In the second interview of my Inspiring Interviews series, I was thrilled when Anna agreed to be interviewed by Guilty Mother! I met Anna in March 2017 when she interviewed me for her "Breaking Mum and Dad" the podcast. I absolutely loved chatting to Anna on the podcast and I really felt myself naturally opening up with her in the conversation. She gently prised me open like a precious shell. I found myself talking about the time I broke down in tears in a Sainsburys superstore with my newborn baby. Even though I would call myself a strong, independent woman, it is amazing how vulnerable we can feel after having a baby. Being a life coach, Anna does an amazing job of showing us all that it's...good to talk.
However, what struck me was despite Anna being so confident and gorgeous with a successful career - she suffers with anxiety and panic attacks. She writes very openly in her books on how she manages this - even more so since becoming a parent herself.
Anna uses her voice and her social platform for the power of good. We know progress is being made in changing the way we talk about mental health now and this is due to people, like Anna prising opening the conversation.
1) Anna, in a few lines, tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm a TV and radio presenter, qualified life coach and best selling author of Breaking Mad and Breaking Mum and Dad. I live in Hertfordshire and have a husband Alex and 22 month old son Enzo.
2) You openly talk about anxiety and I wondered if you would share when you first started suffering and perhaps, was there was something that kickstarted it?
I was diagnosed in 2006 with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and panic disorder when I was presenting the kids show, Toonattik on ITV. I was feeling pressure at work and I was in an emotionally abusive relationship - I struggled to cope for several months and finally it all came out in crippling panic attacks and anxiety induced depression
3) What coping mechanisms do you use and encourage when your anxiety levels are high?
I'm a huge fan of breathing....deep breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth...it physically calms me down and stills my racing mind. I also remind myself that this is just a moment, and it will pass. It's also important that I have a good work/life balance and sleep as well as possible. Lack of sleep triggers my anxiety.
4) Being a parent has its challenges. What challenges do you think parents have in 2018?
Parenting is such a unique job, no parent or child is ever the same. I think juggling work, family, finances, friendships and relationships - combined - is a huge pressure on modern parents. So much to do and too much pressure to keep up. You don't have to keep up with anyone, only do what feels right for you and your new family, and never measure yourself against another parent, you are unique and doing it your way.
5) How do you 'find balance' as a busy mum to your toddler, Enzo and does mum guilt ever slip in? And does your husband ever feel dad guilt?
I think we're all prone to the mum/dad guilt...I feel it the most when I'm out socialising...which is rare. Basically theres always a bit of mum guilt whenever I'm not with Enzo...work, fun, doctors appointments..you name it haha. But I'm good at giving myself a stern talking to and reminding myself that I don't have to be perfect, good enough will do just fine and as long as Enzo is being well cared for by either my husband or I, I don't allow that guilt in. I'm a better mum by being a working mum.
6) You recently shared a very personal Instagram story where you had just had a panic attack, which you shared to build awareness. I thought this was brave and I respect you for that. It must be quite scary when you have a panic attack. Could you talk us through what happens / why it happened and how you manage to calm yourself after an episode?
That Instagam post was important for me to share. I'm very authentic on my social media platforms and as I campaign so hard at normalising mental health, I like to share my own challenges when they come.....it's important for me to show that mental health is normal, challenges come and go but I don't let it dictate my life anymore.
That panic attack on the tube was horrible...the tube stopped in a tunnel and it was very hot....I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to get out, I felt dizzy and started to hyperventilate....I worked hard on keeping my breathing steady, reminded myself that the platform was only a few meters the other side of the tunnel, and once we'd got moving again I got off the tube and calmed myself down. I then made sure I re-boarded the train to get my destination so I didn't let the anxiety win. I let the panic attack happen, and I then carried on...that's key...never change your behaviour otherwise it's in control on you not the other way round.
7) If someone is suffering from anxiety or has been having panic attacks, what can they do to seek help and advice?
Don't suffer in silence, talk to someone and tell someone how you're feeling....its more common than you might realise. It's a perfectly normal reaction to fear or threat....work out the cause of the anxiety and work with a therapist to get to the bottom of it. Coping techniques are really useful, as a therapist I share them with people all the time. Also be kind to yourself, a panic attacks feels rubbish in the moment, so allow yourself to recover slowly too.
8) You've written two books which is amazing! In your latest book 'Breaking Mum and Dad' you discuss mental health for new mums and dads. I understand you felt compelled to write this after being diagnosed with post-natal anxiety and birth trauma following the birth of your first baby. Can you tell us abit more about the book?
Sure. Breaking Mum and Dad is all about the 'other side' of parenting...the mental health stuff. How it can really feel, struggling to bond with your baby, missing your pre-baby life and body, making new mum friends, relationship challenges.....you name it, if you've thought it, it will probabaxly be covered in the book....even the unmentionable stuff like 'I didn't feel overwhelming love for my baby at first'.....the book is a big empathic hug to all new parents...and there are plenty of bits which will make you laugh too.
Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insiders Guide to Parenting Anxiety and Breaking Mad: The Insiders Guide to Conquering Anxiety is out now via Bloomsbury and Amazon.
Breaking Mum and Dad The Podcast is available via iTunes and Acast.
Follow Anna Williamson on Instagram - www.instagram.com/lifecoachingbyanna