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Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope

Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope

Gail Porter was working as a successful TV presenter filming Dead Famous in Las Vegas when her hair fell out overnight. The year was 2005 and the then 34-year-old had taken a shower when she became aware of water rising around her ankles.

“I looked down and realised it wasn’t the water, but all of my hair,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “It was pretty much instantaneous.” The former lads’ mag favourite was diagnosed with a form of alopecia – a condition thought to be sparked by an immune disorder that causes the body to view hair follicles as the enemy, mistakenly attack them which causes hair loss.

Understandably, the experience “crushed” Gail’s self-esteem and when her eyebrows and lashes disappeared too she was left feeling “rubbed out”. As part of Alopecia Awareness Month, the Scot, who is mum to Honey, 14, talks us through how she has dealt with the diagnosis, the stoic attitude of her family and how her semi-permanent tattooed eyebrows have helped restore her confidence.


I have alopecia totalis. Even my lashes and brows are affected, which I don’t think people realise. You feel as though you’ve been rubbed out when those features disappear. I have no hair anywhere on my body apart from a couple of baby lashes that come and go sporadically.


It was overwhelming at first. Telling my daughter I’d be coming home from America with no hair was hard. I thought she wouldn’t recognise me, she was only three at the time. I try to be strong, but obviously, it’s still hard. My self-esteem was crushed…you know, as a woman without hair. It is so difficult.


Well, it’s an autoimmune disease…I don’t know what caused me to lose my hair, I really don’t. Perhaps stress, but I’ve never really thought it was. I always say everyone in London would be bald if it was just down to stress. Some cases of alopecia are hereditary, which again, wasn’t true in my case. That’s quite frustrating in itself, the not knowing. I think it’s simply bad luck, and I pulled the short straw.


I was diagnosed with bipolar years before my hair loss. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise as I was always suffering from manic highs and lows. I was sectioned in 2011 after a manic episode. I was feeling very low and my boyfriend at the time was worried I would do something silly. Instead of talking to me, he called the police and they turned up when I was out having lunch. I didn’t react kindly and was rather abusive. They took me to the hospital and put me in a room, where I stayed for hours. By the time the doctor turned up, I was very unhelpful and angry. They asked for my boyfriend to sign a form to section me, which he did. I had no say in the matter. I didn’t see a doctor for days and once they eventually arrived, they let me out as they didn’t believe I should have been sectioned. While I was sectioned, I was just pumped full of drugs and had no one to talk to. No help at all.

Gail Porter with microblading expert Karen Betts


My family were very typically Scottish! Very stoic. My mum was pretty upset but tried not to show it. I think she felt like I had been through such a lot and she felt that losing my hair was another blow. She used to put her hand over my forehead and say “now there’s my Gail”. My brother pointed out that my dad had more hair than me. I know mum was upset as I did a documentary about my condition and when she was interviewed without me there, she cried. My dad didn’t say much. They just needed time to get used to it.


Look, you’ve got to do whatever makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. I never really liked wigs…they were uncomfortable to wear, it just didn’t feel right. The thing that made such a huge difference for me was getting my brows back through microblading! You don’t realise how much of a difference brows make to a person’s face.


The procedure took about an hour. A tool which has up to 11 hair-fine ink-dipped microblades was brushed over my brow area and these penetrated the lower layers of the skin to create semi-permanent marks resembling eyebrows. I first had them done a year ago and recently had them topped up. I was always dubious about someone going near my face…but Karen Betts (a leading permanent cosmetic and microblading expert) is incredible. I trusted her. My eyebrows look so natural, I love them so much. I burst into tears of joy when I first saw them.


You know what I’m doing okay – my life has changed massively. Of course, it has. My career changed overnight. But I always say, people are in worse situations than me. People everywhere have it hard, or they’re going through something terrible. You just have to be kind to everyone.


In Scotland. Home always makes me happy.


Nowadays I’m very into my fitness – I love running, I always try to drink loads of water. I’m writing my book right now so that’s been an incredibly cathartic experience for me. I don’t go on holiday much but I remember going to the Maldives and feeling so incredibly relaxed. I slept well, loved the peace and quiet and could have stayed there forever. But to be honest, I’m happy on any holiday. The west coast of Scotland is always a total joy.


According to Alopecia UK,  1.3million people in the UK today will have had, currently have or will experience alopecia areata – a condition which causes patchy hair loss and affects both genders equally. (Alopeica totalis is a more advanced form which results in total loss of hair on the scalp). The charity is seeking to tackle the stigma and embarrassment attached to hair loss and is urging people to use the #GetTalking hashtag in the hope, it will encourage those that would benefit from some peer support to reach out and start the conversation.

“We want to help give those who are affected the confidence to know that hair loss isn’t something they should feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about,” says Amy Johnson, Alopecia UK’s communications and fundraising manager. “We hope that the more alopecia is discussed, and the more awareness raised, the easier it will be for those diagnosed.

“If the idea of talking to family and friends about your hair loss makes you feel anxious, consider talking to others with alopecia first. Peer support can make such a difference and can really help to boost self-esteem and confidence, perhaps allowing you to talk more widely about your alopecia at a later stage.”

To raise awareness about alopecia please SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #GetTalking

If you enjoyed our chat with Gail, be sure to check out our other celebrity interviews with rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson here and wellness guru James Duigan here.

For more information on microblading and semi-permanent make up with Karen Betts visit

For information about alopecia, including details of how to find support visit


Celebrity interviews, In the news

Jessica Ennis-Hill talks family life, fitness and Jay-Z

Jessica Ennis-Hill talks family and fitness
Credit: Jennis Fitness

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill rarely sits still.

As well as running around after her children Reggie, 5, and Olivia 23 months, the former world-class athlete and TV commentator recently launched a new fitness app and website called ‘Jennis’ aimed at time-pressed, health-conscious people.

The idea was born out of star’s desire to pass on the tips and expert knowledge she received during a glittering career, which saw her win countless medals including the London Olympic gold in 2012 and her third World Championship gold in 2015 – just 13 months after giving birth to her son.

Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with the Adidas ambassador to find out how she juggles family life with work, training and walking her labrador, Myla.

What does your morning routine look like?

Andy [Jess’s husband] works early and is gone by 6am. Reggie will come into our room and wake me up. I’ll then get Liv up. Every day is completely different which is really nice. Reggie’s at school now so I take him there every morning and drop Liv to nursery a couple of days a week. I then fit in all my other [work] commitments. On the days when I do have time for myself, I like to go for a run in the woods and take the dog out.

How does it compare to when you were competing?

[Back then] every Monday I’d do the same running section, the same circuits, and the same weights. Every Tuesday I’d do javelin. Every Wednesday I’d do the high jump.  You get comfortable and enjoy it but actually, it’s really nice to completely break out of that now. With having kids everything changes all the time with them. If they wake up in an amazing mood it’ll be a smooth morning or it can be total carnage. [Laughs] Every day is totally different.

