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"I felt like a freak": Fearne Cotton opens up about mental health struggles

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Emily Reynolds
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Anxiety and depression can be hard to talk about – especially considering the substantial social stigma that even milder mental health conditions still garner. 

This often means that people going through difficult periods for the first time can end up feeling scared, isolated and alone, believing that they have nobody to talk to. 

Now TV star Fearne Cotton has opened up about her first experiences of anxiety – and it turns out that she felt exactly the same way, telling Pretty52, Cotton that she felt “really alienated” when she first started experiencing panic attacks. 

“I felt like a complete freak,” she said. “I thought ‘why is this happening to me, why are all these weird physical things happening’, and I’m a bit of a worrier anyway and get quite anxious about things, so you just think ‘why can’t I be one of those breezy, carefree types out there’?”. 

Cotton firmly believes that talking about mental health is beneficial for others going through the same things. “I think a lot of people felt the same, so to be able to talk about that honestly was quite refreshing,” she said – and she thinks that this openness is starting to pay off. 

“Generationally, we’ve started to become a much more vocal group of people,” she says. “I think we’re better at communicating and not feeling ashamed or worried about other people’s perceptions and it is more acceptable.” 

“The biggest lesson for me was that being honest, being authentic, and being truly who you are is only ever really beneficial, because people can’t really argue with you being you.”

It’s not the first time Cotton has gone on record about her mental health

Cotton’s latest comments come as she launches a new podcast, Happy Place, that she hopes will provide listeners with “a boost”. 

“My main goal was just to have brilliant, interesting minds tell their story with a good long 45 minutes to an hour to do so and for the listener to walk away feeling like they’ve been boosted in some way, helped in some way, given a dose of solace or escapism or rest bite,” she said. 

Guests so far have included diver Tom Daley, who spoke about the struggles he and his husband have faced with surrogacy, and comedian Dawn French, who candidly explored the impact that her father’s suicide has had on her life.

It’s not the first time the TV star has opened up about her mental health, either. Earlier this year, Cotton spoke about her first ever panic attack, which she experienced whilst driving down the motorway with a friend. 

“It was almost like what I was seeing and experiencing around me was not what my body was feeling,” she says.  “They were disconnected. It’s not how I had thought a panic attack would feel.”

The experience, she says, was “terrifying” – but she now uses several techniques to keep herself calm and panic attack-free. 

“Simple pleasures like being with my family, getting out in the fresh air, eating healthy food and music are all small things that impact my happiness daily,” she told GLAMOUR. “For me it’s all about those small steps in the right direction rather than huge leaps where there are no guarantees.”

And speaking to Stylist in 2017, Cotton says that it was art therapy that ultimately helped her through her “dark patch”. 

A lot of that period is a massive blur,” she explained. “It feels almost like a strange movie. It was really nasty and I felt a lot of very low energy and high energy at the same time. It was an intoxicating combination, a really dark place to be in. It felt like it would never end. It was one of those moments where you lose all hope. Couldn’t see a sparkle of it, not even a glimmer. It was scary.

I constantly beat myself up about all sorts of things like not feeling good enough or not having achieved enough – which I know is ridiculous – but I always do the compare and despair thing. It’s hard for women to feel good about themselves. We have to remember to give ourselves a bit of a pat on the back and say, ‘You’ve done really well today.’”. 

Image: Rex Features