Sarah Wilson on Living With Anxiety

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Best selling author, journalist, editor, TV presenter and founder of the popular I Quit Sugar movement, Sarah Wilson is impressively candid. Her new book First We Make the Beast Beautiful chronicles her personal battle with anxiety, it reads like one of her wonderful magazine columns, witty and entertaining but mostly soul baring and honest. Her theory on coping with the condition is to embrace its effects, to acknowledge them and wait for them to pass. On the eve of mental health week in Australia we chatted to her about how she tackles her condition every day.

On a daily basis do you have ways of minimising your anxiety, do you have for example an anti-anxiety toolkit?

There are three things I do daily to manage my daily anxiety.

  1. I have a morning routine. I’ve learned in my research over the years the decision making part of your brain is interlinked with the anxiety part of your brain, so the more you can create routine in your life, the less decisions you make, and therefore the less room there is for anxiety. I try and start my day the same way everyday.
  2. Meditation is part of my morning routine and it’s non negotiable, you have to meditate if you have anxiety.
  3. Walking - it sounds boring, but science backs walking in terms of being able to shift the anxious part of the brain. If I feel an anxiety episode coming on I make myself go for a walk around the block and it helps shift the feeling.

 So what exactly is your morning routine?

I try and wake up at the same time every day. I get up, I drink warm water and I get out of the house straight away, whether it’s a walk outside to my yoga class, or a walk around the park with some stair runs, or an ocean swim. I get out and I move. To me it’s an absolute joy and I have to do it, it puts me in the right frame of mind. Then I meditate and where possible I meditate outdoors in the sunshine. Then I come back and start my day. It’s about establishing the right vibe for my day rather than ricocheting to an anxious must-do kind of state.

If you have a morning routine, do you have an evening routine to wind down before bed?

I do. I’m not necessarily very good at it though. Part of my evening routine is doing exercise in the morning, which then allows me to sleep and get calm in the evening. I take magnesium, I generally I start drinking chamomile tea at about 7pm, I have no screen time for an hour before bed, and I always have a hot shower. I have some yoga stretches I do as I get fidgety legs and the last thing I do is read fiction, even if it’s only a few pages. I’ll also sometimes take Valerian. I go out a lot, but I try and make sure I am home for 9pm and I allow a full hour to wind down. All my friends now know I head home at 8.45pm, I’m a nanna!

You call your panic attacks anxiety meltdowns or spirals, have you learned how to deal with them?

I try and concentrate on my breathing and I go walking. I say to myself, ‘Sarah get out of the house and walk around the block’.

One of the things I bear in is an anxiety spiral only lasts 20-30 minutes. I try and accept that I only have to do the anxiety once, I remind myself this too shall pass, I sit in it and try not to fight it, and not make it worse by getting anxious about being anxious.

Tell us about a recent period where you found dealing with anxiety particularly difficult.

I just recently went through a manic period, which causes anxiety. I was alive to this and thought I’ve just written a book, I better do what I have said. I was very conscious of it and just went right, I am currently doing anxiety, this is hurting, this is hell, but nobody really knows how to fix it so I might as well sit in it. I did all the things I am meant to do; I allowed it to be grim, I didn’t fight it. It took a few days to cast through it but I came out the other end feeling stronger and better than ever. The fact is I passed through an anxiety spiral successfully and I felt the best I ever had after it was over.



What do you do when you begin to feel overwhelmed or overly anxious when you’re in a public space, or away from home?

I have been in a public place when I have been freaking out and what I did was go to a running shoe shop and get my foot measured. The reason I did that was literally to have somebody touch me. He (the sales attendant) sat there and chatted away about running shoes and he measured my foot. That process calmed me down. For me it’s human touch that can help calm a situation. Wherever I am in the world I will go to a Thai massage place, even it’s just half an hour. When I am very anxious it’s very difficult to come back through meditation or being mindful, it has to be done through the body. I know paying $30 for a quick massage will do the job.

How do you eat when you’re feeling anxious?

I will ensure I will eat really warming stews and soups, grounding foods, root vegetables and really slow cooked meat. I have a dish in particular that ticks off all the boxes, it’s a pork chop that’s been grilled and you eat it with sweet potato and some fennel and sweet peaches or apple through it and zucchini. It’s a really beautiful comforting meal, it’s really good for grounding you. 

Sarah's new book First We Make the Beast Beautiful is available for purchase here.