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

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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

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;

Lauren Hughes
Lauren Hughes

Lauren is deputy editor at woman& in the UK and became a journalist mainly because she enjoys being nosy. With a background in features journalism, Lauren has worked on the woman&home brand for four years. Before woman&home Lauren worked across a variety of women's lifestyle titles, including GoodTo, Woman's Own, and Woman magazine. After starting out working for a local paper in Yorkshire, her journalism career took her to Bristol where she hunted out stories for national papers and magazines at Medavia news agency, before landing a job in London working as a lifestyle assistant.

Lauren loves helping people share their stories, bringing experiences to life online, honing her interview techniques with everyone from authors to celebrities, headteachers to local heroes. As well as having a good nose for a story, Lauren has a passion for the English language and years of experience optimizing digital content to reach the widest audience possible. During her time at w&h, Lauren has worked on big brand campaigns like the Amazing Women Awards and assisted in developing w&h expert-approved Buyer's Guides—the place to go if you're looking to splash out on an important purchase and want some trusted advice. In addition to her journalism career, Lauren also has a background in copywriting for prestigious brands such as Inhabit Hotel, eco-development K'in in Tulum, social enterprise The Goldfinger Factory and leading London architect Holland Harvey, using language in all its glorious forms, from detailed guidebooks to snappy social content. 

A big fan of adventure, Lauren is also a keen travel writer and loves sharing tips on where to find the best places to eat, drink, and be merry off the beaten track. Lauren has written a series of travel guides for London hotels and loves sharing her insights into a destination's cultural and culinary offerings. If you need a recommendation on any UK destination, she's more than happy to help. At the weekend, you'll usually find her hanging out with her pet cat (or anyone else's pet she can get her hands on), escaping to the countryside, or devouring a good book. 

Follow her adventures @laurenkatehughes

Twitter: @laurenkhughes

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