Nadiya Hussain is one of the thousands of people whose mental health has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
Anyone who suffers from anxiety will know that it moves in mysterious ways. Try to ignore it and it simply bubbles to the surface regardless. Pay it too much attention and it rapidly intensifies.
The one thing that can help, however, is talking about it – and that’s exactly what food writer Nadiya Hussain has done in a BBC interview this week.
The Great British Bake-Off winner has spent the past seven weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in strict lockdown with her husband and three children. Because two of her sons have asthma, the family haven’t been out at all during this period; not even for walks.
“It has been really tough,” Hussain said, during a phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live. “We are finding ways of distracting ourselves but it’s just not easy. And no amount of distraction is going to take away from the fact that I have a mental health issue. That is something that I’m really honest with myself about.”
Studies have indicated a sharp rise in reports of depression and anxiety following the enforcement of lockdown measures last month, with many people experiencing mental health conditions for the first time. Experts have warned that the world may be facing a global mental health crisis even after the pandemic subsides.
Hussain has always been open about her experience of anxiety and panic attacks. She said that for people like her, who already suffer from mental health issues, the past few weeks have been a huge challenge.
“I have really struggled,” she said. “I’ve struggled to get out of bed. There are days when I don’t even want to get dressed. And I know there are people out there who are going to feel exactly the same way.”
Hussain also pointed out that many of the steps expected of us during lockdown – staying away from other people, not going out, self-isolating – are things she may have done naturally when she was feeling anxious in a pre-coronavirus era.
Yet, in a sign of just how unsettling the condition often can be, she said that following these behaviours now made her feel worse rather than better.
“It’s completely counterintuitive,” she said. “I’m being told to do something that I would do [anyway] if I was anxious, so now I’m doing it but it’s making me more anxious.”
It’s exactly this kind of honest observation that has made Hussain such a powerful advocate for mental health awareness.
In a 2018 interview with Stylist, she spoke candidly about her experience of panic attacks. “Once you’ve had a panic attack you live in fear that another one is going to come,” she said. “From the second it’s gone, every moment every day is about the next one. The longest I’ve gone without a panic attack is about two months. Even then I can feel it bubbling away under the surface.”
Nadiya’s latest TV show, Time To Eat has just hit Netflix to guide us through stress-free cooking at home. Elsewhere, she also fronted a BBC documentary titled Nadiya: Anxiety and Me, which is due to re-air on BBC One next week on the run-up to the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
In her interview, Hussain urged people to be kind to themselves, and not feel the pressure to be forever productive in lockdown. She also paid tribute to her three children, whom she said had been “wonderful” in helping her to cope during her “bad days”.
Coping with anxiety
If you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety and worry during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to understand that this is a completely normal response to the current situation. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here are three articles that might help.
4 tips for dealing with anxiety, from someone who lives with it
Everything you need to know about seeking mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic
How to keep your worries about coronavirus under control
For more information on anxiety, including what it is and how to cope, you can check out the NHS Every Mind Matters website or visit Mind.
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