These articles are written impartially by journalists who don’t fully understand the disorder like we do, so please cut them some slack. They are also written as journalistic pieces and not for sufferers, so please bare this in mind.
25 July 2012
By Jill Foster
Nadine Stewart was convinced she was going to die. Just ten minutes after setting off for a pop concert with her sister, she felt a tingling sensation in her arms and pain in her chest.
‘I knew I was having a heart attack,’ says Nadine, 41, a customer services adviser from Morecambe, Lancashire. ‘I begged my sister to take me to A&E: I ran in and screamed that I was having a heart attack.
‘They put me on a monitor and my heart was fine – what I had suffered was a panic attack. I have no idea to this day what caused it, but it terrified the life out of me.’
Nadine Steward has to do everything nine times or fears her husband will die.
But worse was to come. ‘Afterwards, I developed a fear that if I didn’t do something nine times, something terrible would happen to me, my husband Paul or a member of my family.’ says Nadine.
‘If I made a drink I had to stir it nine times. If I locked the door I had to check it nine times and if I used a cloth to wipe a surface I’d have to wipe it nine times. I don’t know why it was nine. I realised I was being utterly irrational. But every time I tried to curb it – such as only stirring my drink three times – I’d begin to panic.’
‘If I didn’t do these things nine times, I’d imagine Paul and me veering off the motorway in our car and see his injured face in the aftermath.’
Nadine had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the top ten most disabling disorders in terms of its effect on quality of life.
Last month both the British actress Emily Blunt and the MP Charles Walker revealed they suffered from it, with Walker admitting he had to do everything in multiples of four – and felt the need to wash his hands hundreds of times a day.
They are not alone. Around a million people in the UK are thought to be undergoing treatment for OCD, the majority of them women. Women are twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders such as OCD – and high-achieving perfectionists are particularly at risk.
‘Everyone has these thoughts but most of us ignore them and get on with our lives. Someone with OCD will develop a compulsive ritual as a reaction to them. It can be continually washing their hands or something invisible like repeating the same phrase over and over in their heads.’
‘The time spent on these compulsions lengthens with time. A severe OCD sufferer might spend six or seven hours a day washing their hands in the hope nothing terrible happens to their children.’
The cause of the condition is not known, though a stressful event in someone’s life may trigger an underlying problem.
Nadine has never pinpointed the root of her troubles – though they began in the year she started a new job, moved house and got engaged. ‘I had no reason to feel anxious,’ she said, ‘though I suppose there was a lot of change.
‘I became scared of choking to death so I stopped eating and lost three stone in less than three months. I couldn’t leave the house without Paul, and even then it would take me three hours to pluck up the courage.’
Someone who can empathise with Nadine is Jeni Scott, 31, who’s had OCD for three years.
It began when her father had a heart attack and her mother was diagnosed with cancer, soon after Jeni left university.
‘I became obsessed with doing things in order,’ says Jeni, a tutor from Newport, Wales. ‘I started making lists but it had everything on it such as “get up, have shower, make a cup of tea” and if I didn’t stick to it I would punish myself by denying myself a treat.
‘I developed a phobia of being in the rain in the wrong clothes and had to take a backpack with spare bra, pants, coat, shoes and umbrella everywhere with me. I’d carry antibacterial gel in my bag and use it every ten minutes. I’ve still no idea why I did it, I just found it helped me.’
Aisha Faisal, from Reading, Berkshire, also suffers from OCD – and it’s getting worse. ‘I developed it in my teens when my mother fell ill and I had to clean the house,’ the 26-year-old says. ‘Now I’m obsessed with everything being super-clean. I wash my hands 14 or 15 times a day, I shower for an hour at a time and wash the shower head and bath thoroughly before I step in.
‘If someone touches me, I cringe. My neighbour touched my scarf to tell me it was pretty and I had to have a shower and put all my clothes in the wash.’ Aisha, who has three children under four, admits her obsession extended to giving birth.
‘Each time I had Caesarean sections – the thought of having a natural birth makes me feel physically sick.’ She made the surgeons assure her everything had been scrubbed thoroughly before each operation. Understandably, her OCD worries the rest of her family. ‘My husband Ali finds it very hard to see me like this. I won’t let him touch me when he comes in from work: he has to shower and put on clean clothes before he can hug me.’
‘With three young children, being clean is impossible and I bathe them twice a day in the winter and sometimes four times a day in the summer if they’re hot and sticky.’
