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.
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.
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 www.amazon.co.uk
If you enjoyed this post you might like to read our health and wellbeing interviews with other well-known faces including: Ryan Sidebottom, Jonny Wilkinson, Pat Cash, Katie Piper, Andrew Barton, Gail Porter.