Anna Williamson: Hertford TV life coach's battle with anxiety
PUBLISHED: 11:30 30 April 2018 | UPDATED: 16:45 30 April 2018
With Mental Health Awareness Week this month, Hertford TV presenter, therapist and author Anna Williamson reveals how she overcomes debilitating anxiety to live a happy, fulfilling life
According to the Mental Health Foundation, more than 16 million people experience a mental health problem in the UK each year. We’re fast becoming a nation of worriers, and stress is recognised to be a key trigger in our escalating levels of anxiety and depression.
Hertford-based TV and radio personality, Anna Williamson, is all too familiar with the debilitating effects that anxiety can have on one’s day-to-day existence. In 2005 she was presenting the children’s TV show Toonattik when she had a breakdown at work. Behind closed doors, she had been suffering from stress, panic attacks and insomnia, and the pressure that she was putting herself under in both a professional and personal capacity became too much.
‘I’d always had anxiety, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that it became a problem and stopped me living my life to the full,’ Anna confides. ‘I was under a lot of stress and experiencing a great deal of emotional strain in my relationship at the time, which was largely responsible for my anxiety reaching unhealthy levels.
‘I’d been treading water and “coping” for months, while at the same time feeling very detached from myself, others and life in general. One day at work I burst into tears and it was then I realised that I needed to get some help.’
Anna went to see her GP and a consultant psychiatrist and was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder. She was put on a short-term course of medication and attended a series of talking therapy sessions incorporating Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Emotional Freedom Technique and hypnosis. The treatment helped Anna to change her thought patterns and learn how to manage her stress more effectively.
Within a month, she was back at work and her journey to conquering her anxiety was well underway, so much so, that she wanted to help others who were going through similar experiences.
‘I was so impressed with the benefits of talking therapy that I wanted to learn how to practice and preach it, and how to help others who need an empathic ear,’ Anna explains. ‘I also felt I wanted to speak out publicly as it can be such a hard thing to talk about mental health.
‘I’ve been working in the public eye since I was 15 years old so I am used to putting myself out there, so to speak. It really is all I have known and so I feel very comfortable talking openly about myself and my experiences.’
Over a period of five years, Anna trained as a counsellor, NLP practitioner and life coach. Today she runs a successful private practice as well as working as an agony aunt and psychology expert on TV shows such as This Morning, Good Morning Britain and Big Brother’s Bit on the Side.
As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I imagine the pressure of a job in television and having to perform in front of thousands of viewers is a constant challenge, but Anna seems to take it in her stride.
‘I’ve been working on stage and screen for so long that I feel very comfortable in that environment. It’s been part of me and my life for over 18 years so I actually feel more like me when I’m in work mode.
She admits she still does suffer with anxiety sometimes and when working in the public eye it can be even more challenging. ‘During these times I feel really exposed and I don’t want all eyes on me. However, I’ve learnt some great coping strategies and techniques and I know how to ease the anxious feelings and thoughts away.’
In addition to her counselling work, Anna decided to write about her experiences in order to spread the word and help others battle feelings of anxiety and depression. Her first book, Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety was published last year and is full of stress-busting tips on how to live better and restore your confidence when panic attacks. A second book, Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety has just been released and explores some of the mental health challenges that new parents face.
She has also taken her experience to the theatre with a stage version of her debut book at The Spotlight, Hoddesdon in February (where she also starred as Snow White in the theatre’s 2017 panto), and more shows are planned.
‘I feel very passionately about representing other mental health sufferers. There are so many people suffering from stress-related conditions yet there is still a stigma surrounding mental health. My aim to is use my experiences and voice in a positive way to help destigmatise it.
Mental Health Awareness Week is May 14-20. See mentalhealth.org.uk for more information.
Anna’s top three tips for managing stress and anxiety
Breathe properly. When we’re anxious, we tend to breathe too shallowly, which can make us feel more anxious and stressed. Breathe in for seven seconds and out for 11 seconds, and really feel it down to the bottom of your lungs. Remind yourself where you are and find your safe place.
Plan effectively. Try to organise your days and weeks in advance to reduce stress and the possibility of over-committing yourself. Plan the top four things that need doing in a day and schedule in some time just to relax. Always take regular breaks. A change of scenery can reset your mental health.
Practice the art of saying no. We all find ourselves saying yes, even at times when we know we should say no. Avoid putting yourself at the bottom of the list of your priorities. Be confident in saying no to doing something that is going to take up too much time and energy if it means you’ll feel stressed as a result.