Fearne Cotton 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 anxiety.
The presenter, who has refused to drive on the motorway since suffering a debilitating panic attack in in 2017, says the incident inspired her to take a closer look at her work-life balance: she cut back her workload, quit her role as captain on Celebrity Juice, and focused on becoming a wellness ambassador for fans via the brilliant Happy Place initiative.
“I haven’t had a panic attack in a while, thank goodness,” she told The Independent. “But there was a period where I was having them all the time. I had a really bad patch about two years ago, where I was getting them every few days. I had a really heavy workload, my husband was away a lot and one of our friends was really poorly. I was just so stretched and tired.
“I think that’s what triggers them for me. Sometimes they just come out of the blue, but it’s usually just a warning sign that I’m doing too much and I’m not rested enough. They are a pain in the arse.”
Cotton added: “When I feel [a panic attack] coming on, I’ll get quite hot and then the next thought is ‘I’m going to faint, any minute now I’m going to faint’.
“That always happens in a situation when it would be catastrophic for me to faint, like in a car, or on live TV.”
Cotton previously told iWeekend 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 said, describing the experience as “terrifying” and “debilitating”.
“They were disconnected. It’s not how I had thought a panic attack would feel.”
Cotton said 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 said, 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 explained.
“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.”
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:
• A sense of dread
• Feeling constantly “on edge”
• Difficulty concentrating
• Shortness of breath
• 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.
This article was originally published in 2018, but has been updated to reflect Fearne Cotton’s recent quotes on anxiety.