Chris Robshaw and Camilla Kerslake: Our mental health journey

Given their respective careers, husband and wife Chris Robshaw and Camilla Kerslake both understand the impact of high pressure; what it means to walk out in front of massive audiences and know you have to perform.

Asked how she copes with that kind of stress, Camilla is refreshingly honest. “The first time I did a Wembley cup final, I had hypnotherapy,” she reveals. And it worked. “I remember being in a smelly dressing room that had just been used by 40 footballers and then I remember being in my seat.” She doesn’t recall anything in between and only knew that she had sung the national anthem to an audience of millions when she saw it later on television.

Fortunately Camilla has a partner who understands what it’s like to have to do your job in front of 80,000 people. Chris’s rugby career included many extraordinary highs: winning the Premiership with Harlequins, the Six Nations with England and captaining his country. But there was also the pain of England’s early exit at the 2015 World Cup.

Of this time he admits “I didn’t cope with it in the right way. I bottled it all up and didn’t talk to anyone about it.” The emotions eventually came out after their next game, against Wales, billed as England’s chance to right the record after the World Cup disappointment. They won and the release was dramatic. “I sat in the changing room and cried for fifteen minutes after the Wales game,” Chris recalls. “I couldn’t stop.”

Back then, he says, rugby was very masculine and full of bravado, but recently, like other sports, it has started moving in the right direction when it comes to mental health, spurred by the openness of household names like England cricket captain Ben Stokes, who took a six-month break from the sport to support his wellbeing after suffering anxiety and panic attacks. “When I left Harlequins, we would have sessions where you would sit down with your peer group, leave your phones outside and talk openly about things,” Chris says. “The tools are now being put in place but it’s still down to that individual to open up and be brave enough to speak.”

For Camilla, one of the great challenges she faced was getting over the imposter syndrome she felt as a “working class girl from South London, by way of Lancashire and New Zealand” making her way in a classical music world totally dominated by the privately educated. Now, firmly established at the top of her game, she feels much less pressure to try to mould herself in the image of her peers. Whenever she feels daunted at, say, the prospect of singing at the Royal Albert Hall she reminds herself that, “It’s an honour and a privilege and a pleasure. I remember that I love singing and that gets me through it.”

For both Camilla and Chris, being active is a key way to keep themselves on an even keel. “For me, the outdoors is always a big one,” Chris says. “Whether that be taking the dog for a walk, going for a run – which I actually probably won’t do for a little while, because I’ve just run the marathon – or doing some sort of exercise is always good.”

He’s also aware of how important it is to balance work and family life. “I still don’t quite have it right when it comes to being able to put down my phone at six or seven o’clock,” he admits. But he’s conscious that it’s one of those things that you can make an effort to control. “On the weekend, I’ll leave my phone on a shelf in the kitchen and that’s my way of staying away from it.”

Camilla loves yoga and is well aware that looking after her body helps to look after her mind. “Those periods of your life when you’re really clean living and you’re eating really well, and not drinking and exercising four times a week and you just feel so good? It’s really annoying actually, isn’t it? Turns out the experts were right.”

Find out more about the Sweat and Tears campaign and how it aims to promote better physical and mental well-being across the nation, through exercise and hydration

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