Anna Williamson chats with Angela Sara West about her ‘crafty’ advice for tackling anxiety, her LuAnna podcasts, new book, Celebs Go Virtual Dating, plus her plans for World Mental Health Day this weekend!
You offer so much amazing support and advice to those living with mental health conditions, but how did you look after your own mental health during lockdown, Anna?
As someone who has lived with General Anxiety Disorder for well over a decade, I was worried about my mental health when lockdown kicked in, despite successfully managing through many years using tried and tested techniques. I had post-natal depression with my son Enzo so, naturally, I was worried going into lockdown with a 12-week old baby (my daughter Eleanora was born in December last year).
Luckily, I haven’t suffered this time around due to the different birth choices I made and the excellent support I received from the NHS Mental Health team. I will never forget, however, watching that 8 o’clock lockdown address from Boris Johnson, that familiar stab of anxiety I felt in my chest… For anyone suffering with anxiety, a huge symptom is ‘fight, freeze of flight’ and, in this situation, a lot of people have felt that they wanted to run away, but couldn’t, and so felt that familiar feeling of being trapped. So, even though I did experience some anxiety initially, I managed to get myself under control. I also believe the good weather helped a lot – vitamin D and a healthy perspective really helped keep my worries at bay.
What would be your top tips for those suffering with anxiety and depression?
For anyone suffering with anxiety or depression, whether it’s historic or a new feeling, firstly remember that you are perfectly normal and part of a big old club. Make sure you get some help – don’t sit there and suffer in silence or internalise your feelings, because eventually your thoughts will manifest and bubble over like a pressure cooker. Speak to your GP and charities such as MIND or Anxiety UK, or if you have anxieties surrounding having a child, try PANDAS UK who are just great.
There are plenty of professionals who can empathise, sympathise and point you in the right directions. Talking to a therapist can be hugely powerful and, where appropriate, medication can also help. I would also say that exercise and diet are scientifically proven to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, so make sure you take that into consideration as well.
From post-natal depression and staying sane whilst staying home with small children, to relatable parenting hacks and tips on dealing with the pressures of home-schooling, you’ve given many a parent invaluable advice… What would you say to those frazzled mums and dads still struggling with parenting, particularly during these anxious times?
I know a lot of parents have found this year hugely challenging – believe me, I’m right there with you all! My advice would be not to measure yourself against other mums/dads on social media – it isn’t reflective of real life. Just remember that there is no such thing as a perfect parent and everyone is just doing their best. Reach out for support when you need it and be vocal about it. You don’t have to be a martyr; just be open to asking for and receiving help from the people you love and trust in your life.
As a very busy mother, presenter, writer, life coach and counsellor, how do you juggle everything? Do you ever seek help yourself to offload mentally, and to get your work/life balance back in check?
Every professional therapist has professional supervision and CPD (continuing professional development). A group of us check in once a month to offload and support each other, which is really important for keeping our own wellbeing in a good place. In terms of finding a work/life balance – if anyone comes up with that formula, I want in on the shares! For me personally, as long as the balance tip is in favour of my family, that keeps my mental health ticking along well.
Crafting can help hugely with mental health – what are your words of wisdom for those thinking about taking up a craft, and what, for you, are the main rewards of creativity for mental health and wellbeing?
My mother-in-law is a champion crafter and has really opened my eyes to the world of crafting! There was a huge wave a few years ago of people using colouring books for anxiety which, I think, says a lot for the value of being crafty – it’s a great outlet for pent-up stress and pressure.
Do you enjoy crafting with your children?
I have to say, I’m a bit crap at art, but I really enjoy painting with my son. I almost take myself back to school and love doing things like drawing and doodling or making a birdfeeder for the garden… But I think whatever makes you feel creative is worth exploring. For me, it’s writing, but you might like singing or dancing or cooking – something loads of people have embraced during lockdown. Whatever you like to do, there’s plenty of evidence to back up the fact that creativity can help improve mental health because it distracts the mind from the worrying thoughts and focuses it on something productive.
What are the things that make you most happy? And what’s your guilty pleasure?
The answer to both is definitely pizza. Meaty, fatty, cheesy pizza…Just kidding! It’s a massive cliché but my kids are what make me the most happy. You go through hell and back having them – they’re a huge challenge – but it’s those tiny, innocent, wonderful moments where they make me the purest kind of happy. When they give me a kiss and tell me they love me, it makes it all worthwhile.
What do you love most about working on ‘Celebs Go Dating’?
