Bag of nervesWorried, anxious, panicky? You’re not alone.
Shane Watson on how anxiety has overtaken stress as the new affliction of high-flyers
Some people experience anxiety during takeoff and landing. Others get a stab of it when they open their monthly bank statement. And still others — a not insignificant number — feel anxious quite a lot of the time, or all of the time, for no particular reason.
Anxiety, an emotion that we have previously dismissed as trivial, the natural precursor to exams, job interviews or first dates, has morphed into something bigger and more serious. Move over, stress, we have a more insidious enemy in our midst, and, finally, we’re ready to talk about it.
This month, two high-profile women have outed themselves as anxiety sufferers. Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, revealed in an interview that she carries Xanax all the time as a precaution in case of panic attacks, and Plum Sykes, contributing editor at American Vogue, writes in the April issue about checking herself into an “anxiety retreat”, a kind of rehab for the chronically anxious.
So much has been written about depression, drug addiction, eating disorders — anxiety is the last thing we talk about. It’s not seen as a disorder, it’s seen as a failure to cope.”Anxiety is often confused with stress, but stress is a natural response to pressure, whereas anxiety (or problem anxiety) is irrational fear. “You go straight to the worst-case scenario; Finance is a bit tight, so we are going to be out on the street. In my case, my husband is late home, so he is dead. He dies all the time. Sykes, who was virtually housebound for months, cured herself by using Charles Linden’s method.
Their stories are at the extreme end of the scale, but they strike a chord because anxiety, albeit not to panic-attack level, is something a lot of us are familiar with. In the past year or so, I’ve noticed waves of it welling up from nowhere.
Sitting in front of the TV on a Sunday evening, sunbathing on a beach, walking across the park — there it is, the breath-catching sensation that I am not in control, that my small problems will become insurmountable. What am I anxious about, precisely? Nothing and everything. And I’m not alone. Girlfriends will call up and say: “I feel a bit panicky, what’s wrong with me?” It’s hormones, we agree. Or lack of sleep. Or a hangover (and hangovers do make you anxious, in a nonspecific way), but secretly we all know it never used to be like this, and something has changed. I think people have always had anxiety, In our mothers’ day, women were prescribed Valium and men drank. In the 19th century, women were always taking to their beds with nerves. Yet the general perception that anxiety affects more people more severely is backed up by statistics. In America, more people are now treated for anxiety than for depression.
“Working at Vogue, there were girls who would get incredibly anxious about booking a pedicure,” Sykes says. “You can be anxious about anything, and it’s different for everyone.” For her, it wasn’t her frenetic pace of life that triggered anxiety, but a debilitating attack of vertigo that lasted for 18 months. She stopped working: “I couldn’t drive my car, or cook, or look after my children.”
In desperation, she contacted Charles Linden, who himself had suffered from anxiety for 27 years before he developed his method.
Linden believes that anxiety is “100%” to do with people who have creative brains that they are not channelling properly, which leads to overthinking and neurosis. “My father, for example, has no creativity, and his chances of developing anxiety are zero.” You don’t have to be in the music business or a fashion writer to have a creative intellect — you might be a secretary who never fulfilled her desire to paint, or a high achiever who has taken time out to have children. Sykes, a busy working mother in a pressured industry, fits his high-anxiety profile to a tee.
“The CBT people say, ‘Manage your thoughts,’” Sykes explains. “He says you ‘do’ yourself out of it, you don’t ‘think’ yourself out of it. All the domestic chores that are thought to be beneath us, I actually now think are the soul of life.”
The methods of curing anxiety are as varied as the forms it takes, but the good news is that Linden has cured 150,000 people and counting.
“I am busier than ever,” Sykes says. “I feel great. I’ve learnt a lot, too. I’m more accepting and less controlling. You know — my philosophy now is, shit happens.”
'Anxiety was my prison': Jemma Kidd, Countess of Mornington and sister to Supermodel Jodie Kidd, on how she overcame her crippling anxiety and panic attacks.
By Catherine O'BrienTo the outside world, make-up artist and YOU columnist Jemma Kidd has it all: a glamorous career, an aristocratic marriage and adorable young twins. But, as she tells Catherine O'Brien, for years she suffered in secret from an overwhelming anxiety disorder
Jemma Kidd is having her photograph taken in the garden when I arrive for our interview. When I say garden, this is something of an understatement.