As a result of her obsession her own hands are red raw and she suffers from eczema. ‘I have been to the GP but it’s very difficult to treat. I know I must do something soon, because my eldest daughter, who is four, is picking up on my behaviour and I feel very guilty about that.’
‘The other day she came in from the garden and said she was dirty so needed to get out of her clothes and I washed her and cleaned her thoroughly. My husband can’t believe our electricity bill because the washing machine is on constantly.’
Nadine used a therapy called The Linden Method when she reached her lowest point early last year.
‘I was unable to work, leave the house or answer the phone,’ she says. ‘My vision became blurry, my hands would spasm and I’d get pains like rheumatism. I began to think: “What’s the point in living?” yet I was too scared to kill myself.’
The Linden Method – which has also helped OCD sufferers Jemma and Jodie Kidd – works by convincing the sufferer’s sub-conscious that they are safe.
‘I’m a different person,’ says Nadine. ‘I can leave the house, I’m applying for jobs, taking up hobbies and it’s transformed my relationship with Paul.
‘He says it’s like having a wife in a wheelchair who can walk again. Except I feel I can not only walk, I can fly.’
Saturday 30th June 2012
by William Leith
Charles Linden has treated more than 150,000 people for anxiety. He has books, DVDs, dozens of workshops. business is booming. William Leith signs up for the cure
I am on my way to the Elms, a country-house hotel in Worcestershire, to attend an anxiety retreat. And, like an increasing number of people in the UK, I’m anxious. As my taxi waits in the street, I’m doing a last-minute check. I check the gas hob, the oven, the toaster, the washing machine. Are things unplugged? I feel dangerously close to an OCD “spike”; the more I check, the more I feel the need to check. I check my locks, my keys, my laptop. I hover on the threshold of my front door. I take a deep breath. I fight an urge to rush back into the kitchen, to check the appliances one more time. In my mind, I visualise the four dials of the gas hob. Off, off, off, off. Yes! I can leave. My house will not burn down.
I lock the door behind me. I check it’s locked. In reality, I know I’m not really worried about my locks, or my house burning down. I’m worried about other things. And I’m not alone. In Britain, six million of us now suffer from depression or crippling anxiety conditions. And fewer than a third of us get any help. That’s because it’s mental, rather than physical. People don’t think it’s real. But it accounts for almost half of all ill health among people of working age.
So, what is it I’m anxious about? The economic situation. My future. The future of the world as we know it. The charity Anxiety UK has reported a huge increase in the number of people who contact them because they’re worried about their job security.
“We are concerned that a mental ill health epidemic is looming due to the financial worries currently facing the population,” says Nicky Lidbetter, the charity’s chief executive.
Of course, there can be good reasons for being anxious. When you get anxious, you release certain hormones. Your heart beats faster. You sweat. Your mouth becomes dry. Your eyes stare. You could hear a pin drop. Your body banishes drowsiness. You feel “butterflies” in the stomach. Perfect, if you’re a Stone Age person, and you’ve seen a strange footprint in the ground, and you have a bad feeling about it. Not so perfect if you’re just standing on a station platform.
An anxiety disorder is when normal life – standing on a platform, say, or reading your e-mails – makes you feel as if you might be surrounded by predators. Myself, I’m on the borderline. I can cope. Mostly. Sort of. I’ve only ever had two panic attacks – that’s when your fight-or-flight system goes awry, and you get filled up with adrenalin, but also stop breathing normally. A terrible combination: I never want to go there again.
At the station, everybody around me seems to be anxious. Waiting for the train, we are checking the time, looking at the flashing words on the sign above our heads, in case our plans might suddenly need to change. I find a seat on the train. Anxious-looking people sit next to me. I wonder how many of these people take anti-anxiety medication; since 2007, the use of antidepressants for anxiety disorders has jumped by 26 per cent. The passengers take out their laptops; before the train has moved, they are trawling through websites, processing information.
I take a deep breath. I look at my newspaper. Greece – imploding. The euro – on the brink. The future looks bleak. George Brown, a psychologist at the University of London, has described anxiety as “a response to future loss”, as opposed to depression, which is “a response to past loss”. Anxiety is the modern mental-health issue par excellence; it’s how we feel in a speeded-up society – living tomorrow’s problems today.
It’s also about living in a society in which we have so much to lose. We fear danger from all sides, but, in reality, we’re safer than ever. We fear death and disease, even though our life expectancy has never been higher. Here, in the anxious West, we have so much; it’s no wonder we are terrified of losing it. We go through life thinking that, but for a few tiny details, things could be perfect. Then we worry about the fact they’re not. We worry about our bodies, careers, children and kitchens. Anxious people make good consumers.
