Fearne Cotton reveals reality of living with debilitating panic attacks

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Kayleigh Dray

Fearne Cotton has opened up about what it’s really like to experience a panic attack, admitting that she “felt like a right freak after the first one”.

With statistics from the Mental Health Foundation indicating there are at least 8.2 million cases of anxiety annually in the UK alone, you can never truly know what someone is going through behind closed doors – particularly as there is still such a taboo around the topic of mental health.

However, Fearne Cotton is keen to change that. The popular presenter has always made a point of speaking frankly about her own struggles with mental wellness – and now, in a new no-holds-barred interview, she has opened up about the realities of living with panic attacks.

Speaking with iWeekend, Cotton explains that she had her first-ever panic attack when she was driving along a motorway with a friend: the duo had been happily laughing and joking, right up until the point that Cotton began to feel incredibly hot, breathless and dizzy.

“It was almost like what I was seeing and experiencing around me was not what my body was feeling,” she says, describing the experience as “terrifying” and “debilitating”.

“They were disconnected. It’s not how I had thought a panic attack would feel.”

Cotton says that she didn’t know who to talk to about the incident, admitting that she “felt like a right freak” and couldn’t understand why it happened – particularly as she had felt so “in control” at the time.

However, when she later sat down and thought about it properly, she quickly realised that she had been “spinning a lot of plates” at the time. It was at this point, Cotton says, that she realised the stress of keeping up with her busy lifestyle had taken its toll on her – and that things needed to change.

“If I want to be a good mum, a good wife and friend and person who can be capable at work, I need to take care of myself,” the Calm author explains.

“It was a chance to think: I need to step back from a lot of this stuff. I do need to be a bit more selfish.”

Since then, Cotton has prioritised her own self-care rituals: think early nights, digital detoxes, bedtime reading, nutritious food, regular exercise and breathing exercises.

“To me the only things that make a true impact on my own happiness are who I’m surrounded by, how much I let seemingly stressful events affect me and how I spend my time,” she explained in a piece for Glamour, when asked how she personally stays on top of things.

“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. For me it’s all about those small steps in the right direction rather than huge leaps where there are no guarantees.”

Anxiety symptoms are often hard for sufferers to put into words; there is usually a sense of danger or threat, of not being able to cope with what might happen – a “nameless dread” that provokes such physically real symptoms that it can be debilitating.

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, and can include:

• Restlessness

• A sense of dread

• Feeling constantly “on edge”

• Difficulty concentrating

• Irritability

• Dizziness

• Tiredness

• Shortness of breath

• Nausea

• Panic attacks

• Heart palpitations

It is now the most common form of mental illness and highly treatable. If you suffer from anxiety, experts advise that you visit you GP to explore the number of treatments available.

You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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