Jemma's country home is an exquisite Georgian rectory set amid the 350 acres of parkland that forms part of her husband's family estate on the Hampshire/Berkshire border. He is Arthur, Earl of Mornington, 32, the future Duke of Wellington, and watching Jemma, as she poses under a willow, I'm struck by the thought that she will one day make a beguiling duchess.
YOU readers will know Jemma through her weekly Make-Up Masterclass column. Like her supermodel sister Jodie, she is blessed with flawless beauty and has always appeared to have led a gilded life, segueing from privileged upbringing as the daughter of dashing former champion showjumper Johnny Kidd, to a successful career as one of the foremost make-up artists of her generation.
Today, at 36, she has her own make-up school, two bestselling product lines and a signature style that is sought after by celebrities and photographers across the globe. Her marriage has made her the Countess of Mornington and in the past year she has become the mother of gorgeous twins Mae and Darcy. In every sense, Jemma would seem to have it all.And yet, she has invited me here to discuss a dark secret that overshadowed much of her adult life. Throughout her 20s Jemma suffered from a crippling anxiety disorder.
At any moment - while working, driving, having dinner with friends - a panic attack might strike. Her heart would race, her body flushed hot and cold, and nausea would sweep over her. 'The attacks felt like that split second before a car crash, when the adrenalin whooshes through your body and you think you are going to die. So from the outside, I might have looked sorted, but on the inside, I was thinking, "If only you knew."'
It was during this time, around the age of 20, that she suffered her first panic attack. She remembers it vividly. 'I was at home in Gloucestershire and had woken up feeling strange. As the day went on, I felt myself becoming fearful and sort of detached. It was weird - I was on familiar territory, surrounded by people I loved, but I couldn't help feeling frightened. Then, early in the afternoon, I was in my bedroom when the full-blown attack came on. Everything suddenly looked distorted. I felt sick, my heart began racing and I couldn't breathe. Within ten minutes it was over, but afterwards I felt as if I had been in a war zone.
The most unnerving thing was that there had been no trigger - nothing awful had happened. And I felt I couldn't tell anyone - in my family, everyone was always so together and I thought no one would understand. So I kept it to myself.'Within days, she was having a second attack, this time in the car. 'That was petrifying. I pulled over, disorientated and sweating, gasping for breath and with my heart palpitating.
Again it was over within a few minutes, but I had no idea what was happening to me.''Suddenly I realised I was leading a normal life''The attacks are so random and debilitating that you become fearful of the fear that they bring. You start to anticipate them and find yourself doing anything to avoid them. I stopped driving on my own; I manipulated my life so that when I had to go somewhere, I had someone with me. I couldn't go into the supermarket or anywhere crowded. If I was going to stay at someone's house for the weekend, I would be anxious for about ten days before and would insist on knowing how close they lived to a hospital.
The symptoms were so real that I believed I could have a heart attack at any time.'At their worst, Jemma was having a couple of attacks a week. A year or so after they began, she decided to pursue a career as a make-up artist. 'I realised that having my make-up done made me feel better about myself, and I wanted to do that for others.' She began a course at the Glauca Rossi School of Make-up in London and her anxiety levels subsided. 'Keeping busy helped,' she recalls, 'but the attacks didn't stop altogether.'
Jemma went on to work as an assistant to make-up guru Mary Greenwell. 'My career took off, but I began to fear crashing on the job. I remember doing make-up for supermodels in Milan, and my heart was pumping and my head swirling. It was completely exhausting.'Social occasions were also an ordeal. 'There was one dinner at which the Queen was present. That was hugely stressful, because once Her Majesty has sat down, no one can leave the table. So I sat there, holding on to my chair, telling myself that I was not going to explode and that paramedics would not have to come and pick me up from the floor.' Such nightmare scenarios are known as 'catastrophising', and are common among people who suffer panic attacks, because they possess vivid imaginations which they use to conjure visions of disaster, illness and death.