According to the 2002 World Mental Health Survey, commissioned by the World Health Organization, anxiety is overwhelmingly a condition of affluence. People in poor societies don’t have time for it. In North America, 28.8 per cent said they felt constant anxiety; across the border, in Mexico, only 6.6 per cent did. When you’re sold the idea that you can be perfectly safe and perfectly happy, it’s easy to focus on the fact that you’re not.
Psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice believes, “It’s the fallout from our modern life: the economy, the global positioning, the breakdown in family relationships, the constant demands on our time.” Over the past decade, she’s seen a growing number of people with anxiety. Lots of them are very successful. “These people are very performance orientated. They can’t maintain the amount of energy needed to keep so many balls in the air. This leads to stress, which in turn leads to anxiety. Anxiety in turn often leads to depression. Our lives have to be more about balance. We need time just to be.”
This is what I’m thinking as I arrive at the Elms, a 300-year-old establishment in the Malvern Hills: it looks serene and ordered. Still, as I wheel my suitcase into the hall, I can feel my anxiety levels rise. I will spend four days with a group of affluent people who suffer from anxiety disorders. I will be practising the Linden Method, which will banish my anxiety. That’s what Charles Linden, the method’s inventor, says. He seems to have devised a way of taking the negative energy that triggers anxiety and turning it into positive energy. The Linden Method. It has a ring to it.
It’s growing in popularity – according to the website, Charles Linden has treated more than 150,000 people. You can get yourself sorted out by correspondence, using books and DVDs, and a telephone back-up service that costs Â£137. There’s a junior version, for anxious kids. There’s a two-day workshop at Â£995 or you can go for the full four-day retreat – my option – which costs Â£2,700. Which makes me anxious about something else: is it worth it?
Linden clearly wants to be the Paul McKenna or perhaps the Allen Carr of anxiety. Whatever terrible symptoms you have, he says – chest pains, OCD, tingling, panic attacks or agoraphobia – you can get rid of them. Interestingly, he says that anxiety symptoms are “harmless and normal”. And he has plenty of celebrity endorsements. There on the website, next to Linden, are Gok Wan and a teenage boy whose symptoms Linden cured on Wan’s show. There is Jemma Kidd, make-up artist and sister of model Jodie, who swears by the Linden Method – she even said so on Lorraine Kelly’s show. And here is Rupert Young, formerly anxious brother of singer Will. He’s been on the Linden retreat and, he says, no longer fears life.
In the spectrum of anxiety sufferers, Charles Linden found himself at the far end. I go through the day feeling various levels of worry and dread; Linden, on the other hand, was crippled with anxiety. At his worst, he had constant panic attacks. He was on several types of medication. He couldn’t leave the house, the room, the duvet he was lying under next to a radiator. When he hit rock bottom, that was his life. A duvet and a radiator. He was even frightened to go to the loo. And then he came up with the Linden Method. Now he runs regular courses with his wife, Beth, a woman who falls into the “non-anxious” category. Beth is warm, attractive, controlled, practical. She has shoulder-length blonde hair and wears jeans and wedges.
“I couldn’t eat,” Linden tells me. We are sitting in a quiet room in the Elms. He’s telling me about the worst moments of his anxiety. “Beth used to drive seven miles home at lunchtime to lift me off the floor and take me for a pee.” Sitting here, he definitely does not look like a man consumed by anxiety. As he will tell me, he has, in some mysterious way, channelled the negative energy in his brain elsewhere; this, as far as I can see, is the Linden Method. Linden wants to help people; he is curious, entrepreneurial, ambitious. He has a shaved head and wears nice clothes. He looks trim, an alpha male.
He says that wasn’t always the case. The son of a civil engineer and a textile designer who later became a nurse, Linden says he remembers being anxious from an early age. Growing up in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, he can’t recall his parents being anxious, but other members of his family, he says, were – his grandmother, for example, was frightened of wearing a seatbelt. As a child, Linden says, “I started making inappropriate risk assessments.” For instance, he was afraid of rope swings. “I was seeing the world through anxiety-coloured specs.” Linden has what he calls a “creative intellect” – like a very high proportion of anxiety sufferers, he has a vivid imagination.
At school, Linden’s chronic anxiety attracted bullies. At 13, he began to develop school phobia. He was put on antidepressants. “I kept telling my mum I wanted to die,” he says. He was constantly seeking, and failing to find, “a safe place to go” – the classic refrain of the anxiety-sufferer’s brain.