Celebs Go Dating is by far one of my favourite shows to be a part of, and that’s saying something because I’ve been schlepping around this industry for 20 years! It’s just everything I love all in one place – entertainment, celebrity, therapy, talking, people, humour… and so many of the celebs really do get a lot out of the process. With Celebs Go Virtual Dating, we reformatted the show for lockdown, which I’m very proud we managed to do, but fingers crossed we get to back to a ‘full-sized’ version soon!
What have been a few of the highlights of this, and past series, for you, and who are a few of your fave celeb daters?
Alison Hammond is definitely up there with my top celeb daters… I also really enjoyed working with Lee Ryan from Blue, who was great quality. Dean Gaffney was another. I adored Megan McKenna – she’s an absolute poppet and I’d like to see her back on the show. And then, of course, there’s Sam Thompson and Pete Wicks, who are basically part of the CGD family at this point.
Talking of Pete Wicks, you’ve just made your TOWIE debut on ITVBe, helping out Pete and Chloe Sims with their recently-confessed complex relationship… Who else would you LOVE to get on the CGD show?
I’d really like an old school actor… perhaps a 90’s sitcom star, like Screech from Saved By The Bell or Toadfish from Neighbours.
You said on social media that love in lockdown and post isolation was going to be huge… What are your top tips for dating in these worrying times?
Definitely embrace virtual dating – it’s never been cooler or more accepted across the board. The best thing about it is that it’s safe; you can do it from the comfort of your own home, plus it’s cheap! So, go for it and enjoy it. It’s a good warm-up to see if you like someone enough to then meet up with them.
And your advice for those experiencing relationship problems?
I would say that it’s a common issue right now. It’s important, firstly, to pause, take a step back and accept that this is a very unique time and things are likely to get heated more than usual. It’s important to take some space and allow your partner to do the same, then come back together to communicate your issues and work out how you can resolve them. Don’t be afraid to outsource help through a counsellor or mediator to help address your issues and work out a future plan for you both.
You relaunched your chart-topping LuAnna: The Podcast with Luisa Zissman (of Apprentice fame) early this year, seeing you chat about topical stories of the week, and you’ve just announced to your loyal ‘LuFanians’ that you and Luisa will be hosting an interactive BIG NIGHT IN to mark LuAnna’s two-year anniversary…
That’s right! Join Luisa and I on Saturday 17th October 2020 at 8.30pm for LuAnna: The Big Night In. This time, we’ll be doing it TOGETHER and will be answering listeners’ questions live on the show. We’re also really excited that the LuAnna tour has been fully rescheduled to 2021 and tickets have been automatically reissued. Check out the website http://www.everythingluanna.com for new dates and spare tickets!
How did the collab with Luisa come about?
Luisa and I have been friends for years… We met on Big Brother’s Bit on the Side when we were both heavily pregnant, and Luisa took the piss out of me for being massive when she wasn’t – I thought she was very funny and very sweet, and the rest is history!
You joined Prince Charles along with Ant and Dec last year to host The Princes’ Trust Celebrate Success Awards and you’re something of a success story yourself! Your bestselling book ‘Breaking Mad’ went straight in at the no.1 spot on Amazon, pushing Mary Berry’s hit ‘Bake Off’ book into second place, and you’ve since released two follow-up titles – Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety and ‘How Not To Lose It’, an informative guide to mental health for children and teenagers. Any more exciting books in the works?
Yes! I’m working on a new book with Bloomsbury Publishing. It’s all about love, dating and relationships…
World Mental Health Day (WMHD) this Saturday 10th October is set to be particularly poignant for many this year, following an unprecedented, and particularly turbulent 2020. You’ve said that it’s important to take each day as it comes during these strange times and that it’s also proven that helping others boosts our own mental health.
You’re supporting ‘Where’s Your Head At?’, the feel-good campaign running across all Bauer brands, including Heat magazine, Grazia UK, Closer Magazine, Absolute Radio and KISSFM UK ahead of WMHD – do you have any special plans yourself for the day?
Not to be too ‘doom and gloom’, but there has been discussion amongst experts of the pandemic causing a ‘second’ pandemic for mental health, so I think that this year’s WMHD is more important than ever to help bring everyone together. I think that people who have never previously suffered with any form of bad mental health will now understand it a lot more, and that’s an important thing for everyone to remember and embrace.
And finally, what’s next for Anna Williamson?
I think mainly just trying to get through 2020 coronavirus free… The LuAnna Podcast is still a big focus, and I’m also busy working on my new book – so watch this space!
Anna is an Ambassador for Mind, Childline, The Marriage Foundation and The Prince’s Trust, and recently worked with The Brain Forum on a series of mental health and mindfulness debates.
To find out more, follow Anna on Instagram: @annawilliamsonofficial
© Angela Sara West 2020: http://www.angelasarawest.com