Tommy Hyland is a 20-year-old New Zealander from a New Zealand/European family. Born in Gisborne but raised in Blenheim, he is the middle of five siblings. Tommy graduated from Marlborough Boys’ College before leaving New Zealand to travel the world, working at Summer Camps in America and Croatia.

A keen adventurer, he undertook a personal challenge in 2019 -  circumnavigating New Zealand’s coastline by bicycle in less than 100 days - with the purpose of spreading positivity and love while raising public awareness about the state of mental health in New Zealand. Tommy lives at his family home in Blenheim.

Gratitude is the thing that nourishes me the most today. So much so, that it’s a twice-daily routine. I call it a gratitude sandwich, beginning and ending each day by acknowledging three moments or things that I’m happy for. Although I don't limit myself, some days I find myself writing 15 things over half an hour! On other days it’s harder, but I’ve found that there's always a handful of things I can be grateful for. It’s a great way to start and end each day, as I get up and go to bed with a smile.

Doing this has also enabled me to pay more attention to the good things that happen throughout my day, knowing that I can write about them that evening. It makes me hold on to the positivity that occurs and directs my focus toward the good, even if there are adverse things going on. My first and last thoughts of every day are positive. Where my attention goes, my energy flows.

Another part of my morning gratitude routine is saying thank you to my body for waking up every day and allowing me to get out of bed. I pay attention to these words that I speak and put emphasis behind them. I also make sure that I’m actually looking at my body and directing my words to it. It’s simple but it makes me feel valued by myself.

I like to have some cemented daily routines which allow me to start each day in a nice, content mood. They also give me mental stability, as I know the good state I will come to be in almost every morning. The simple routines that I do to start and end each day give me the grounding to be spontaneous and adventurous throughout the day. I can let myself be free from any rigid routines during the day, knowing that I’ll be grounding myself with my evening routine. It’s this balance that is key for me. It’s not about strict timings or stringent agendas. I see it as unregimented routine, allowing me to play in between. I think life is all about play. 

Along with gratitude, I’ve also learned to have more appreciation for the things in my life. Rather than thinking in the mindset of “I'll be happy when I achieve this, or get that”, I now take time to be appreciative for what I have in the moment. This includes appreciating all of my good relationships with friends and family - I love them. It makes me feel good to show this appreciation too, and to let whatever or whoever know it at the time.

Connecting with family was a great step on my path to wellness. I had a support circle at home that was my nearest and dearest to me. It was an intrinsic, supportive environment where I could speak up free from judgement. I was able to open up to my mum and reconnect with her. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, explain my feelings, and be accountable for my past actions. In return I received much love. Rebuilding this connection with my family was one of the first steps toward feeling good. Playing with my little brother and sisters made me smile. This all happened naturally, and the more my wellness improved, the more I wanted to do.

The Wim Hof Method is a popular breathing technique and cold exposure practice that I’ve adopted to calm my body and mind. I use breathing techniques for mental calmness and control in my daily life, which I learnt through the Wim Hof method. I originally taught myself the techniques using YouTube lessons over six months, doing five-minute breathing rounds in the morning and using cold showers for cold exposure. I would put on the most outrageous music to motivate myself, or sometimes I would enter in a silent, meditative space. It was an amazing experience. The cold taught me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable through the use of my breath.

I now have an easy breathing technique that calms me if I'm feeling anxious or stressed. It’s deep, slow, diaphragmatic breathing which relaxes my body and mind. I breathe in through my nose for six counts then out through my mouth for six counts. I repeat until I’m calm. It slows me right down and brings my focus to the present moment. With the clarity it brings, I aim to control my thoughts better, and put a positive spin on stress. I can change my focus, moving it away from the things that are going wrong, and on to the things that could go right. I send the energy to a positive avenue.

Thanks to the Wim Hof method, I now have the tools to keep a healthy detachment from my thoughts and feelings. I think of myself as a passive observer of my thoughts. I control my mind, rather than the other way around.

The power of language is another key aspect I pay attention to. I’ve found that subtle changes to my choice of vocabulary make all the difference. When talking about my feelings, I’ve stopped using the words “I am” and now use the words “I am doing”. Rather than connecting my whole self with the emotion (for example, “I am sad/happy/jealous”), I find that framing it (for example, “I’m doing sad”)  lets me acknowledge the sadness without overly identifying with it. I’m not sadness; I’m just temporarily experiencing it. Doing this takes the power away from the emotion. It makes it clear that the emotion is simply a state that I will flow through, and reminds me that I will flow in and out of many different states.

I’ve now implemented this into my meditation practice too, by doing 10 minutes every day focusing on breathing and detaching from the clutter in my mind.