When you suffer from an anxiety disorder, your brain keeps telling you that you’re not safe, and obsessively searches for safety. With OCD, for instance, you guard against your obsessive thoughts (“My house will burn down”) with compulsive behaviour (endlessly checking your appliances). Hypochondriacs keep seeking reassurance that they’re not ill. An anxiety disorder is inappropriate, stultifying fear – fear turned inward.
As the German psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein said, “Fear sharpens the senses; anxiety paralyses them.”
To stop being anxious, says Linden, you have to stop endlessly seeking reassurance – that safe haven the anxious brain yearns for. “There isn’t one,” says Linden. “When you’re born, the umbilical cord is cut, and you’re on your own.”
We talk about my obsessive search for safety and reassurance. When I’m cooking, I buy the same ingredients twice over, just in case. I fantasise about having spares of everything – I’d like to have two laundry rooms, two washing machines, two dryers. I sometimes think I’d like a spare house in the same neighbourhood, just in case. Anxiety, says Linden, is about hiding from reality. “You become more and more restricted – not just geographically, but in every way.”
After leaving school, Linden did an art foundation course, and then briefly worked as an ice-cream man. Then he went to Germany in pursuit of a girl. Sometimes he was focused and entrepreneurial. But then the anxiety would come back. In Germany, he set himself up as an agent for Chrysler and General Motors. But then he had a breakdown. It happened at a petrol station. He got out of his car and tried walking towards the pump. “My legs couldn’t carry me. I hit the deck.” The emergency services were called. He’d had a massive panic attack. After this, he came back to England. “I dumped my life in Germany,” he says. “I left an apartment, cars and a girlfriend.” He was 23.
In England, he studied electronic media at the universities of Hull and Wolverhampton. He took diazepam and Prozac to ward off the anxiety. It didn’t work. After graduating, he got a job making training videos. That’s where he met Beth. For a while, Linden hid his anxiety from his new girlfriend. But then he came clean. On a trip to Wales, “I felt like I was dying.” Beth was understanding. Even when she had to drive seven miles every lunchtime to take Linden to the loo.
Full of Prozac and Valium, terrified to leave the room, Linden realised he had to take action. Medication didn’t seem to work. He had to do something – but what? With help from his mother, he got a job at a volunteer centre. He did clerical work. Answered the phones. Kept his mind busy. Applied his intellect to the subject of how to help the people there. His panic attacks abated. That’s when the light bulb went on. “I thought: ‘Hang on a minute. Clearly there’s some interaction between intellect and anxiety.” In other words, if you find a way of channelling your intellect away from chronic anxiety, it begins to disappear. Hence the Linden Method.
Over the next four days, I pursue the Linden Method. During this time, I have four sessions of physical therapy, working on my posture, my breathing and my core muscles. I have a full-body massage for 70 minutes. I have a “troubleshooting” session with Linden. But mostly, I have hours and hours of group therapy led by a psychologist called Jenny Brookes. I sit with a group of anxious people talking and talking. Brookes tells us she used to be cripplingly anxious: she blushed and overheated all the time. Worrying about it made it worse, she says. So she found a way of not worrying about it, pre-Linden.
By the end, I feel uplifted; I also feel that a non-anxious life is possible, and even likely.
I feel that the answer is in my hands. I realise that it’s up to me to make the most of the world as it is, or even try to improve it. I see that going round in circles, worrying, is much less interesting than, say, getting up early in the morning and writing books. I see that it is possible to replace my pernicious worry with a sort of excitement.
Having signed a confidentiality agreement not to identify the people on the course, I won’t. But here’s what I can say about them. They are all affluent and intelligent. Several have worked in the anxiety-provoking world of the City. Some have extremely successful businesses. They arrive in Audis, BMWs and a Porsche. They seem very good at not appearing anxious. The anxiety is trapped within. They are haunted by obsessive thoughts and live each day with desperate fears – of heights, enclosed spaces, crowds, social events, other people.
In the sessions, we talk about our anxiety. I explain that I live my life in a constant state of dread, which is also tinged with nostalgia; the American psychologist Rachel Herz has shown that certain anxious states tinker with levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which fire up its limbic system, filling you with memories and regrets. I explain that I fear heights, dread walking near the edge of cliffs, and often wake up believing I am about to be executed. While we discuss these things, a police car draws up to the Elms. I feel a twinge of fear. Are they going to arrest me? As we talk, we laugh. Talking to other anxious people is therapeutic.