What’s it like to live in Sheffield?

We live on the outskirts of Sheffield, two minutes from the Peak District and have the best of both worlds. From the back of our house, we can see the moors and the countryside but we’re not that far from the city which is nice. I’ve always massively been a homegirl. I went to Sheffield University at the age of 18 and moved in with one of my friends Hannah who was studying dentistry. We had a house nearby. My experience of university was very different to most students because I was training full time and competing so I made a conscious decision not to go into halls of residence. It was nice to move away from home and live with a friend independently but in a slightly different way.

Jessia Ennis-Hill talks family and fitness

Credit: Jennis Fitness

How important is music in your life?

It plays a massive part in getting you up for training and competitions. I like hip hop and R&B and loved listening to music when I was competing – Jay-Z, Kanye West, Stormzy, Rihanna, Beyonce, something with a really good beat to get the adrenaline pumping.  Andy’s taste is a bit different and he’s introduced me to other sounds too, like cinematic orchestra, which is good. I’m very conscious about getting the kids to listen to music so that they’ve got a really eclectic taste.

What music makes the kids happy?

Reggie likes a bit of Elvis – which has come from Andy – but he’s into George Ezra and that kind of thing so we have a bit of that playing in the house.

Why and how did you build a home gym?

After having Reggie in 2014, I had to significantly adapt my training programme and work out how to save time travelling to the track. I spent close to £2,000 converting the garage into a gym. Once I’d put Reggie to bed, I would go and do a 90-minute weightlifting session. It was one of the best investments in my career. I still exercise at home. I train at home in the garage. Both of our kids see us exercising, I think it’s really important for them to see it as a normal thing to do and enjoy being active themselves.

How do you relax at home?

We have an open plan kitchen diner which leads through to an orangery at the back of the house which has beautiful views and gets great sunlight. We’ve got the kids tepee in there, it’s a really nice chilled room. We like cooking and when the kids are in bed we have a nice meal and chill out with a glass of wine.

What’s in your fridge?

Lots of vegetables and fruit for the kids. My son eats so much  – we’re constantly having to buy stuff.  My daughter drinks a lot of milk. There are avocados and aubergines, my favourites. Also, lots of yoghurts. I normally have quite a full fridge!

Why did you create the Jennis fitness app?

I was lucky enough to train with the best in the world and I want to share that health and fitness expertise in a way that’s realistic and achievable.

Jessica’s new fitness app, Jennis, can be downloaded from 

The app costs £9.99 a month. Jennis Fitness allows users to train like a pro and features 30-minute programmes , while Jennis Pregnancy & Post Natal shares the exact workouts Jessica followed during pregnancy and after the birth of both of her children. Users are also given a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Jessica’s life and access to unique content covering nutrition, mental health and wellness. 

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read our other celebrity chats here:

Joe Wicks talks early nights and his top relaxation tip 

Chris Packham on poodles, house rabbits and why he doesn’t want a tombstone

Jonny Wilkinson reveals how he unwinds 

Andy Murray’s fitness coach talks dream jobs and forfeits

Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope 


Celebrity interviews, Fitness

Joe Wicks talks early nights and his top relaxation tip

Joe Wicks Gousto
Credit: Gousto

Joe Wicks, aka ‘The Body Coach’, lives just outside Richmond with his fiancée, Rosie Jones, and their eight-month-old daughter Indie.

The fitness guru and Instagram sensation – he has 2.5 million followers – and best selling author (he’s sold more than three million books) recently teamed up with recipe-box company Gousto, to create a range of quick and easy meals for busy people.

The boxes contain fresh ingredients and simple recipe cards to take the stress out of cooking and there are four new dishes to choose from each week.

We caught up with Joe, who just four years worked as a personal trainer running boot camps,  to find out how he relaxes and why he thinks sleep is sacred.

Joe Wicks talks sleep and his top relaxation tip

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I get up between 7.30am and 8am and do a workout. I bought my semi-detached townhouse near Richmond two years ago and turned the living room into a home gym. It has a treadmill, weights, kettlebells, a spin bike and a wireless speaker. I used to be somebody who hated getting up but I’m better now.

Talk us through a typical day.
After working out, I’ll do an Instagram recipe video. Depending on the day I’ll do photo shoots, interviews, or emails before coming home and doing another recipe, and then just chill with Rosie and Indie – maybe watch a film together.

You split your time between London and LA. Which is your favourite?
Both, they’re my two favourite places in the world. I go to Santa Monica in the Autumn and return to the UK in time for Christmas and the New Year because that’s the busiest time for me. I love the weather, the exercise, outdoor fitness and training on the beach in LA and the river and park in Richmond. We like to take Indie for walks around Richmond Park.

Why did you decide to create recipes with Gousto?
We share the same mission of getting the whole of the UK cooking and enjoying fresh, delicious food that fits around busy schedules. I’ve always said that you can’t out-train a bad diet – and eating fresh, home-cooked food is fundamental to keeping you and your family healthy. Since becoming a Dad it has become even more important for me to cook healthy, tasty meals which keep my family nourished. Time pressures shouldn’t mean that your diet has to suffer.

You’re very energetic. Do you need much sleep to function?
Sleep is one of the most important things. It’s so important for your motivation, your energy levels for exercise and attitude towards the day. I can’t wait to go to bed. It’s the best thing, I love it now. These days – since having Indie – we’re in bed by 9pm. Sometimes she sleeps through the night. My favourite thing to do is lie in bed with her and have a cuddle when she wakes up. She sleeps next to us in a cot and she’s really smiley in the morning.

Do you dream?
I’m a big dreamer. I’ve always got dreams going on in my head.

You’re on the road a lot. Do you enjoy it?
I love travelling and holidays but I also love being able to cook food in my house and am definitely quite a homely person.

Tell us more about your kitchen.
It’s in the basement. It’s neutral with white brick tiles and a nice long worktop. I’m always messing around in it and like to have quite a bit of space when I cook. I do my Instagram videos there. I tend to do most of the cooking, but Rosie and I have started creating recipe-box meals together where we do a few steps each, which is quite fun.

What’s your go-to relaxation method?
I listen to really nice acoustic, chilled guitar or Mellow Magic. Indie loves that.

Joe Wicks range for the recipe-box company Gousto is available now. Meals start at £2.98, with free delivery seven days a week.

If you enjoyed this interview you might like to read our other celebrity chats here:

Jonny Wilkinson reveals how he unwinds

Pat Cash talks Coco, reiki and his pneumonia scare

Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope

Ryan Sidebottom talks anxiety, cricket and being Beyonce 


Celebrity interviews

Alison Canavan on modelling, mindfulness and overcoming addiction

Alison Canavan mindfulness

Irish model Alison Canavan is naturally radiant, bubbly and has boundless energy.

She first hit the catwalk at the age of 15 and has lived and worked all over the world including London, Paris, Germany, New York, Australia and South Africa.

