Saturdays singer and TV personality Frankie Bridge lives with anxiety and depression – here, she speaks to Kirsty Nutkins about the advice she has for others struggling, too….
Frankie Bridge is one celebrity who has always been refreshingly honest about her mental health, regularly speaking out about her lifelong battle with anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Now, inspired by her successful Open Mind podcast – in which she interviews guests about their own mental health struggles – she has written, ’Why Asking For Help Can Save Your Life’, a no-holds-barred account detailing her guilt, self-loathing and eventual hospitalisation in 2012.
The book emphasises the importance of having honest conversations about our mental health, rather than suffering in silence. Seeking professional help in the form of therapy and medication finally got Frankie on the road to recovery and she has learned plenty of coping strategies to help her accept and live with her condition. Here, she shares some of that advice…
‘However bad you feel, get up’
I always make myself get out of bed in the morning. Even if I just make it to school to drop my kids [Parker and Carter, with husband Wayne Bridge] off and come back to bed, at least I feel like I’ve achieved something. You don’t have to go to the gym – just get out of the house. One of things I find really irritating is when people say, ‘You need to exercise, it’ll make you feel better’. When you are in the deepest, darkest hole, that is the last thing that you can imagine doing.
‘Give yourself a break’
People have said to me, ‘What have you got to be unhappy about?’ It’s naive and it’s hurtful. That person may not appear to have anything to be unhappy about, but anxiety and depression are illnesses. I’ve regularly beat myself up because it seems like everyone else can cope better than I can. But I don’t have control over it – that’s just how my brain works. Try to silence the guilt and don’t compare yourself to everyone else. We have to learn to be kinder to ourselves.
‘Do things that scare you’
I’ve found that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone helps massively. This means that when an anxiety rears its ugly head, I don’t naturally believe the self-doubt my brain feeds me – I question it and think, ‘Maybe my anxiety isn’t right about this’. Last year, I trekked across the Himalayas for breast cancer charity CoppaFeel! and it ticked every one of my anxiety boxes: being with loads of people I didn’t know, being in places that aren’t necessarily that clean like sleeper trains, eating food I wouldn’t normally eat. It was all really nerve-wracking for me. But I loved it.
‘Accept how you are feeling’
Sometimes, you just have to give in to your low mood instead of trying to ignore it and push it down. I’ll wallow for a day or an afternoon, and then I say, ‘That’s enough’ and I normally feel better for it. We all need to have a cry and I think it allows you to move on a lot quicker. Ignoring my feelings was one of the reasons I became so ill and ended up in hospital.
‘Appreciate small moments of joy’
They really lift your mood. For me, it’s seeing my little boys playing together and laughing, especially when they’re doing those proper belly laughs. That is the best thing and makes me so happy.
‘Limit your social media time’
I know that Instagram is important for my work, so quitting isn’t an option. But I try to control my usage. We all know people just put the best version of their life on there, but you can’t help thinking, ‘They are busier than me, skinnier than me, look happier than me and their life looks more together than mine’. Now, Instagram isn’t the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at at night. I don’t aimlessly scroll.
‘Do what works for you’
Mindfulness, for example, really doesn’t work for me because it gives me too much time to think – and I don’t need to be on my own with my mind when it’s going into overdrive! I can’t turn that off, so I enjoy distraction rather than trying to be zen.
‘Take one day at a time’
For me, that means not planning too far ahead. I don’t always know when I am going to have a down day, so to put something in my diary in two weeks’ time fills me with anxiety. I end up feeling like I have to be happy and on form that day. I am definitely more of a last-minute person.
‘Let panic attacks happen’
When I felt one coming, I used to get scared and try to push it away. But what I’ve realise is that it’s going to come out anyway. It’s just going to build and build until it happens. So I think you have to lean into it. When I first had one, I was so fearful that it just escalated. You think, ‘I can’t breathe, I’m going to die’. But if you cry your eyes out, make whatever noises you want and just let it all out, you’ll feel absolutely shattered but generally much better.
‘Understand what you are feeling’
Knowledge about my illness has helped me more than anything, which is why I wanted to write the book. My psychiatrist and psychologist – who both give tips and advice throughout the book – have given me the tools to understand it. That has taken away the fear and the feeling of being weird and crazy, because you accept that it’s an illness. I will probably have this for the rest of my life, but I’ve proven that I can live a life with it and that it’s not the end of the world.
OPEN by Frankie Bridge, is published by Cassell in hardback on February 6, £18.99 (octopusbooks.co.uk). Also available in ebook and Audiobook.