Clare McKenna: I felt true anxiety for the first time during the pandemic

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Health and wellness advocate and broadcaster, Clare McKenna

Clare McKenna: "Don't do regrets but learn from your decisions and move on"
Clare McKenna: "Don't do regrets but learn from your decisions and move on" Clare McKenna: "Don't do regrets but learn from your decisions and move on"

Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

My alarm goes off at 6.30am and I take that time just for me. Sometimes I just sit with a hot drink, other times I flick through my phone or look at what I have on that day. Since the kids went back to school in September, I've been getting back into bed after lighting a candle and I've started listening to a guided meditation on my phone. It starts my day off on a positive note.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

Baked oats.


Often, leftovers from dinner.

Evening meal?

Something as nutritious as possible – maybe fish with veg.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Nutrition is really important, but I don't stress about it. I focus on food first, but I do take two supplements – one for my gut health and one to keep my energy levels topped up.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

I've tried them all over the years and I've thrown it all away now. Diets don't work. There are so many factors which determine your body shape and size, many of them outside of your control. I now focus on a positive relationship with food and with my body.


Weekend treat?

Treats are for any time – I don't believe in waiting for the weekend. I choose foods that make me feel good and nothing is off the table at weekends.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I enjoy strength classes at the gym and hiking with friends. Sometimes I make it to a yoga class which I always love and promise myself I'll do more often.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Find something that suits you and start small. Take a 10-minute walk around your block, do a few squats while the kettle is boiling or take the stairs over the lift.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I was never one for sport or PE at school – speech and drama or debating was more for me. It was only when I got into my 20s and discovered the gym that I began to understand how exercise can make you feel.


Teetotal or tipple?

I do love a good margarita.


Stairs or lift?

Depends on how late I'm running...


What book are you currently reading?

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese is my fiction read and The Power of the Cold by Níall Ó Murchú is my non-fiction. I often have several books on the go.


Best Netflix?

Can I say Disney Plus instead? My husband and I have really been loving The Bear.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

I felt true anxiety for the first time and realised the impact it can have, both physically and mentally. There were times when the unknown felt overwhelming and frightening. I had to really lean into all the things I had learned from breath work to mindfulness to settle myself in those moments. I have interviewed so many people over the years who spoke of their experience of anxiety and while I empathised, I could never fully identify with it until I felt it myself during the pandemic. On the flipside, having everything slow right down was a really good lesson in what was important and me and my little family made lots of lovely memories together. I got to really be present for my dad in what were to be the last two years of his life.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I am planning to learn how to be a meditation teacher next year.


How do you relax?

I love to light a candle in my bedroom at the end of the day and read my book.


What are your goals going forward?

To make the most of every moment, to keep doing new things and to keep embracing change.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I aim to be in bed at 9pm. I have two kids, so the house does start winding down, anyway, at that time. I recently wore a heart monitor as part of a segment on my radio show and the results showed that some of my sleep is not the best quality. I'm trying to work on writing down things that are on my mind before I go to sleep to see if that makes a difference. I felt like I was sleeping well, so it was fascinating to learn that it could be better.


Biggest gripe or regret?

I don't do regrets – we can only learn from the decisions we make and the experiences we have and move on.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I've always had the same focus on family, fun and feeling good and I don't think they have changed.


Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event – changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I suppose the more you age, the more you become aware that it's in your future at some point, but I use that knowledge to power how I live life now, encouraging myself to remain open to new experiences and ensuring I make the most out of every second.

:: Health and wellness advocate and broadcaster Clare McKenna has teamed up with Discover Northern Ireland to encourage people to embrace change this autumn.