To observers, her life might seem carefree and glamorous but it hasn’t always been easy for the single mother-of-one who struggled with her mental health and addiction for many years.

“Since becoming a mum to my eight-year-old son James I now try and love my best life for both of us,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “I am a daily meditator and consciously practise gratitude for all I have. I see the world differently these days and I love that every day I get the chance to make better choices and create the life I truly want to live.”

Here Alison, who is now a health coach, master NLP practitioner, mindfulness teacher and author of Minding Mum, opens up about her journey and shares the techniques that help her live a happy and balanced life every day.

How would you describe your personality in three words?

Strong, resilient and caring.

You have a great positive mindset. How did you develop this?

I’m a great believer in living your best life but my mindset wasn’t always that way. At 15 I entered the world of modelling and although it was an amazing experience for a young girl, I struggled with anxiety, depression and loneliness at times. That was 25 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then. Today we talk about mental health and we are making great strides towards bringing these issues to the surface for healing as a collective.

What’s your motto or mantra in life?

Every day is a chance to start again and change is possible for everyone

Why is it important to listen to your body and invest in yourself as a person?

Because the relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most secure you will have in this lifetime. Everyone else will come and go from your life including friends, family and children. So, my question is, does it not make sense to work on the most important relationship first and then the rest will follow?

What happens on a silent meditation retreat?

I have done many silent retreats as I am a mindfulness teacher and the experience is always profound. You go on a deep inner journey of excavation and discovery. If we want true peace and contentment in this life, I believe, we must show up and do the work within ourselves. The Vipassana retreats are done in noble silence which means, no eye contact, talking or even hand gestures. Having recovered from addictions and mental health problems using meditation as one of my tools, I’m acutely aware of the power of going within. In fact, I believe it’s the only way to really heal emotional pain and move into a life of freedom and peace.

What sort of emotions and unpleasant feelings arose?

As my retreat approached I felt anxious as I knew there was deep-rooted pain ready waiting to come to the surface given the right time and space to do so. I didn’t have to wait long as on the first day I reacted very physically to the practice and had to leave the room as I was going to both throw-up and pass out. As I sat outside – pale as a ghost – the course coordinator assured me that this was very a very normal reaction and that afternoon the teacher did too. As human beings, we all have pain and suffering it’s simply a part of life. However, we become very good at suppressing experiences and emotions and hope they won’t rise again and cause us any trouble. This is something I did for many years I pushed everything down and thought that I didn’t ever have to face it or deal with it again.

How did repressed emotions affect your wellbeing?

During the 20 years of depression, anxiety and addictions that followed I never connected my emotional pain to my problems and neither did anyone I went to see. Instead, I got handed tablets and hoped for the best. This is like cleaning the outside of your kitchen cupboards every single day so that when you have visitors your house appears to be gleaming, clean and bright. However, if someone were to open your cupboards the stark truth would shock them. Inside would be dirty and food would be rotting and this is what suppressed emotions look like in your body. They are giving off toxic fumes that manifest as emotional problems like over or under eating, depression, anxiety, stress, sleep issues, addictions and much more. We fail to connect the dots and we outsource our power to external sources hoping that they can fix us and heal our pain. My greatest learning from a week of Vipassana was that only you and you alone can heal your pain and there is no escaping the work if you want to get well or live better. You need to feel and deal with your pain to truly heal.

Alison Cavanan mindfulness

Lili Forberg

How can people start to heal?

There are many paths to do the work but if you feel called to meditate and feel you would benefit then I think it’s a very valuable thing to do. We live in a world that’s moving so fast so we really need to slow down and create some space so that we can see clearly where we are and where we want to go. Otherwise, we miss life as we are always either living in the past or the future.

What are you doing work-wise now?

Today I teach mindfulness meditation where I have been trained as a UCLA mindfulness facilitator from The Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behaviour. I am also a health coach and a master NLP practitioner. I run a successful private practice as a health and wellness coach and deliver motivational talks on health and wellbeing, all over the world, specialising in mental health and addiction.  In 2017 I created ‘The Full 360’, which is a full day event where people come and experience what real wellbeing means. It’s a day where you are encouraged to join the dots between body, mind, spirit, the environment you live in and we also look at your relationships to yourself and others. I am deeply passionate about looking at our wellbeing from a whole – istic perspective! We keep separating ourselves and treating different aspects of us separately which only leads to further disconnection on the inside and out.

Talk me through a typical day.

Every day is different for me which I love. I write for various newspapers, do TV and radio interviews, I teach and coach people. I also organise my events and travel quite frequently too. I’m blessed to have the support of a great mum as I’m a single mum myself. I wake early and meditate and then when James wakes we have breakfast. I live by the sea so I love walking him to school to get fresh air first thing in the morning. Then I usually return back to the office or go out to meetings. I try and pick up James when I can and we spend the afternoon doing homework and catching up. I teach meditation a few nights a week but from home which is wonderful.

How do you balance work and family life?

With great difficulty at times and with a lot of support and help. I have also been studying for the past few years which has been extremely challenging at times but I always knew I the back of my mind that I was doing it to create a better life for myself and my son. I try as much as I can to be off the phone around James and when I’m with him to actually be with him and not always distracted.

What tips do you have for busy mums?

I used to buy into the myth of having no time. We all do because we are taught that if we are busy and our kids have 10,000 activities that we are worthy and have a purpose. I became very ill this year on a trip to London and it helped me to re-evaluate the busyness epidemic. I have met a mum of 11 who is not stressed at all! Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves (at least I do) to be an amazing mum, employee, friend etc but what I have found is that if we let go of expectations and start to actually become more present and enjoy life, things get easier. Everyone has some time they can take for themselves even if its 60 seconds three times a day to stop, breathe and be. It’s so important to show up for yourself because you can’t authentically do it for your family otherwise. A happy mum = a happy family. Be easy with yourself as a mum and know that you are doing your best and that’s all we can do in this life. The most important part is to have fun along the way.

How do you manage stress?

Through meditation, exercise, eating great food and connecting with those I love. Every day is different but every day I do all of these things!

What stress warning signs have you learned to recognise over the years?

When I start to crave bad food and feel sad, when I’m not sleeping great and not able to concentrate. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to accept things as they are and this gives us the ability to be with whatever is happening for us at that moment.

Are you able to share some of your stress-busting tips? 

Stress is basically wanting to be there when you are here. Use your breath. Meditation is such an important gift in my daily life and when I start my day from a conscious perspective I can handle anything that comes my way. Eat well as sugary and processed foods contribute to stress and anxiety. Eat lots of colourful and fresh seasonal produce and cook at home as often as possible. Move your body. Most of us are far too sedentary and need to move more. Getting outside and connecting with nature helps us to remember who we really are. Get back to the community – studies show us that people who have the best connections and relationships are the happiest and live the longest. We come into the world wired to make connections with one another and the very foundation of our sense of self is built upon human interactions, presence and in-person exchanges.

