Anna Williamson talks managing anxiety and mental health
TV's Anna Williamson talks to Gabrielle Fagan, Press Association, about managing anxiety in pregnancy and the life-changing effects of seeking mental health support.
Discovering you're expecting a much-wanted second baby sounds like it should be a joyful time - but it plunged Anna Williamson into a dark place.
"I was waking repeatedly at night with acute anxiety and plagued by fears that, 'When I have the baby I won't cope, everything's going to implode, I'll lose control and the family will fall apart'. It was scary," reveals the glamorous TV presenter and new relationship coach on E4's Celebs Go Dating.
At five months pregnant, and now glowing with health and happiness, Williamson is reliving that distressing period in the early weeks of her pregnancy, as she sits chatting at her peaceful country home in Hertfordshire.
She and her husband, personal trainer and nutrition coach Alex Di Pasquale, already have a two-year-old son Enzo. The new baby is due in December.
"I'd just found out I was four weeks pregnant and was initially elated as we'd been trying for a while, but I suddenly felt this absolute wallop of anxiety take hold," confides Williamson, 38.
"Then the unmistakable feelings of dread, worry and a black cloud came over me, as I was so concerned about what this pregnancy would do to my mental health.
Uppermost in her mind was the fear she'd have a repeat of the problems she suffered during her first pregnancy.
She's dealt with generalised anxiety disorder for most of her life, but being pregnant triggered "severe perinatal and postnatal anxiety".
Williamson also had a traumatic 40-hour labour, which ended in a forceps delivery and her losing two litres of blood.
"I didn't enjoy my pregnancy at all. I worried constantly about the baby's health and people kept warning me, 'You're never going to sleep again once you've had the baby', which was awful for me as lack of sleep is a trigger for my anxiety. It made me very fearful," she shares.
"After the appalling birth, my exhaustion and insomnia heightened the problem and I really struggled for the first few weeks of Enzo's life. I even had unfounded fears they might take my baby away because I wasn't a fit mother."
Now, Williamson is supporting the NSPCC's Fight for a Fair Start campaign, which is calling for perinatal mental health support for every mum, so that every baby and family gets a fair start.
The charity says that up to one in five mums and one in 10 dads in the UK experience mental health issues during pregnancy and after birth, yet many are not receiving the support they need.
"I was desperate with this pregnancy that history didn't repeat itself, especially with a little boy to look after who's my absolute world and everything to me. I knew he didn't deserve me being under par," says Williamson. "Thankfully, this time round I knew there were no prizes for being a superwoman, and after a month could admit I was struggling and reach out for help."
Through her doctor, she was put in touch with the NHS Community Perinatal Mental Health team.
"They've been wonderful. A couple of sessions of talking therapy, and knowing they're there for me, coupled with the love and reassurance of my husband, family and friends, meant I was able, from around 10 weeks, to start enjoying my pregnancy and feel happy and excited.
"That's a first for me," says Williamson. "That's why it's so important to support the NSPCC campaign, so all parents get the support they need, like I did."
Getting help has made a world of difference, and although she "adores" being a mum, Williamson admits she'd originally delayed trying for a baby again because she was "so worried about the consequences".
"After Enzo's traumatic birth, I initially struggled to bond with him, but this time doctors are agreed I can have a planned Caesarian. That's helped me feel more in control and we know the sex of this little one, so I feel bonded already."
Williamson started experiencing anxiety when she was young, and during her early-20s, while working as a children's TV presenter on GMTV, she suffered a breakdown at work.
A combination of medication, counselling and psychotherapy helped her get back on track, and eventually pursue therapy as a career herself.
"It might sound controversial but I always say the best thing that ever happened to me was being diagnosed with a mental health illness," says Williamson, who's an accredited counsellor and life coach and has been an agony aunt and relationship expert on TV shows such as This Morning, Good Morning Britain, and Big Brother's Bit On The Side.
"It's not easy to go through, or deal with again when it flares up, but it's taught me so much about myself and propelled me into a totally different arena in my career.
"I feel blessed because I love helping others through my private coaching and therapeutic techniques, and doing the same through my television work. That breakdown in my 20s, which threatened to destroy my career, was in fact a massively positive turning point for me."
On screen, you'd never guess her personal vulnerability. On Celebs Go Dating, the bubbly, outgoing dating expert confidently and skilfully advises, supports and sometimes dishes out "tough love" to celebrities hoping for the date of their dreams.
She's buzzing about the latest line-up on the show, which she describes as "a handful". There's Love Island winner Jack Fincham, former TOWIE star Lauren Goodger, Geordie Shore's Nathan Henry and the show's oldest ever singleton, Lady Colin Campbell, 70.
"I absolutely love the show. Celebrities aren't known for being backwards in coming forwards in their love life, but being unlucky in love seems to be a common theme amongst many of the celebrities I've met in my career," says Williamson
"But I don't see them as celebrities when I work with them. They're just regular human beings, and it's often about trying to teach them to have a work-life balance and to save something for their private relationships behind closed doors.
"It's exhausting, wonderful and inspiring in equal measure. The current bunch are a handful but in a great way, and there's tears, tantrums, love, lust, falling out, and a lot of other stuff."
She's disciplined about separating her own work and home life. "I've learnt to tailor my lifestyle to what keeps me mentally and physically well, and so my life's very simple when I'm not working," she says.
"We have a healthy diet, I recently gave up sugar, and I go on country walks, practise yoga and go to the gym. I turn off social media and the phone at home and my priority is Enzo and Alex, who's my rock."
As she heads off to play with her son, she says happily: "I don't think I've ever looked forward to the future as much as I do now. I feel like the baby will complete us as a family.
"And it almost feels dangerous to say, in case I jinx it, but the contentment I feel right now is nothing short of quite spectacular, especially when I look back to those horrible anxiety-ridden days and months, when you don't feel you're ever going to smile, feel happy or relax ever again," Williamson adds.
"I've just got to the point in life where I know who I am, I enjoy what I do for a living, and I just enjoy giving as much help as I can to anyone else that needs it."
Anna Williamson is supporting the NSPCC's Fight for a Fair Start campaign which is calling for perinatal mental health support for every mum, so that every baby and every family gets a fair start. See nspcc.org.uk/fair-start