is a sure-fire way to be dissatisfied – and anxious. So at this time in my life, I'm really happy to just chill."

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