What’s your idea of a dream holiday?

Travelling is one of my great loves and I love active holidays and also relaxation trips. Travelling with my eight-year-old is also fun and we love city travels and plan to go on a safari soon!

Are you an ‘overthinker’ or laid back?

I’m a mixture. From years of mindfulness practice, I have become less reactive to life but I’m also an ideas person and I can drive myself mad going over and over ideas in my head.

How has your attitude to life changed over the years?

My life has very little similarities. Back then I was a party girl enjoying the high life of the fashion industry which you soon learn is not all it cracked up to be. Our lifestyle is a choice, which is something I was completely unaware off years ago. Today I choose to live consciously and very differently. I eat healthy, exercise and meditate alongside valuing those around me and honouring my environment and nature. Today I am content and can really feel the richness life offers when we choose to wake up. I believe that we are learning till the day we die so I try to remain open and curious and willing to learn.

What does your diet look like?

My diet is pretty good. I try and avoid processed food and eat a lot of plant-based meals, with a large variety of colour. Food is information for our body, mind and soul so it’s important we don’t give it the wrong fuel or it will get sick and we will create a dis-ease within ourselves and our body. I love juicing, wheatgrass and soups, stews and herbal teas.

What are your favourite exercises?

I love yoga, Pilates and walking. Movement is really important to me and there is nothing better than getting out and connecting with nature.

What are your three top tips for finding balance in your life?

Top and tail your day with gratitude and start your day by connecting with yourself and setting an intention for your day. Be present when in the presence of others. Let go of any stresses and strains before you go to bed as the energy you go to sleep in is the energy you wake up in. Get between seven and nine hours sleep a night for optimal health.

What’s been the most important life lesson you’ve learned to date?

To trust my own instinct and live from the heart

Alison runs a monthly membership programme for those interested in mindfulness where she holds online live meditations and coaching calls among other things. For more information click here.

If you enjoyed this article you might like to read our other celebrity health and wellbeing interviews with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom and Andy Murray’s fitness coach Matt Little.

Alternatively, check out our posts on hypnotherapy mind massage, a weekend meditation retreat and what really happens in a group meditation class



Celebrity interviews, Wellness

7 lessons I learned when I left my phone at home

7 things I learned by leaving my phone at home

There’s nothing quite like realising you’ve left your phone at home on a Monday morning to induce a state of panic, especially when you’re working for a new client in London and you’re relying on Google Maps to get you from A to B.

But this is exactly what happened to yours truly last week. I thought I’d be super organised and charge up said phone in the bedroom – far better to start the day with 100% battery in the tank and all that.

Only in between wolfing down the porridge and prioritising my to-do list, I completely forgot to retrieve the device from upstairs. On entering the railway station I realised my mistake. No amount of searching – I frantically triple-checked every inch of my handbag –  would bring it back.  My stomach began somersaulting for England.

How the heck would I survive without it?

The day before – in a bid to be Miss Efficient – I’d set an out of office (I receive on average between 400 and 500  emails per day) advising people that I’d be media training and only checking my account intermittently.  Those with urgent work-related queries could text or call me. Except now they couldn’t. I could feel my stress levels rising.

Then another realisation struck – I wouldn’t be able to check my email account because I’d be signing in on a brand new computer that would only accept my log in details via a two-step authentication code which, you’ve guessed it, would be sent to my phone! Oh, joy of joy.

There was nothing for it, I’d have to reluctantly suck up this unexpected digital detox.

This is what I discovered…

Five things I learned by accidentally leaving my phone at home

A sense of freedom

At first, I felt lost without my phone and quite anxious. Questions rattled around my head. How am I going to contact my boss? How will people contact me? What happens if the train is late? What happens if I get lost? What sort of impression is this going to make? But then I just accepted the situation for what it was and let it go. With peace came clarity. I’d been catastrophising massively – something I did when my health first went haywire – and I found myself worrying  about future situations that might not happen.  I told myself there was nothing I could do and instead focussed on the present moment. Yes, I couldn’t check the news sites or email and felt quite disconnected but there was no compulsion to endlessly scroll and it felt enormously freeing.

How to create more time

This sounds like a flippin’ obvious one but, quite frankly, I was staggered by how much time I recouped. Train journeys are usually spent catching up with Whatsapp group messages, Instagram, blog admin and general work emails. Before I jumped on board I had a quick chat with the jolly man in the coffee kiosk and on the ride into London another young commuter jokingly told me how he couldn’t face the day ahead as his flatmate had a party that had kept him up until 5am. Would I have had these conversations if I’d been glued to my phone? Probably not. Did they make me smile? Yes. It made me wonder what else I’d been missing out on.

How to be mindful in everyday life

I’ve written about mindfulness before – from hypnotherapy mind massages to group meditation sessions – but leaving my phone at home was a true lesson in everyday mindful living. I usually listen to music or the radio during the walk to and from the station. Instead, my soundtrack was the crunch of the golden autumn leaves underfoot, and the birds chirping in the trees. As cliché as it sounds, I felt very much at one with nature. Just being aware, truly present and grateful for being alive was a very uplifting way to start the day.

How to increase productivity in personal and business life

Sitting on the train, after the tired twenty-something had departed, I pulled out my notepad and began goal setting. I scribbled down feature ideas for the day job, blog post musings, and made a list of what I needed to organise at home. I was in full flow and my brain was positively singing and dancing. By the time I arrived at work I was excited at the prospect of nailing my meetings and coaching without having to worry about any other pressure or obstacles that might have been thrown in my path via emails or the phone.

It can wait. Honestly. 

Most self-employed people – I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years – worry about missing out on work and I was, in fact, expecting a call from a chap from another agency on the same day. Initially I panicked as we’d suggested provisionally meeting up after I’d finished my consultancy gig. As it turned out my contact’s meeting had been postponed and it would take him another week to call me, by which time I’d been reunited with the phone! These things always seem to have a way of working themselves out.

How to relax

Yes, I’d worked a long day in London and while the commute was always going to be far more tiring than in the days prior to my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome diagnosis, I felt energised and rejuvenated on the train journey home. My ‘butterfly’ brain had seemingly settled thanks to fewer distractions. I was very, very content and, dare I say it, relaxed!

How to manage my time effectively

Interestingly, a sense of dread, not excitement, filled my stomach when I opened my front door.  On picking up my phone I found the expected 500 emails (80 per cent were press releases) and social media notifications. There’d been three missed calls (from my dad). Oh, and I had the best part of ten WhatsApp messages, five of which requested rather time-intensive favours.

Now, I always help people out but the stark reality is that between the day job and running this blog I get very little downtime with barely a day off. On opening the messages I instantly felt overwhelmed.  As the knot in my stomach tightened, a realisation struck… I must start setting boundaries and managing my own time better for the sake of my own health, otherwise I really will be of no use to anyone.

