The dark days of her 20s didn’t break Sam, they made her who she is now. In her most honest interview yet, and on the cusp of turning 30, Sam Frost reveals why opening up about mental health was the best move she’s made.

Confession: I don’t tell Sam Frost this when we meet, but I’ve interviewed her before. It was three years ago, and if I could describe that phone chat with Sam in one word, it would be ‘guarded’. She was co-hosting a breakfast radio show and dating her Bachelorette pick, Sasha Mielczarek, at the time. I didn’t blame her for wanting some semblance of privacy. Her life had become tabloid fodder since her very public, and very dramatic, break-up with Blake Garvey during the second season of The Bachelor in 2014.

I don’t tell her this, because the Sam I meet today is a different person. She’s self-assured. More comfortable in her own skin. And in one word: happy. We chat for more than an hour and laugh about how we’ve both ended up with younger men: her boyfriend of two years, Dave Bashford, is three years younger than her (“It’s so great! I feel like a boss lady!” the 29-year-old jokes). She looks settled into her new career and life on Home and Away (“I want to put 110 per cent effort into growing as an actress”). We bond over a shared love of hot chips and gravy, despite eating healthily most of the time (“They’re so yum. I’m certainly not going to say no”).

But the topic that takes up most of our conversation is mental health. “Mental illness is one of the most isolating illnesses you can have, and people don’t quite understand how crippling the pain and anxiety is. Sometimes you don’t want to reach out to your friends,” Sam says. “You don’t feel comfortable enough.” As she talks honestly about her experience of anxiety and depression, I’m taken aback at how much I relate and wonder how many of you will, too. I tell her this is why it’s important she’s sharing her stories, because some of us don’t recognise when we need help or even that it’s OK to ask for it. “Yeah, that’s what I think as well,” Sam agrees. I hope you get as much out of our chat on mental-wellness strategies and digital detoxes as I did. But first, let’s celebrate Sam’s upcoming, big 3-0!

LG: Do you have any big resolutions or changes planned for your 30th? 

SF: Well, I wrote down my goals, and a lot of them were to spend time with friends and family. I do that anyway, but last year I felt like I was working all the time, that I didn’t spend enough quality time with the people I love. That balances me and keeps me grounded. I can always tell when I haven’t done it for a while.

LG: What are those signs?

SF: I get a little emotional. I get a bit anxious. My sister says to me, “You always get like this when you don’t see your family.” I want to take those breaks before I burn out, so that’s one thing. Dave and I are also trying to save money, so my goal is to grocery shop at the start of the week instead of buying as we go. Otherwise we spend a fortune! Then we feel sluggish because we’re not eating properly. That’s our goal as a team: eat healthier, work out and just be more organised.

LG: It’s more about making sure those daily habits are in place.

SF: Absolutely. But I always set myself a goal of constantly learning. I might go to an open dance class or I’ll research things that I’m interested in. I never ever want to be complacent and stop growing.

LG: It’s good to see you branching out and expanding your world, because – especially being in the media – it can be easy to stay in a little bubble. 

SF: I love my job – I love everything about it – but it’s important to have something completely separate because it can be consuming. That’s why I love that my partner is in the military – it’s a completely different area to me and I’m learning about his job all the time. I think it becomes quite suffocating if you are taking home your work and everything that’s happening in the media. It isn’t real life, and it’s important to know that and … ensure your friends know that. 

LG: What are you going to do this year so you don’t burn out again?

My biggest problem is always saying yes to everything and not allowing any time for myself. I’m now delegating some of the stuff with Believe by collaborating on a podcast. It’ll be a six-episode series, focusing on depression, anxiety, social media and toxic relationships, which is a massive one. 

LG: There are so many people out there rooting for you but, at the same time, it means you are constant fodder for gossip. How does that make you feel?

SF: Sometimes I feel like it’s a completely separate person. Even though they’re writing about me, I don’t associate with that person. I’ve had to do that because I used to feel things so deeply, and everything that was written about me struck a chord and I’d get so upset and depressed. I was like, “Why are they writing these things about me? They don’t know me!” It was really toxic, so I’ve had to learn how to separate the two. The people who are in my circle, like my friends and my family, love me to death and they think the world of me. That’s what I need to focus on.

LG: What’s the difference between the public version of you and the one your close circle know?

SF: I’m just a really silly person. I’ve got quite a playful side. My friends know that I have that side to my personality but that I’m also deeply sensitive – that I feel things so much … I feel the greatest scale of everything. They know that sometimes I have to withdraw myself from being social. I’ll say to my girlfriends, “Oh, I need to hop into my shell for the weekend,” and they’ll know that I’ve just had a busy week and I need to rest and find the ground again and take a breath. They always know that I’ll come back but I just have to take that time, and they don’t get upset … [or] bothered by it, which is great.

LG: I do something similar where I retreat to my parent’s place.

SF: It’s the most perfect thing to do. I’ll get an Airbnb [place] and go to the mountains with my dogs. I’ll tell my friends and Dave, “I need a weekend to myself,” and I’ll read books, write and just do things for me. People don’t do it as often as they should, I think, but it’s amazing how that time just energises you. You can think clearer when you’re by yourself, away from your phone, away from the people you love. 

LG: You mentioned that you have tools to help you through darker times. What are a few of those?

SF: Well, I have a psychologist who I see regularly. Firstly, I do want to say that the most valuable time I’ve ever spent with my psychologist is when I haven’t been necessarily low. You can do so much work on yourself when you are in a clearer headspace, because you can see the behaviour for what it is and find out the patterns and the triggers. Nowadays I can tell when I’m about to start feeling a bit low. I become extremely tired. I get emotional. I become irritable. I also find things bothering me that don’t usually bother me, so then I’ll see my psychologist. We’ve worked through cognitive behavioural therapy, which I find amazing. I also write in a journal [about] how I’m feeling. Now, I can see the patterns and I can tell, “Oh, this is usually a trigger for me,” but because I know that, I react differently.

LG: One fun thing on social media has been the 10-year challenge. What would you, Sam about to turn 30, tell your 20-year-old self?

SF: Don’t pluck your eyebrows that much. It doesn’t look good. 

LG: [Laughs] And what about from a mental-health perspective?

SF: When I was 20, I was always like, “Why is this particular thing happening to me right now? Why is this bad relationship happening? Why is there family drama?” I was constantly [and] desperately trying to seek the answers. So I just would say to myself, “Take it easy. Everything will work out exactly as it’s meant to be.” I really believe that. 

Sam on…

Staying fit

“I exercise probably three times a week, but I get really bored at the gym, so I always have to mix it up. I do a lot of core. I hate doing legs, but I deal with it. I do boxing classes – I feel like a boss when I do it – HIIT, barre, tennis and trapeze sometimes.”

Getting outdoors “Dave and I will go away for a weekend and do a hike. It gives your mind a lot of clarity when you’re exercising. I think it’s so good for your mental health. That’s why I do it.” 

Healthy eats

“I’m a clean eater. Dave and I live together and it’s good because we both have similar attitudes to food, but it’s tricky because I’m vegetarian. We’ll have vegies, pasta and, on occasion, I’ll have salmon if I feel like my body needs protein. I prefer a light serving for dinner because I don’t like going to bed with a heavy tummy. I eat a lot of fruit and nuts, lots of salads.”

Carb love

“When I go out for dinner with my girlfriends, I never put restrictions on myself, because I feel like that [causes you to] fall off the wagon. I don’t understand people who say you can’t eat carbs. I’ve tried doing that and I get really tired and cranky. I need proper food.”

If you or someone you know needs support for anxiety or depression, call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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