As the days go by, something happens. We all begin to see our anxiety for what it is. It’s a bad habit. It’s a way of avoiding responsibility. It’s childish. It’s part of not wanting to grow up. It’s about not taking control. In our lives, we are, in one way or another, afraid to be the instigator of things. Maybe it’s because of things that happened in childhood. Perhaps, on one level, we are unconsciously searching for someone to look after us. Whatever. After a couple of days, it seems clear that anxiety is not the answer. Not the right one, anyway. Obsessively worrying about things won’t help.
Somehow, I begin to step outside myself. I watch myself being anxious. And it seems very silly. All that worrying – that was a bad habit. Why not do something else instead? After all, our neural pathways are not set in stone. We can rewire our brains, to a certain extent. Gradually, over the four days, it occurs to me that I could try to develop better habits. Like not sitting around worrying. Like doing something constructive instead.
It would be easy to say that’s what the Linden Method is about: stop worrying and do something instead. But that would be like saying that Allen Carr’s method for smoking cessation is about stopping smoking and doing something else instead. Both are about getting your mind to turn bad habits into good ones by getting you to understand how a bad habit works, and simultaneously building up your trust in the future, minus the bad habit. One of the keys to quitting a bad habit is developing a firm belief that you won’t miss it when it’s gone.
Brookes tells us that it’s important we kick away our crutches as soon as healthily possible – Prozac, Seroxat, diazepam, recreational drugs, alcoholism, therapists, whatever. To her mind, they all, in the end, remind us of our anxiety. I’ve already quit just about everything, including booze. But I can see that if I wasn’t eaten up with anxiety, alcohol would not be a problem. The future non-anxious me, I begin to see, would be able to drink! Sensibly!
We say our goodbyes. The German cars draw away from the Elms, possibly towards less anxious lives. I get in my taxi. I think: don’t be eaten up with anxiety. Instead, do stuff! Don’t be controlled by dread. Instead, be excited! You might be walking along a cliff path, slip and find yourself teetering over a 500ft precipice. Thugs might drag you into a car park and summarily execute you. But these things almost certainly won’t happen.
Five weeks later, I walk down my hall, and go through the front door. I have an urge to check my cooker, my plugs and my toaster, but it’s much smaller. It rears up; I smack it down. Do I think this is worth £2,700? Over a lifetime, well, yes, it almost certainly is.
I lock my door and walk along the path outside my house. Will my house burn down? Possibly. But probably not.
7:00AM BST 15 Apr 2012
Earlier this month, Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, admitted she has regularly suffered panic attacks – and always carries some Xanax in her handbag as her “lucky charm”.
British supermodel Jodie Kidd and her sister Jemma, the Countess of Mornington, have both undergone successful treatment for anxiety and panic attacks which they described as “crippling”.
“The attacks felt like that split-second before a car crash, when the adrenalin whooshes through your body and you think you are going to die,” says Jemma. “From the outside, I might have looked sorted, but on the inside, I was thinking ‘if only you knew… ’ ”
Both checked into the Linden retreat, in Worcestershire, also the choice of British novelist Plum Sykes.
Ms Sykes’s anxiety followed the onset of a rare migraine disorder that left her so dizzy she couldn’t care for her children. Though treatment for the condition was successful, the fear of such attacks left her virtually housebound, unable to take even the few steps from her home into a taxi unassisted.
“Life became a series of ‘what-ifs’.” she says. “I would imagine every possible worst-case scenario which could occur. In the end I became too frightened to do anything at all.”
In an article for US Vogue this month, she wrote about her stay at the retreat, and the dinner conversations with 11 other anxiety sufferers, including a 23-year-old policewoman who experienced panic attacks when her baby refused food.
“You must be terrified at work then,” Ms Sykes sympathised, “dealing with criminals and everything?”
“ ’Work’s fine,’ the policewoman cheerfully replied. “I just lock offenders in a cell. I’m not afraid of them. It’s when I’m at home that I’m anxious.”
When a person is fearful, the body is flooded with adrenaline in order to prepare it for extreme muscular activity, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response. In panic attacks, these reflexes are triggered despite an apparent lack of external threat, causing a response in the sympathetic nervous system with intense physical symptoms, including tunnel vision, hyperventilation and racing palpitations.
While the NHS prescribes drugs and, increasingly, cognitive behavioural therapy, to identify unhelpful thoughts and actions and replace them with constructive ones, the retreat’s founder, Charles Linden, an anxiety-sufferer for more than a decade, is adamant that when it comes to anxiety, neither approach works.