Leaving my phone at home proved to be a blessing in disguise and taught me many a lesson.

In fact, I found the whole experience so liberating I could be tempted to do it again!

Have you ever unintentionally left your phone at home? How did you find it?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Fancy reading the health and wellbeing tips of the stars?

Check out our chats with Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Gail Porter and Ryan Sidebottom here.



Helen's Health, Wellness

MCAS: The truth behind my Instagram photos

MCAS and Instagram

Everybody has their own way of dealing with MCAS [Mast Cell Activation Syndrome].

Some document their symptoms and share pictures of their reactions.

Others discuss treatment options that have helped or made them worse.

Personally, I either disappear off the face of the earth – that’s when I’m truly struggling – or pretend that everything’s okay because I’d rather not concern my family or friends.

But seeing as it is World Mental Health Day [10 October 2018] and we’re being encouraged open up for the sake of our mental wellbeing, I’m going to share a secret.

I’m not always fine. In fact, more often than not, I’m petrified of this frustrating horrible disease and just internalise it.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it by looking at my recent Instagram feed which is filled with images of stunning Bajan beaches – the snaps were taken on my most recent holiday. (Regular readers will know I struggle to relax but Barbados, which was the inspiration for the name of this blog, is the one place in the world where I truly switch off).

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The calm before #stormkirk #pink

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However, the pictures only tell half the story because behind the scenes I was also dealing with very nasty tongue swelling and throat closing episodes that left me feeling frightened, groggy and anxious.

I thought I was beginning to beat this damned condition. [Read more about MCAS here] The month before I’d gone for 10 days without a serious reaction, managed to play two tennis matches – popping a super strong antihistamine beforehand as a precautionary measure – and even reintroduced certain foods.

I was beginning to feel like my old self, especially as I was returning to activities that used to bring me such joy.

But a couple of days before the holiday, my trusty car stopped working. Just like that… Turned out a cambelt (no, I had no idea what that was either) had gone, there was engine damage and I needed to buy a new vehicle. WTH? I was strapped for cash (having moved house earlier this year), and still chasing invoices from publications that hadn’t paid me for four months.

My head began to spin.

I started panicking about the car being stranded at the garage while I was away, the storage fees it might incur, how I’d commute to the news shifts I had booked in immediately after my holiday (I live alone) and whether I’d be able to find a car within one day of my return.

Then boom…my mast cells decided to throw a party gifting me a tongue swelling reaction the night before my flight.

It happened again on the plane – despite taking meds as a precaution before the journey – and then every day of the trip bar one – in some instances occurring twice in 24 hours.

On the last two nights, intense palpitations – another symptom of MCAS – were to be my wake-up call, not the sound of the ocean.

Although I refuse to be defined by this condition, the truth is that living with MCAS is exhausting and frightening.

When I’m in a continuous flare, the thought of suffocating to death (or my meds failing through overuse) is never far from my mind.

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Take me back… #beachbum #serenity

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Even if I manage to control a reaction, I’m left wiped out for days. The accompanying brain fog is a joke – I struggle to formulate words – not great when I rely on them for a living. The stabbing pains in my joints aren’t much fun either.  Oh, and every day I wake up with a sore throat or feel as though I’m fighting something.

So why am I telling you this now?

Well,  when the going gets tough I stop speaking – I AM a chatterbox so this is out of character for me.

I vanish from social circles and, seemingly, stop blogging. (Apologies for the dearth of recent posts – now you know why)

I’ve since recognised this withdrawal trait in a couple of my (non-MCAS) friends. I suspected one was struggling recently so I sent a text to let him know how grateful I was to have him in my life and thanked him for being amazing.

He responded saying he had woken up to my message, texting back a row of love hearts. He was having a hard time and thanked me for making him feel better.

This MCAS journey has taught me about anxiety – something I never used to struggle with – and how to identify the individuals who might be struggling with their own mental wellbeing.

It’s made me realise that if someone is behaving out of character or is being non-committal that there could be more to their actions – or lack of them – than meets the eye.

We shouldn’t judge but simply be kind. A simple ‘are you okay’ could make all the difference.

For more articles on mental health and wellbeing you might like to read our interviews with Jonny Wilkinson and Gail Porter.

And meet the man who is turning barbershops into safe havens to prevent male suicide

Helen's Health, Wellness

Meet the man who is turning barbershops into safe havens to prevent male suicide

Top Chapman, founder of suicide prevention charity The Lions Barber Collective

Tom Chapman was devastated when he lost his friend to suicide in 2014.

“I’d seen him just days before and suspected nothing,” the barber from Torquay said. “We shared small talk. I didn’t recognise there was anything wrong with him. [At the time] I was completely unaware of any suicide prevention or mental health charities. If I hadn’t heard of any and I had been affected directly, I thought how many people out there were suffering or worse without any knowledge of resources available? I remember saying to a group of my friends at the wake: ‘We have to do something, something has to change.'”

Within a year he had set up The Lions Barber Collective – a men’s mental health awareness and suicide prevention charity that empowers barbers to make their chairs ‘safe spaces’ for male clients to open up and share their feelings and concerns.

And, in 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May awarded Tom a Point of Light Award – which recognises outstanding individual volunteers.

On World Suicide Prevention Day [10 September], Relax Ya Self To Health caught up with Tom to find out more about his movement and how his training programme is teaching barbers to recognise, talk, listen and signpost clients to the services, like the Samaritans, they might require.

Why is the Barber’s chair so important for opening up the conversation around men’s mental health?

We did a survey with Bluebeards Revenge (male grooming brand) which discovered that over half the men would prefer to talk to their barber than their doctor when it comes to mental health. The barber’s chair is a unique place in society. It is completely non-judgemental and non-clinical everyday environment. Clients trust us to touch their face, necks and ears and make them look good for the foreseeable future. The relationship is often built up over years. As there is very rarely interaction between the barber and client outside of those four walls, there is a level of confidence in the confidentiality of any conversation. There has always been a bond between those in the chair and those behind it. Since publicly letting people know that it is safe to talk to me, as we encourage many other barbers to do, many, many more men feel comfortable to open up and offload.

When did you realise you could make a difference in the area of men’s mental health and male suicide prevention?

Instantly. When we decided to raise funds for suicide prevention and mental health it just clicked. It was obvious. There are very few opportunities for one-to-one human interaction without interruptions. TLBC was set up in 2015 and started with a lookbook of men’s hair images to raise money for charity. Since then it has grown with global interest and we also spend a lot of time raising awareness to break down the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health and suicide.

Can you share an example of someone you’ve helped who was not coping well with life?

A long-time friend of mine Paul sat in my chair. He told me how he felt, how down he was and how he was struggling and mostly I just listened. It was pretty early on into The Lions Barber Collective and I was unaware of how bad he really was feeling. In my eyes, I had always seen him as successful and a phenomenally driven character but it was much worse than I thought.