Jemma eventually told family and friends what she was going through. 'Jodie understood because she has anxiety issues, although she does extreme sports as if to get rid of the adrenalin that way.' Jemma remembers her mother and friends being sympathetic. 'But if you don't have panic attacks yourself, it is hard to grasp what they feel like.' She consulted doctors who offered her tranquillisers, which she never took, and she attempted alternative treatments, such as meditation, acupuncture, reflexology and reiki healing. 'They softened the edges, but didn't stop the attacks completely.' She is thankful that she had an inner strength. 'I had to get on with my life. I learned to live with the attacks, and became brilliant at hiding them.'
At 27, Jemma met her future husband at an Ibiza nightclub. The two were immediately an item and the relationship helped Jemma feel grounded. 'Arthur gave me confidence. He is a caring and loving man and from the start I felt secure and happy with him.'
A year or so on, they went on holiday - always a challenge because of unfamiliar surroundings. 'We went to a beautiful hotel in Mexico - it was paradise. Just as we had settled in a deckchair with a cocktail, I went into an attack. I ran back to the room, and couldn't come out for two days, which was terribly tough for him. He had seen me have attacks before, but that was the worst one he witnessed.'It was a turning point. 'I remember thinking, "I've had enough."'
Jemma went online and came across the website of Charles Linden, 42, a former TV producer from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, who suffered from chronic anxiety for more than seven years and subsequently developed his own method of treating anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. 'I bought his book and CD and read his story, which was 50 times worse than mine, and it made me realise that I could do something to help myself. Within days, I was feeling better,' says Jemma.Linden says he has helped more than over 172,000 anxiety sufferers worldwide with his method, which teaches you how to undermine and eliminate anxiety by complying with a set of very simple rules.
Anxious behaviour is a habit, he explains, and sufferers need to retrain their subconscious to react appropriately to anxious thoughts and situations. He outlines 'nine pillars' or guiding mantras, which include advice to stop talking, researching and holding on to memories of anxiety and to start getting busy.'I realised I had been feeding my anxiety, when what I needed to do was train my brain to steer away from it,' says Jemma.
Once in the right mindset, she found this easier than she thought.'I started riding again, but focused on training in the school, rather than going out on my own. And instead of swimming, I took up an exercise class. If I was ever really stuck - in a waiting room, for example - I'd play Tetris [a puzzle video game]. Suddenly, I realised I was leading a normal life - the life of an unanxious person. It was absolutely liberating.'
Jemma has met Charles and agreed to work with him at his residential anxiety recovery retreats in Worcestershire. 'I have been on one myself and seen how transformational his work is.'None of this, Jemma stresses, means that she now has a worry-free life. She had the same pre-wedding nerves of any bride when she married Arthur five years ago, and giving birth to twins a year ago was a time of oscillating emotions. But she no longer has panic attacks. 'The difference now is that I have appropriate anxiety. I know how to keep my anxiety under control and I have the mental toolkit to help me cope,' she says.
This toolkit also includes the two little people who are now the centre of her world. 'All that anxiety stopped me from becoming a mother for a long time,' she says. 'But now I have Darcy and Mae, they are the most grounding, loving, stop-you-thinking-about-yourself presence in my life.'
If I don't stir my tea nine times, I believe that my husband will die: A million Britons live with the hell of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Here, three tell their stories.
By Jill Foster
Nadine Stewart was convinced she was going to die. Just ten minutes after setting off for a pop concert with her sister, she felt a tingling sensation in her arms and pain in her chest.
‘I knew I was having a heart attack’ says Nadine, 41, a customer services adviser from Morecambe, Lancashire. ‘I begged my sister to take me to A&E: I ran in and screamed that I was having a heart attack.
‘They put me on a monitor and my heart was fine - what I had suffered was a panic attack. I have no idea to this day what caused it, but it terrified the life out of me.'
But worse was to come. ‘Afterwards, I developed a fear that if I didn't do something nine times, something terrible would happen to me, my husband Paul or a member of my family.’ says Nadine.
‘If I made a drink I had to stir it nine times. If I locked the door I had to check it nine times and if I used a cloth to wipe a surface I’d have to wipe it nine times. I don’t know why it was nine. I realised I was being utterly irrational. But every time I tried to curb it - such as only stirring my drink three times - I'd begin to panic.'‘If I didn't do these things nine times, I’d imagine Paul and me veering off the motorway in our car and see his injured face in the aftermath.’Nadine had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the top ten most disabling disorders in terms of its effect on quality of life.