It’s important for me to take care of my body and that means moving every day. My favourites are biking, running and stretching, and they’re all so good for my mental state. I call it my time for “mind off, body on” when I immerse myself in physical movement and switch off my mind. Having a fit, healthy body allows me to chase a lot of my passions. For me, physical health isn't about being big and strong; it’s about how good I feel. I’ve found that I feel best when I’m fit and flexible.

The food I eat is also a vital factor in taking care of my body. I believe that I am what I constantly eat, so I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole foods. I take notice of how certain foods make me feel (especially a few hours after eating), and work on my diet accordingly. By listening to my body I know what makes me feel my best.

Connection to the world and others brings me happiness. I love my smartphone and the Internet. With my friends in America, Croatia and around the world, I rely on my smartphone and the internet to stay in contact. I love these tools, but through bad habits I have also experienced their downside. I find them to be extremely addictive and that they can disconnect me from the real world happening right in front of me. I like to prompt myself with this question: "Am I using my smartphone to live or am I living to use my smartphone?"

Before I got myself in check with my device usage, it was stealing so many precious moments from me. I’m now very aware of my usage, especially when I’m in the company of others. I like to put my phone out of sight so it doesn't disturb the real human interaction. This has now become such a strong habit that I’ve found myself automatically putting the phone away, even during conversations where we’re intentionally using it to do research!

I am a spiritual person. I’m not religious but I do believe in something spiritual at work in our world. That may well be the universe. If I put out good energy then good energy comes back, and when I focus on the positive then I manifest more positive things into my life. I think the universe has something to do with that too. I really started to believe this when I started doing the gratitude lists. When focusing on the positive, I started to notice a lot less stuff going wrong in my life. I also believe in the power of the mind, and in my ability to manifest something. 

I do a lot of reading and listening into Buddhism, Hinduism and ancient Eastern philosophies. I don't attach myself to any of those religions but really enjoy the themes and ideas they carry. I take little bits from them all and apply them to my life. 

I love learning and opening my mind to things that I wouldn't necessarily want to learn about.  I find TED talks and YouTube clips are great platforms. Even if it’s something as random as dinosaurs, I will always learn something. And the coolest part is making connections with others who have interests in the same areas as me. I can connect with that person on a much deeper level. I also like diving into information on how the mind works and the medical side of psychology.

I recommend Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections. I’m his biggest fan. I found it to be an incredible book! It cemented many lessons from my journey and changed my view of depression and what we as a society do to try and fix it. He opened my mind to what we are doing and how we could improve our system. Hari writes from such a raw, open space and covers what he believes to be the common causes of both good and bad mental health. I really related to him and the examples he uses. He also has talks online which I find just as good.

My ultimate goal in life is to spread love. Any other goals I take on ultimately have this as their underlying theme. Spreading love is the fundamental thing I want to do through all my actions. I’ve found that if I focus on spreading love, it naturally makes me a positive person. It's not your typical A-type goal of striving to achieve this or that. It’s more of a goal that I can hit every day, and the beauty is there’s no end to it. 

I check in with myself every night, to make sure that I’m still working towards this ultimate goal of spreading love. A good example of a current goal of mine is to complete my cycle journey around the whole of New Zealand for Mental Health Awareness, in 100 days. At present, I’m about halfway through the challenge. Although completing the trip within the 100-day target would feel so incredibly good, it’s not the ultimate goal. Spreading love is. So if something happens now which stops me, then so be it. I feel I have already done a huge amount towards achieving my ultimate goal in the 50 days I’ve been cycling so far. It’s this bigger goal that can be achieved every day that brings me the most joy. Love.

P.S. By the time of printing, Tommy had successfully completed the 100-day cycle challenge - arriving to his family home in Blenheim on Christmas Eve, 2019. Details of the journey are available on his blog:

If it was possible to send a note back to yourself when you needed the most help, what would you write?

Tommy experienced depression between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. His experience included a struggle to find identity and compensating for that with excessive alcohol and partying.

How you felt as a result?
Nothing motivated me or gave me reason to do anything.
Negative - the negativity always overwhelmed any positivity no matter what was going on.
Lack of vitality and feeling that my life mattered.
No reason for me to get better.

Did you take prescribed medication?

Were there any triggers that exacerbated your feelings?
Alcohol and partying
Family stress
Toxic relationships
Seeking approval from others
Put a negative spin on everything

Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Yes. I had a panic attack while travelling in New York City which caused me to admit I wasn’t well. This was followed by a strong realisation that I wanted to get better.

I came back to New Zealand, lived at home, and repaired relationships with family and friends. I re-found what it was to be me. I then took up work I was passionate about at the OSCAR Foundation, an after-school care programme.


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