How did you handle the situation?

I spoke to him about The Lions and what we were doing and how we encouraged people to tell others how they were feeling to try and avoid suicide. Paul went out by himself and was ready to take his life, ready to end it all. But he didn’t. He told me that when he felt like suicide was the only option, he thought about what we were doing and it encouraged him to drive back to his parents and tell them everything. That started his road to recovery. That is why he is still with us. He has publicly said that if it wasn’t for The Lions Barber Collective he wouldn’t be here today and I would have lost another friend. I have actually built a strong bond with so many because of stories like this. Yesterday, I had a phone message from a young lad to thank me and tell me that he is in a good place. He wants to help others and doesn’t want to kill himself anymore. There’s not much that feels better than that and it makes me even happier for his family who love him so much.

Top Chapman, founder of suicide prevention charity the Lion's Barber Collective

How does the Lions Barber Collective work in practice?

Our goals are to raise awareness, encourage barbers to create a safe space for men and an opportunity to open up and offload and educate barbers through BarberTalk Lite, which is now available for free on It will give those who complete it some basic awareness and signposting knowledge, as well as put them on our Lions map on the website letting those in their community know that they have a place they can go, talk, be listened too and not judged in a safe non-clinical environment. Hopefully, through listening and connecting with our clients with empathy we can save another life, and another, and another. The full BarberTalk, which is currently in development, will provide an online modular program which will go into depth on key skills such as non-judgmental listening. I know for a fact we can save more lives.

How do you keep manage your emotional and mental wellbeing?

Through TLBC we’ve built up a network of caring peers who are there for one another. I also have a very supportive family and wife who I know will be there for me if I need them. A support group around you is essential.

What tips would you give to anyone who wants to help someone who is struggling but is unsure how to broach the subject of mental health?

Let them know you are there for them. Don’t tell them you know how they feel but be willing to let them explain how they feel without judgement.
Also if they give you the signs that lead you to suspect that they may be suffering or contemplating suicide, ask them directly. ‘Do you want to kill yourself?’ or ‘Are you contemplating suicide?’ It may be a difficult question, but it won’t make them more likely to take their life. It may give them the opportunity and green light to talk about something that has been causing them a lot of pain. Samaritans and GPs are great places to signpost to.

How did it make you feel to be received the Point of Light award?

In shock! It’s not every day you get a phone call from the highest office in the land say that the PM wants to give you an award. It made my family very proud and I know my grandad, who is no longer with us, would have been too. It is great to be recognised for the work we have been doing, especially when it is not an awards ceremony that people compete for, but a surprise recognition.

Lastly, how do you unwind and manage your mental health?

I like to spend time with my family, watch movies and taking advantage of nature and the countryside that surrounds our home. I also enjoy an hour at the gym as well as some meditation with my Calm app.


  • In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides, according to the latest ONS data on suicide rates in the UK.
  • Three in four of those recorded (4,382) were male, accounting for 15.5 deaths per 100,000 – the lowest rate since 1981.
  • The highest suicide rate by age bracket was 24.8 per 100,000 among males aged 45 to 49 years and 6.8 deaths per 100,000 among women in the 50 to 54-year-old group.
  • Worryingly, a suicide occurs on a railway approximately every 36 hours.  (Read more about the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign and what you can do to help, here. )


If you need a response immediately, call the Samaritans which is open 24 hours every day of the year. You do not have to be suicidal to call them.
Call 116 123.

This mental health charity provides information, support and details on local services.
Call: 0300 123 3393 (Weekdays 9am – 6pm)

Children and young people can find information, support and advice at YoungMinds. Concerned parents of those aged under 25 can also speak to an advisor
Phone: 0808 802 5544 (9.30am-4pm – Monday – Friday)

The Lions Barber Collective
The Lions Barber Collective, as profiled above, is an international collection of top barbers which have come together to help raise awareness for the prevention of suicide. Learn more about their training programme here:

Tom has also teamed up with British male grooming brand The Bluebeards Revenge to create a specially branded Hair Gel, with 50p from every tub sold being donated straight back to the charity. Alongside this product, the insides of The Bluebeards Revenge cartons have been rebranded with powerful messages to support The Lions Barber Collective.

If you found this post helpful you might like to read our chats with rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson and Gail Porter who have both opened up about their previous mental health struggles. 

In the news

Win a Rescue Remedy hamper worth £60 + How to stop feeling fearful

How to stop feeling fearful + win a Rescue Remedy hamper worth £60

Right now plenty of young people will be feeling fearful about the future. They may be anxious about starting university, nervous about their career or worried about not making new friends.

I know I experienced all three of the above when I packed up my things and headed off to the South West of England to start my new life as a university student many moons ago but things didn’t exactly go to plan when I dropped out after just one month (see below).

Back then university ‘care packages’ weren’t a thing but I think they’re a brilliant idea, especially if they’re filled with items to help get you through testing moments. For this very reason, I’m thrilled to team up with Rescue Remedy to give you the chance to win a hamper of goodies worth £60.

Designed to provide support in times of emotional demand, the original Rescue Remedy is a blend of five different flower essences discovered by Dr Bach in the 1930s. The products can be used to help keep you calm or stay focused during stressful situations such as a move to unfamiliar surroundings.

The good news is this competition isn’t only open to students. Anyone – including empty nesters or those going through stressful times – can enter the draw!

Win a Rescue Remedy Hamper worth £60

One lucky winner will receive the following:

  • RESCUE® Pastilles (Orange & Elderflower and Blackcurrant) worth £6.45
  • RESCUE PLUS® Lozenges worth £3.99
  • RESCUE REMEDY® 10ml dropper worth £8.49
  • RESCUE REMEDY® 20ml dropper worth £10.99
  • RESCUE REMEDY® 7ml spray worth £7.99
  • RESCUE REMEDY® 20ml spray worth £11.49
  • RESCUE® Night 20ml spray worth £10.99

To enter simply tell us what is stressing you out at the moment and why the prize will help. For a second entry simply like and share our Facebook post.

The winner’s name will be drawn out of a hat at 8pm (GMT) on September 16 2018.

Good luck!

Terms and conditions apply. The competition is only open to UK residents.

Life after dropping out of university

I always knew I wanted to become a journalist – a job I’ve been fortunate to do for the past 18 years. Only, my careers adviser had other ideas.

“Everyone wants to be a reporter,” he insisted. “The industry is too hard. You’re better off doing a media studies degree, not journalism. It’ll give you more choice.”

Being young and impressionable I accepted his advice but by week three of university I felt awkward, alone and on a course that held little appeal. Deep down I knew I’d made the wrong decision.

Weeping and trembling with fear, I called my dear mother from the phone box  – we didn’t have mobiles back then – and apologised for letting her down. I felt like a worthless ‘drop out’ but my mum was brilliant and not upset in the slightest.  The weight on my shoulders instantly lifted.

