Two women who overcame anxiety share their action plans for beating it

One in 20 of us suffer from persistent anxiety, with many not knowing how to get rid of it. We asked two women who have beaten anxiety what worked for them and the answers are surprising.

Anxiety is a disease that affects people in the extreme, above and beyond what people can experience from simply stress.

Nikki Blissett, 38, works in digital marketing and lives with her husband Craig and their children, Tristan, eight, and Aaron, 14 months, in Reading.

“I’ve always been an anxious person – it runs in my family; both my mum and sister are very anxious – but I began to suffer severe symptoms when my first son was born. It was a traumatic birth and afterwards I experienced severe postnatal depression, which meant even leaving the house became a mission. The first time I had a panic attack, I was in the supermarket. The noise, lights and people – it all became overwhelming. Soon the attacks began to happen anywhere, even while I was driving.

“The depression and anxiety took over and I was hospitalised. I had cognitive behavioural therapy, which helped me to recognise the signs and gave me strategies to cope. The anxiety gradually subsided but recently I’ve been having a difficult time – I’ve had another baby, I was made redundant and my husband and I had trouble in our relationship.

“The anxiety symptoms returned and recently I’ve been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder. I’m learning how to cope better with my anxiety so it’s less likely to reach crisis point. I can’t meditate because my mind is too active but being in nature really helps; I get out, walk the dog and feel free. To calm my heart rate, I’ll close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. And I’ve started a blog about my experiences, which has been amazing as it helps to get my feelings out so they don’t overpower me. I’m learning to own the butterfly feeling in my stomach instead of suppressing it.”

Read Nikki’s blog at digitalbutterfly.life

Fran McElwaine, 60, retrained as a functional health and lifestyle coach after finding a solution for her anxiety. She lives in Farnham, Surrey, with her husband, Peter. They have six grown-up children.

“Five years ago, I sat at my kitchen table in floods of tears. I was trying to write Christmas cards but my inner voice was taking me down again, asking why anyone would want a card from me, and flaring up the underlying anxiety that I wasn’t good enough to be anyone’s friend. As I became aware of the internal narrative taking over my life, I was shocked. I knew things needed to change so, as a first step, I booked on to an eight-week mindfulness course. It took me a while but eventually I made the connection between my breathing and how I felt emotionally. I’d been hyperventilating my entire adult life and I hadn’t even realised. My previous job was in communications, which is ironic as my anxiety was based around fear of other people – meeting new faces, networking situations, social events.

“I’d put up a good front but inside I was completely bent out of shape. Learning to breathe was just the first step to my recovery. By springtime I had opened up a little chink of light, and I decided to give up gluten and dairy for Lent. I’d put on so much weight and I thought it might kick-start a healthier diet. It was like walking from day to night; the constant anxiety and brain fog was lifted; for the first time, I could connect with other people and, importantly, my true self.

“I wanted to understand why what I ate had such an effect so I studied nutrition, functional medicine and behavioural change, and qualified as a health coach in 2015. For me, it turns out my anxiety is caused by a biochemical process; if I have gluten, I literally fall off the cliff again. Of course, there are lots of causes of anxiety and people are dealing with deep emotional and psychological stresses, but I truly believe that if our body feels safe and healthy, then we’re better able to deal with any other issues.”

Fran is a director of the UK Health Coaches Association; franmac.co.uk