If some of his ideas sound kooky – tips to avoid panic attacks include “the cold apple” method, taking an apple from the fridge, and eating it slowly – the Kidds and Ms Sykes are among many celebrity clients who say they have been cured.
Shane Watson Published: 15 April 2012
Some people experience anxiety during takeoff and landing. Others get a stab of it when they open their monthly bank statement. And still others — a not insignificant number — feel anxious quite a lot of the time, or all of the time, for no particular reason. Anxiety, an emotion that we have previously dismissed as trivial, the natural precursor to exams, job interviews or first dates, has morphed into something bigger and more serious. Move over, stress, we have a more insidious enemy in our midst, and, finally, we’re ready to talk about it.
This month, two high-profile women have outed themselves as anxiety sufferers. Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, revealed in an interview that she carries Xanax all the time as a precaution in case of panic attacks, and Plum Sykes, contributing editor at American Vogue, writes in the April issue about checking herself into an “anxiety retreat”, a kind of rehab for the chronically anxious. Kerri Sackville’s new book, The Little Book of Anxiety: Confessions from a Worried Life, will be published later this year; since blogging about living with the condition, the Australian writer has been “inundated” with messages from fellow sufferers. “So much has been written about depression, drug addiction, eating disorders — anxiety is the last thing we talk about. It’s not seen as a disorder, it’s seen as a failure to cope.”
Anxiety is often confused with stress, but stress is a natural response to pressure, whereas anxiety (or problem anxiety) is irrational fear. “You go straight to the worst-case scenario,” Sackville says. “Finance is a bit tight, so we are going to be out on the street. In my case, my husband is late home, so he is dead. He dies all the time.”
Sackville has undergone years of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to cure her of panic attacks, while Sykes, who was virtually housebound for months, cured herself by using Charles Linden’s method. Shulman, on the other hand, says: “I know about trying to breathe properly and I have Xanax, which I take everywhere with me in case — it’s my lucky charm.” Their stories are at the extreme end of the scale, but they strike a chord because anxiety, albeit not to panic-attack level, is something a lot of us are familiar with. In the past year or so, I’ve noticed waves of it welling up from nowhere.
Sitting in front of the TV on a Sunday evening, sunbathing on a beach, walking across the park — there it is, the breath-catching sensation that I am not in control, that my small problems will become insurmountable. What am I anxious about, precisely? Nothing and everything. And I’m not alone. Girlfriends will call up and say: “I feel a bit panicky, what’s wrong with me?” It’s hormones, we agree. Or lack of sleep. Or a hangover (and hangovers do make you anxious, in a nonspecific way), but secretly we all know it never used to be like this, and something has changed.
“I think people have always had anxiety,” Sackville says. “In our mothers’ day, women were prescribed Valium and men drank. In the 19th century, women were always taking to their beds with nerves.” Yet the general perception that anxiety affects more people more severely is backed up by statistics. In America, more people are now treated for anxiety than for depression. Andy Puddicombe, a clinical mindfulness consultant, says: “Anxiety accounts for at least 60% of cases I see. not that everybody is at panic-attack level. For many people, there is just a really strong undercurrent of anxiety that runs through their life.”
He believes the pace of life makes us more agitated and susceptible to anxiety, but insists that isn’t the root of the problem. “Five or six years ago, I would have said a lot of it was driven by consumerism, the pressure to achieve. Now I feel it is driven by a general feeling of insecurity. I think the financial crisis has made people feel vulnerable, and when you start to feel vulnerable, it isn’t just in one area of your life.”
Sackville, as a wife and working mother, is conscious that life for her and her friends, recession or no recession, is less nurturing than it used to be: “We have so much more to juggle and, on top of that, the world has become a much smaller place, and our perception is that it is a much more dangerous place. I have a close-knit group of girlfriends, but we are all working and raising kids. We don’t have the time to look after each other.”
Even so, what’s noticeable about anxiety is that it appears to exist in spite of life experience. We all know it’s as likely to strike when you’re relaxing in a beautiful place as rushing to catch a plane. “Working at Vogue, there were girls who would get incredibly anxious about booking a pedicure,” Sykes says. “You can be anxious about anything, and it’s different for everyone.” For her, it wasn’t her frenetic pace of life that triggered anxiety, but a debilitating attack of vertigo that lasted for 18 months. She stopped working: “I couldn’t drive my car, or cook, or look after my children.”
In desperation, she contacted Charles Linden, who himself had suffered from anxiety for 27 years before he developed his method.