In the months that followed I contacted numerous consumer magazines and newspapers for work experience but they knocked me back time and time again. The reason? Oversubscription.

I pasted every single rejection letter into a scrapbook.

Was I disheartened?


Was that careers adviser right?


The competition was fierce but deep down I knew I wanted to be a reporter. I didn’t give up.

I then contacted my local newspaper. The editor called me in for a ‘work experience’ before eventually offering me a part-time job. My life changed in an instant.

During that gap year, I cut my teeth on local news stories. I then secured a place on an accredited journalism degree course at a different university and the rest, as they say, is history.

Even so, I’ll never forget the fear that consumed me when I made that initial call home. Or how I beat myself up for thinking I was a complete and utter failure. I felt lost. I had no idea how my life would pan out. And I even remember standing in the street looking at an elderly couple thinking: “I wish I was their age and retired.”

Yes… I was THAT concerned.

So how do you stop feeling fearful about the future?

How to stop feeling fearful + win a Rescue Remedy hamper worth £60

How to stop feeling fearful + win a Rescue Remedy hamper worth £60

The  lessons I’ve since learned are:

1. Take one day at a time and avoid thinking too far ahead or worrying about a situation that might not unfold *This is far easier said than done*
2. Talk to someone if you’re feeling uncertain, low or unhappy. It’s cliche but a problem shared is a problem halved.  Check out the websites of Mind and Young Minds which are filled with lots of helpful advice.
3. Always listen to your gut instinct and have confidence in it. It is, in my experience, always right.
4. Follow your dreams and never give up. You can DO it.  *It took me three attempts to pass my driving test!*

Are you looking for further ways to manage your stress levels? If so, you might like to read the following:

20 ways to relieve stress
Review: How a tapping session helped my anxiety
Review: Gazelli House hypnotherapy mind massage
Review: Chilston Park Hotel Wellness Retreat
Could this psychology app improve your life?

Or read the health and wellness tips of stars including Katie Piper and Jonny Wilkinson below:

Jonny Wilkinson reveals how he unwinds
Katie Piper talks anxiety, babies and self-care
Gail Porter talks hair loss and hope
Pat Cash talks Coco, Reiki and his pneumonia scare




Andy Murray’s fitness coach talks dream jobs and forfeits

Andy Murray's coach on the fitness side, Matt Little

If you’re an Andy Murray fan there’s a chance you’ll recognise his fitness trainer Matt Little.

The 41-year-old, who is affectionately known as ‘Treacle’, has worked with the former world No.1 and two-time Wimbledon champion for more than a decade.

Ahead of The Championships, which start on Monday and run until 15 July, Matt tells Relax Ya Self to Health how he landed his dream job, the antics he gets up to with Andy and why it’s hard to stay healthy on tour.

Matt, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. You’re a fitness expert and Andy Murray’s coach in this department. How did you get the job?  

I started working with Jamie [Andy Murray’s brother] the year he won the Mixed Doubles with Jelena Jankovic in 2007 and met Andy vicariously through that. We chatted a little and then met again at Nigel Sear’s 50th birthday party [Nigel is the father of Andy’s wife Kim]. We had an hour-long conversation. A couple of months later I started working as a junior member of Andy’s team.

Why is your nickname Treacle?

When I first started working with Andy Murray and the team, I used to play upon the fact that I had a bit of a cockney accent. So I’d walk around all day calling everyone else treacle. The guys thought this was very funny and somehow it ended up as my nickname. My mates from home think it’s hilarious that I’m called Treacle, but now I also think its strange when someone calls me Matt. I guess you could call it an identity crisis. [LAUGHS]

Did you always want to become a tennis strength and conditioning coach?

By the time I’d reached the age of 16, I knew I wanted a career in tennis and knew I wasn’t going to be good enough to make any sort of a living playing it. I especially enjoyed the physical side. I used to be a member of Sutton Junior Tennis Centre and every Sunday we’d do the bleep test and boxing training with a chap called Johnny Langley. I absolutely loved it. So I set about getting the right qualifications. I started working with juniors, volunteering and getting a few low-level kinds of jobs with more national level players. Except by my mid-twenties, I’d hit a bit of a plateau and wasn’t getting any further up the ladder.

You work with ATP players – namely  Andy  – but have trained others too. How did you get your foot in the door?

I decided to go to Australia for a year and shadow the best tennis players and coaches out there. Before I left the UK, I wrote to all the state tennis centres and ended up working for Western Australian Tennis. I went to Melbourne, then Sydney and basically just did that for a year. As luck or fate would have it the coach who employed me in Perth had a British wife and came over to the UK to work for the LTA. When I got back from Australia he was already working at the tennis academy at Loughborough and suggested I apply for the job. I started working with the British juniors there for around five years and then moved to the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton to work with the better senior players. It’s hard to believe I’ve worked in tennis for 20 years.


What’s it like being part of Team Murray?

My role has changed a lot. When I first started ten years ago I was more of an assistant tennis strength and conditioning coach so I was helping Jez Green [former fitness trainer] implement the programme on the weeks he wasn’t there, throwing in a few ideas and bits and bobs myself but mainly worked as an assistant. When Jez moved on in 2014 my role switched quite dramatically because I went from being one of the least experienced in the team to one of the most experienced. My role’s quite broad now. I manage Andy’s off-court training as well as writing and delivering his programme and manage the support team.

Do you ever play tennis with Andy?

Occasionally, yes. It’s more for humiliation than anything. He will call me out on the court in front of the fans because he knows I love to play, give me his racket which weighs about ten kilos [laughs] and hit second serves to my backhands so I shank balls out of the court. My backhand is my worst shot.  When we first started working together a lot of funny stuff happened. We’d play football tennis over the net and the loser had to do a forfeit. There are about 2,000 horrendous forfeits I can list! One involved wearing a pink velour tracksuit to an exhibition and stripping in front of the crowd. Another involved a naked ice bath.

How would you describe your personality?

I’m not particularly fiery or confrontational so I suppose I’m like the glue that sticks everyone together. Often people think that to work in elite sport you have to be quite confrontational and edgy all the time but I’m actually the opposite and it’s actually served me well. I think if I had been like that I wouldn’t have been with Andy Murray for ten years, that’s for sure.

What’s your favourite motto – especially for those considering careers in tennis?

“Slow down to get ahead.” There are no shortcuts to success. It may happen for a lucky few but when they reach the top they don’t know how to handle it or what to do because they haven’t trodden the right journey to get there. I’m currently writing a book about it.

Many people would love to be Andy Murray’s coach be it on the fitness or tennis side.  What advice would you give? 

