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Fearne Cotton: 'At times in my life, things have just got out of control'

Presenter Fearne Cotton talks to Olivia Petter about well-being, her new festival and how she nearly fainted on live TV

Staying strong: Fearne Cotton
Staying strong: Fearne Cotton
With her husband Jesse Wood out on a walk
Fearne Cotton

After years of being shrouded in stigma, mental health is slowly becoming an increasingly talked-about topic, and broadcaster Fearne Cotton is at the vanguard of the conversation.

The writer and former Radio 1 DJ has been praised for opening up about her struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, topics she discusses at length with celebrity guests on her chart-topping podcast, Happy Place.

In February 2017, Cotton became a published author following the release of her book Happy, in which she draws on her own experiences to guide others towards a positive mental state. She is also an ambassador for mental health charity Mind. Now, the 37-year-old mother-of-two is launching a festival, Fearne's Happy Place, dedicated to promoting mental well-being, which will take place over two weekends this summer.

Speaking to Weekend magazine, Cotton reveals what she does to boost her own mental health and explains how a "terrifying" panic attack stopped her from driving on the motorway for two-and-a-half years.

You've been very open with your mental health struggles and experiences with anxiety in the past. Is this something you're still dealing with?

Oh God, yes, definitely. I get it around the kids mostly, because I'm just constantly hoping that they're okay, happy and settled. That's always kind of an underlying low-level anxiety. But if I've got a big job looming on the horizon, something a little bit different to what I normally do, then it becomes more intense and I struggle with insomnia too.

I haven't had a panic attack in a while, thank goodness. 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 a***."

Last year, you revealed that you had your first panic attack while driving on the motorway. How are you in the car now?

I'm fine driving now but I still haven't felt ready to drive on the motorway. I haven't been on the motorway for two-and-a-half years.

I do want to get back to doing it and not let this beat me but I'm in that vortex of craziness with very young kids and with work being quite full-on I just think I'm not going to put myself under any more pressure than I need to right now.

I'll get back to it at some point, but I just don't want to put myself back into a dangerous situation if I don't have to.

It was terrifying at the time. My husband is the designated driver for now.

What does it feel like when you're about to have a panic attack?

When I feel one 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.

Have you ever nearly fainted on live TV?

Oh God, yeah, numerous times. It was utterly horrendous. There have been times in my life when there were things circumstantially going on that were out of my control, so it wasn't necessarily the work I was doing, it was the fact that all this other stuff was culminating. And then my weird little brain goes, 'Oh, this would be a good time to faint'.

How do you try to prevent them from happening now?

I'm still grappling with that. If I feel like one is about to happen, I try to do something quite physical. So I'll doodle on a piece of paper, or I'll draw or tap my arm or leg. I have to just get physical and do something that reminds me that I am a human being and I have a body and I can see it right now.

What about in the long term?

I try not to do as much, it's that simple. It's not going to be for everyone but I know that sometimes I have to rest, go to bed super early and say no to things. Then I won't get into a situation when I am strung out mentally and physically and feeling discombobulated.

Does maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine help?

Probably. Within the well-being arena, we talk a lot about diet and exercise and all of those sorts of things that would give you a good foundation for mental well-being, but I don't think any of those things are cures.

You've got to keep a tab on all of it. I know mentally that eating well and resting makes me feel great. It's obviously not going to ward off things happening in your life, but it's a very good starting point.

What kind of exercise do you prefer?

It depends on how I'm feeling that day. If I'm getting up at horrendous hours of the morning for work, something with a slower heart rate is great, whether it's yoga or Pilates or swimming. Or I'll get home and do a yoga tutorial on the computer.

I also love a nice long walk. Me and my husband went on a lovely big walk midweek and it was just so reviving. But if it's just a regular day then I do like mixing that sort of workout with running and doing some hiit (high-intensity interval training) sessions in the house. Anything that is quite high octane.

Does watching films and TV help you to switch off?

Yes, but it has to be uplifting. I can't watch anything dark or scary. Ideally something emotional or touching. It has to be something that makes me feel connected.

Music is one of the greatest things for that actually, but I also get very obsessive over reading too. I enjoy all of those things.

I'd rather do that than go out for dinner with someone any day.

Fearne's Happy Place festival is at Chiswick House, London, on August 3 and 4 and Tatton Park, Cheshire, on September 7 and 8

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