Linden believes that anxiety is “100%” to do with people who have creative brains that they are not channelling properly, which leads to overthinking and neurosis. “My father, for example, has no creativity, and his chances of developing anxiety are zero.” You don’t have to be in the music business or a fashion writer to have a creative intellect — you might be a secretary who never fulfilled her desire to paint, or a high achiever who has taken time out to have children. Sykes, a busy working mother in a pressured industry, fits his high-anxiety profile to a tee.
Crucially, Linden’s cure for her involved doing more, not less, and keeping to a rigidly structured daily timetable of activities, measured in half-hours. “The CBT people say, ‘Manage your thoughts,’” Sykes explains. “He says you ‘do’ yourself out of it, you don’t ‘think’ yourself out of it.
All the domestic chores that are thought to be beneath us, I actually now think are the soul of life.”
The methods of curing anxiety are as varied as the forms it takes, but the good news is that mindfulness, a meditation-based technique, has a high success rate. “I rarely see anybody for longer than 10 weeks,” Puddicombe says.
Linden has cured 150,000 people and counting; and Sackville is doing very well on CBT. Anxiety may be on the increase, but it is manageable, and it doesn’t mean you have to retreat from modern life. “I am busier than ever,” Sykes says. “I feel great. I’ve learnt a lot, too. I’m more accepting and less controlling. You know — my philosophy now is, shit happens.”
11:51am Wednesday 25th April 2012 in James Connell
THE founder of a worldwide programme for people with anxiety was just 13 years old when he told his mum he wanted to die.
Charles Linden, founder of the Linden Method – what he calls “a cure for the incurable”, knows better than most what it means to be enslaved by fear but also sees himself as living proof that its fetters can be broken.
He was on his way to school when he told his mum, a nurse, the words any parent would dread to hear – “I just want to die”.
Mr Linden, now a 44-year-old father of two, said: “She turned the car around and took me straight to the doctor. She recognised the signs of someone who wasn’t thinking straight and the doctor gave me some old-school anti-depressants. I can’t say they helped at all.“
Mr Linden began suffering anxiety when he was just five and experienced recurring, threatening dreams, one about being chewed up by a giant mangle.
Mr Linden, who in the past has been housebound by his anxiety, said: “When I was very small, I had this constant sense of fear, particularly in relation to separation. I didn’t like being away from my parents or grandparents or my home. When I went to scout camp at the age of about seven I became quite ill and my parents had to collect me. All the way through school I had chronic separation anxiety and I would end up in the matron’s office, crying. I would have panic attacks. My heart would be racing. I felt awful. I would get morbid thoughts about people dying.”
Mr Linden, a former TV producer and director, sees anxiety as closely linked to creativity. Many of the people he helps are talented or famous people from creative families including Jodie and Jemma Kidd, Plum Sykes, Will Youngâ€™s brother Rupert. There are others, he says, famous people from the world of music and sport, even Hollywood A-listers whom he cannot name who have attended his anxiety recovery retreats or used his home learning programme. He has helped people from all over the world including the USA, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Norway and the UK.
In fact 45 per cent of new clients are American or Canadian but he takes private patients and NHS referrals.
Mr Linden knows what it’s like to battle obsessive compulsive behaviour as he suffered chronic anxiety into adulthood and also Pure O (pure obsession), intrusive and inappropriate thoughts which can be connected to violence, sexuality and religion. An example would be the fear of a loved one being the victim of violence or the sufferer’s thoughts may turn towards thoughts of hurting themselves or other people.
Mr Linden disputes the idea he says has been put forward by medical professionals that anxiety is caused by mental illness, arguing that at its root is the “emotion of fear”.
He is slightly reluctant to discuss the finer detail of the programme itself, perhaps because some of his ideas have been misunderstood in the past, but some of the key parts hinge around reassurance, knowledge, structure and support.
One of the key techniques is to train the person’s mind to know that they are safe, which then “turns off fear”.
Anxious thoughts are directly linked to our daily routines and the Linden Method is about reprogramming the brain, diverting people’s energies away from their anxiety. This can be achieved during an anxiety recovery retreat at The Elms in Abberley and Brockencote Hall in Chaddesley Corbett. There are a choice of two or four-day retreats. Home learning is also available via CDs and DVDs and people who go on the retreats receive 12 months of support.
He said: “It stops the person from developing an anxiety condition again. I call it a firewall – it’s like anti-virus software installed on your brain.”
But Mr Linden would also see himself as living proof that there is an end to anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder because the first person he cured was himself and since then he says he has gone on to help thousands of people who suffer from anxiety.