Last month both the British actress Emily Blunt and the MP Charles Walker revealed they suffered from it, with Walker admitting he had to do everything in multiples of four - and felt the need to wash his hands hundreds of times a day.
They are not alone. Around a million people in the UK are thought to be undergoing treatment for OCD, the majority of them women. Women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders such as OCD - and high-achieving perfectionists are particularly at risk.
‘Everyone has these thoughts but most of us ignore them and get on with our lives. Someone with OCD will develop a compulsive ritual as a reaction to them. It can be continually washing their hands or something invisible like repeating the same phrase over and over in their heads.'‘The time spent on these compulsions lengthens with time. A severe OCD sufferer might spend six or seven hours a day washing their hands in the hope nothing terrible happens to their children.’
The cause of the condition is not known, though a stressful event in someone’s life may trigger an underlying problem.
Nadine has never pinpointed the root of her troubles - though they began in the year she started a new job, moved house and got engaged. ‘I had no reason to feel anxious,’ she said, ‘though I suppose there was a lot of change.
‘I became scared of choking to death so I stopped eating and lost three stone in less than three months. I couldn’t leave the house without Paul, and even then it would take me three hours to pluck up the courage.’
Someone who can empathise with Nadine is Jeni Scott, 31, who’s had OCD for three years.
It began when her father had a heart attack and her mother was diagnosed with cancer, soon after Jeni left university.
‘I became obsessed with doing things in order,’ says Jeni, a tutor from Newport, Wales. ‘I started making lists but it had everything on it such as “get up, have shower, make a cup of tea” and if I didn’t stick to it I would punish myself by denying myself a treat.
‘I developed a phobia of being in the rain in the wrong clothes and had to take a backpack with spare bra, pants, coat, shoes and umbrella everywhere with me. I’d carry antibacterial gel in my bag and use it every ten minutes. I’ve still no idea why I did it, I just found it helped me.’
Aisha Faisal, from Reading, Berkshire, also suffers from OCD - and it’s getting worse. ‘I developed it in my teens when my mother fell ill and I had to clean the house,’ the 26-year-old says. ‘Now I’m obsessed with everything being super-clean. I wash my hands 14 or 15 times a day, I shower for an hour at a time and wash the shower head and bath thoroughly before I step in.
‘If someone touches me, I cringe. My neighbour touched my scarf to tell me it was pretty and I had to have a shower and put all my clothes in the wash.’ Aisha, who has three children under four, admits her obsession extended to giving birth.
‘Each time I had Caesarean sections - the thought of having a natural birth makes me feel physically sick.’ She made the surgeons assure her everything had been scrubbed thoroughly before each operation. Understandably, her OCD worries the rest of her family. ‘My husband Ali finds it very hard to see me like this. I won’t let him touch me when he comes in from work: he has to shower and put on clean clothes before he can hug me.'‘With three young children, being clean is impossible and I bathe them twice a day in the winter and sometimes four times a day in the summer if they’re hot and sticky.’As a result of her obsession her own hands are red raw and she suffers from eczema. ‘I have been to the GP but it’s very difficult to treat. I know I must do something soon, because my eldest daughter, who is four, is picking up on my behaviour and I feel very guilty about that.'‘The other day she came in from the garden and said she was dirty so needed to get out of her clothes and I washed her and cleaned her thoroughly.
My husband can’t believe our electricity bill because the washing machine is on constantly.’Nadine used a therapy called The Linden Method when she reached her lowest point early last year.‘
I was unable to work, leave the house or answer the phone,’ she says. ‘My vision became blurry, my hands would spasm and I’d get pains like rheumatism. I began to think: “What’s the point in living?” yet I was too scared to kill myself.’
The Linden Method - which has also helped OCD sufferers Jemma and Jodie Kidd - works by convincing the sufferer’s sub-conscious that they are safe.‘I’m a different person,’ says Nadine. ‘I can leave the house, I’m applying for jobs, taking up hobbies and it’s transformed my relationship with Paul.
‘He says it’s like having a wife in a wheelchair who can walk again. Except I feel I can not only walk, I can fly.’