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An Anxious Nation Needs To Relax

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ANXIETY
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I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday. Marks and Sparks, Whiteleys, Bayswater. I was doing my weekly shop, and there it was, out of the blue, my first panic attack. Of course, I didn't know it was a panic attack at the time. My heart was racing, the walls were closing in and I needed to get out.

For a time I thought it was something that just happened in my little creative bubble. I'd met stylists, hairdressers, actors and musicians that all suffered the same. Nicole Kidman, Noel Gallagher and, more recently Ruby Wax have all spoken openly about their experiences. Now, fresh out of the riots and approaching the anniversary of 9/11, I look around and see anxiety everywhere.

Pressures of modern day living, financial worries, this years "swine flu" and trying to be as successful and beautiful as Brad and Angelina. Is my job safe? Can I pay the mortgage and afford to go on holiday? Are my children OK at school? Is the man living next door a paedophile? Will I go to prison for phone hacking? (that one's just a little joke, to take your mind off the worrying...). Have I got the X factor? Will I be the victim of a terrorist attack?

It is said that we are now an anxious nation. A sad, but true, realisation. We rarely see a "good news" story these days, and sometimes we indulge ourselves, strangely, in the bad...We put ourselves under pressure to have it all. The beautiful body, face and children. The dream house, car and career. This has a huge effect on our state of mind. Antidepressant prescriptions are thought to have tripled over the past five years. Stress, anxiety and worry are part of most people's everyday lives, now more than ever.

We are not born with anxiety. We teach our brains to worry, and the more we do this the easier it is for 'general anxiety' and panic to kick in, both can to come to fruition from underlying worry.

So what's the cure? How do we stop worrying, or at least, how do we learn to manage it?

I tried lots of things over the years. One of the most memorable was paying a Harley Street "anxiety therapist" £350 for an hour of his time. He spent 30 minutes telling me about his famous clients, then got me to rub my fingernails for half an hour, to see if I was allergic to wine. Apparently I am... The Chablis is chilling as we speak. Beware, there are a lot of charlatans out there ready to prey on your worry.

My cure came in the form of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and my wonderful NHS therapist Sarah. CBT teaches you how to teach your brain to manage worry, and slowly the anxiety lessons. It takes time but it's amazing and it works.

Exercise helps too. It releases endorphins that help combat depression, anxiety and stress. Yoga, especially, is great for relaxation and breathing. You're concentrating on your breathing and position so you tend to forget about everything else for an hour or so. This can help to break up "worry cycles". Caffeine and alcohol increase anxiety so cutting down makes a big difference. I know, it's easy to reach for a large G&T to take the edge off when we're stressed, but everything in moderation. If you take recreational drugs, stop. Most are proven to induce depression and panic.

If you do find stress, worry and anxiety are taking over, there is help out there, and it's easily accessible. CBT and counselling are available on the NHS and privately through BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). You can find more information on anxiety and panic attacks at mind.org.uk. Remember you are not alone and you'll feel much better talking about it.

So come on 'The Nation'. Take a deep breath, hold for 5, exhale and let the worry go. Life really is too short, but lets not worry about that...

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