children’s mental health week 2019 (4 – 10 february): we speak to author of bestselling book and ambassador for mind, childline and the prince’s trust, @annawilliamsonofficial

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Anna Williamson is a television presenter, radio broadcaster, life coach, counsellor, Master NLP practitioner and author of the bestselling book Breaking Mad. She is also an Ambassador for Mind, Childline and The Prince’s Trust. Anna now runs her own private coaching practice offering those in need 1 to 1 coaching sessions, alongside being a media agony aunt and expert in the parenting sector having written Breaking Mum And Dad: The Insider’s Guide To Parenting Anxiety.

As part of our ‘self-improvement’ focus, we speak exclusively to Anna about mental health issues and how we can be manage it in todays rapidly changing world.

Anna Williamson

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to realise that you were struggling with anxiety? 

I have been a presenter for over 18 years now, wow! It was when I presenting the ITV kids show Toonattik that I experienced a person of prolonged stress and anxiety that it went unchallenged or unspoken by me for too long…. I ended up suffering with daily debilitating panic attacks, and had a breakdown. I was then diagnosed with GAD and panic disorder with a bit of depression thrown in.

So, is mental health (and how we maintain it) as important as physical health?

Absolutely, it’s vital we see mental and physical health as a whole. We need both to work alongside each other. Physical and mental health directly impact and compliment each other so we need to looks after both equally.

Is anxiety something that can be concurred or managed/understood?

We all have anxiety and a healthy level of it is vital in keeping us safe and risk averse. It’s when other life events happen, or thoughts and feelings start to trigger the anxiety response when we don’t actually need it. This can be frightening and debilitating.

An individuals state of mental health is not as obvious as their physical one.Therefore, how important is communication/talking about issues?

It’s vital, talking is hands down the most important part of managing and maintaining mental health and emotional wellbeing. If we keep problems, worries and stresses inside our head, they will eventually boil over like a pressure cooker. Early intervention and prevention of a more severe mental health problem can often be helped by talking in the very first instance to someone trusted.

You use a very simple ‘Rate my state’ activity to gage a persons feelings. How does it work?

My books are all about simple but effective techniques and activities that you can do anywhere, anytime.

Rate My State is all about noticing how you are feeling on a day to day basis. Noticing and documenting any change in patterns, any habits or times when you might be more worried/ill than others ….when we build up evidence that we can physically ‘see’, it gives us the empowerment and knowledge to start to make changes and do something about anything that needs attention.

It seems that in this day and age, we are being bombarded with new and exciting influences that may have an affect on our mental health (social media, mobile phones etc). What are your tips on how to manage these influences as an individual and a parent?

Technology and social media has undoubtedly had an impact on our mental health, and unfortunately not in a positive way often. We have a tendency to measure ourselves against others on social media, it can be overwhelming, and it can make some feeling fragile, and feel even worse on occasions.

We are also connected 24/7 and this isn’t healthy, not allowing for our mind to shut down and rest and recover – vital for good all round health. Choose times of the day to come off technology completely, and particularly a good hour before bedtime, ban phones in the bedroom, and create clear boundaries about when you or your children can be ‘scrolling’ online.

Parents are also experiencing these influences for the first time. How important is it for parents, to not only prioritise their own mental health, but to focus on our childrens?

It’s a constant conversation. Having an open attitude to talking about mental health within the family unit will help in ensuring it’s not a taboo subject and also promotes respect and boundaries for everyone regardless of age. As parents we have to set an example too, so being mindful of social media and technology use is also really important in order to guide children appropriately.

What is the difference between anxiety and stress? 

Stress, anxiety and depression can all interlinked in various ways. Stress though is often a reaction to something in particular, a stressor, anxiety often has no identifiable root. Anxiety is based around fear, and stress is more associated with frustration, nervousness and pressure.

Are there any clear signs of anxiety we can look out for in our children or friends?

Noticing any behaviour that has changed is a key thing to look out for. Feeling unusually agitated, avoiding certain situations or people, experiencing sleep issues, and being withdrawn are signs that someone isn’t coping and is perhaps experiencing unhealthy anxiety.

Did researching anxiety for your book ‘Breaking Mad’ help you understand and manage your own mental health? Would you recommend people research their own issues?

Writing all my books, Breaking Mad, Breaking Mum and Dad, and How Not to Lose It have all been cathartic in a way for me. However, it’s important to remember that I have trained in various types of talking therapies, and as a registered and insured practitioner I have mandatory supervision from experienced therapists to help me ‘process’ anything I’m left with emotionally professionally and personally. Researching ones own symptoms should be exercised with caution as the internet can often throw up scary inaccuracies. It’s always advisable to speak to a trained professional for help and support, but of course, books, articles, and videos can all be hugely helpful is learning more about how one is feeling and practicing self care.

How can people find out more about yourself and the book?

Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety, and Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety are both available via Amazon, Bloomsbury and book stores. Do head to my website anna williamson.co.uk and my instagram is @annawilliamsonofficial

For private 121 coaching sessions visit lifecoachingbyanna@gmail.com

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