A lot of the young fitness trainers I speak to say they want to work with Andy Murray or that level of player. I’m like you’ve got two years experience, how on earth are you going to survive working with a player of that calibre? You need to do ten years of working with juniors and lower level seniors, making mistakes, and dealing with travel. You need to learn the job before you work in the top job. I think the real issue today is that everyone wants the top job yesterday. You can learn to be a fitness trainer in a couple of days if you watch enough YouTube clips, that’s not the deal. The deal is learning the people skills, the soft skills to deal with lots of situations that get thrown at you. It’s not about the exercises you give someone, anyone can write a programme for somebody, that’s the relatively easy bit.


You’re often pictured laughing with Andy Murray…

We’ve got a very similar dry sense of humour. We like Will Ferrell and The Office. Now we’ve got to the stage where if something funny happens or if someone says something a bit odd we only have to look at each other to know what the other is thinking.

You’re in good shape but is it hard to eat well while working on the road?

Yes. Eating out regularly means there’s the temptation to have a starter whereas if you’re at home you’d just cook yourself one dish. The waiter always brings a bread basket before you eat when you’re starving, so that’s nails in the coffin. You’ve got to be really strict with yourself. There’s also free food in player lounges all the time – little biscuits, coffees and you just boredom eat. You could have up to four lattes in a day at a tournament when it’s raining and you’re sitting around.

So what’s the secret of staying trim?

My routine is to try and be consistent – that’s the thing most people get wrong. They train for two hours one day and then don’t go back to the gym for another two weeks. I’ve tried to recently make sure I do something pretty much every day. At one point my body wasn’t changing because I wasn’t eating the right things when I left the gym. I’ve now switched the lattes for Americanos and gone gluten-free. I noticed massive changes in my body weight almost immediately because I’d been training hard and built up that level of fitness. As soon as I ate the right things the weight and body fat dropped off me. Within three to four weeks I looked completely different.

Have you ever had any health issues?

I constantly have a bad back but I know exactly what goes wrong when it goes wrong. It happens when I put weight on and when I get stiff. Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car commuting so if I sit in a car for four hours a day I’m stiff as a board.

Name one of your favourite places in the world.

My wife and I go to Dubai a lot as she has family there.  We’re treated really well over there.

You’ll be familiar with tennis nerves especially when watching Andy. How do you relax away from the court? 

When I’m in the UK, I love chilling out in front of the TV. I have to shut the door otherwise the cats come and start scratching the curtains which really stresses me out. I also like listening to podcasts. Lewis Howes, the School of Greatness is great as it’s so positive.


If you liked our chat with Matt Little you might like to read our other celebrity interviews with:
Pat Cash,  Jonny Wilkinson, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Barton, Katie Piper and Gail Porter 

If you’re a tennis fan and have never headed to Nature Valley International at Eastbourne you might like to read our post on the event here 

Enjoyed this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below and please feel free to share.







Celebrity interviews

Anna Williamson talks panic attacks, sleep debt and Bali

Anna Williamson

As part of Mental Health Awareness week, we caught up TV presenter and radio broadcaster Anna Williamson.

The 36-year-old, who lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Alex Di Pasquale and 18-month old son Enzo, developed crippling anxiety at the age of 25.

On the surface, Anna appeared to have it all – youth, good looks, and a fantastic job presenting the then number one ITV kid’s television show Toonattik – a role she loved and valued.

But behind the smiles and pressure that is part and parcel of a job in the media, she was also navigating a ‘tricky’ relationship and dealing with frequent panic attacks.

Over the past decade, Anna has addressed her issues, retrained as a Master NLP Practitioner and written two books: Breaking Mad – which is packed full of practical anxiety-busting solutions and has just been released in paperback –  and the recently launched Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety.  She also presents on Talk Radio with Jamie East and BBC 3Counties on every Saturday between 2-5pm.

How would you describe your personality?
People often say I have a ‘sunny’ disposition, and that’s a lovely compliment. I’m a pretty positive person and full of beans most of the time.

You were 25-years-old when you developed anxiety? What were your symptoms?
Feeling terrified all the time, panic attacks, feeling very needy (around my parents), being unable to fall asleep and becoming obsessive about it. For example, I’d go to bed at 8pm, try to sleep but the more I tried the more the panic attacks would come on. I’d like awake for hours and was constantly exhausted. It wasn’t a fun place to be.

When was your anxiety at its worst?
The six months before I sought help from doctors. I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling which wasn’t the best idea. At its worst, I was having several panic attacks a day and for a fleeting moment wished I could crash my car to give me a physical injury so I could have some time out from the world – I was that desperate to feel better.

Were you aware that you had anxiety at the time?
I thought I was seriously mentally ill. I had no enjoyment in anything and was permanently anxious about everything.  I didn’t know ‘anxiety’ existed as a thing back then. I now know it’s very common and why I wanted to share my experiences and tried and tested therapy-based techniques in my books.


Anna Williamson

When did things start to improve?
Asking for help was the start of getting the treatment I needed.  I had talking therapy with a consultant psychiatrist initially once a week for four weeks, then fortnightly for about six months and then monthly for another six months. It was amazing. The sessions taught me how to relax, how to address learnt behaviours and buried issues, and how to talk openly. I was also on short-term anti-anxiety medication, which allowed me to start working on myself and my triggers.  I needed to learn to say ‘no’ and put myself first a lot more.

What are your top tips for managing anxiety?
My quick fix tips are breathing…I call it the 7/11 where you breathe in through your nose for seven seconds and out through your mouth for 11.  It really helps to calm everything down including your heart rate, and mental state. Once we get our breathing under control we can start to reduce any feelings of anxiety. Also, talking is so important as it allows pent-up feelings to come out. Don’t bottle the anxiety up – if it stays inside it can fester. Talk to someone you trust and let it all out.

How well do you cope with stress?
I have moments when things do get on top of me like doing too many things, there being not enough hours in the day etc but I prioritise what needs to be done and then work my way through as best I can.  I have Enzo now and he comes first. He’s great at reminding me that family really is all that matters and that can calm me down.


Anna Williamson

What’s your favourite motto and why?
“If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it”…courtesy of my lovely dad who always spurs me on with work, and re-energises me when any rejections have threatened to stall me.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.
I’m a pretty nifty skier!

What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?
My honeymoon in Bali was my dream holiday. Sunshine, beaches and cocktails…perfection. I like to do nothing on holiday bar relax.

Are you a city, country or coastal lass?
Country bumpkin through and through. I was brought up in the sticks and I just love the rural life – it’s so relaxing and fills me with happiness.

What do you do to relax in the UK?
I make sure I have down time just for me every day; it’s not a luxury it’s a necessity to keep me healthy and well.  The phone goes off, I have a walk or a run, and I love a nice bubble bath. If I don’t do this I get irritable and can feel the stress and anxiety building up physically and mentally. I also eat as cleanly as possible and exercise as much as I’m able to, even if it’s just a walk.

Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety By Anna Williamson published by Green Tree is available now in paperback at

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read our health and wellbeing interviews with other well-known faces including: Ryan SidebottomJonny WilkinsonPat CashKatie PiperAndrew BartonGail Porter.


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