Mr Linden says there was what he calls a eureka moment at the age of 27 when he had a panic attack in bed and realised that when he was being creative his anxiety was at a low ebb. That was when he first made the link between the two. Mr Linden also disagreed with doctors and psychologists that people with anxiety could not make a full recovery.
He said: “If I can get to people with anxiety, I know I can cure them. We have already helped about 150,000 people.“
He began to formulate his techniques into a PDF document which he began to fine-tune until it became a career in which he sought to help others with anxiety to “reprogramme their brains”.
CASE STUDY: I THOUGHT I WAS DYING OF CANCER
A YOUNG man who suffered from health anxiety believed he was dying of cancer but says he no longer suffers panic attacks thanks to a Linden anxiety retreat.
Andrew Reynolds, aged 26, who lives in Worcestershire, said he suffered panic attacks for just over eight years. He attended the Priory centres in Birmingham and London but said while he felt better for a while, his anxiety returned.
The anxiety had strong and overpowering symptoms including numbness down the left side, blurred vision in his left eye, sweats, a tight chest, dizziness and very strong mood swings.
Mr Reynolds said: “I thought I had cancer. I thought the headaches meant I had a brain tumour.”
He has had two MRI scans, one CT scan and five X-rays on various parts of his body.
“I knew all the staff at Worcestershire Royal Hospital by their first and second names. I have been at the hospital 90-odd times since 2005. I didn’t want to be too far from a hospital. I was going to hospitals and doctors to seek reassurance.”
He would search his symptoms on the internet, which only served to fuel his fears, and Mr Reynolds advises people with similar anxieties not to do the same.
His anxiety may be linked in part to a 20ft fall at work in 2005 when he broke a few ribs. He was just 18 at the time and the anxiety he suffered afterwards made it hard for him to concentrate at work.
He attended a four-day retreat at The Elms in Abberley where he took part in structured activities including yoga, pilates and breathing exercises.
“When you walk in, there’s 15 other people all suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. That on its own gives you a lot of reassurance that you’re not suffering this on your own. With Charles’s method I felt I was going forward. You’re not thinking about past things. I haven’t had a panic attack since. I have also been very lucky because all this is on my doorstep. This is the best money I’ve ever spent. It has changed my life. It changes your way of thinking. Medication is a shield.
It’s not the root of the problem. It’s a cover-up for the problem.”
Mr Reynolds also said he felt supported afterwards with 12 months of contact via phone and e-mail if he had concerns.
‘After an attack I felt as if I had been in a war zone,‘ says Jemma Kidd
Jemma Kidd is having her photograph taken in the garden when I arrive for our interview. When I say garden, this is something of an understatement. Jemma’s country home is an exquisite Georgian rectory set amid the 350 acres of parkland that forms part of her husband’s family estate on the Hampshire/Berkshire border. He is Arthur, Earl of Mornington, 32, the future Duke of Wellington, and watching Jemma, as she poses under a willow, I’m struck by the thought that she will one day make a beguiling duchess.
YOU readers will know Jemma through her weekly Make-Up Masterclass column. Like her supermodel sister Jodie, she is blessed with flawless beauty and has always appeared to have led a gilded life, segueing from privileged upbringing as the daughter of dashing former champion showjumper Johnny Kidd, to a successful career as one of the foremost make-up artists of her generation. Today, at 36, she has her own make-up school, two bestselling product lines and a signature style that is sought after by celebrities and photographers across the globe. Her marriage has made her the Countess of Mornington and in the past year she has become the mother of gorgeous twins Mae and Darcy. In every sense, Jemma would seem to have it all.
And yet, she has invited me here to discuss a dark secret that overshadowed much of her adult life. Throughout her 20s Jemma suffered from a crippling anxiety disorder. At any moment – while working, driving, having dinner with friends – a panic attack might strike. Her heart would race, her body flushed hot and cold, and nausea would sweep over her. ‘The attacks felt like that split second before a car crash, when the adrenalin whooshes through your body and you think you are going to die. So from the outside, I might have looked sorted, but on the inside, I was thinking, “If only you knew.”‘
From left: Jemma with her husband Arthur; with supermodel sister
Jodie (left) and their mother Wendy
It was during this time, around the age of 20, that she suffered her first panic attack. She remembers it vividly. ‘I was at home in Gloucestershire and had woken up feeling strange. As the day went on, I felt myself becoming fearful and sort of detached. It was weird – I was on familiar territory, surrounded by people I loved, but I couldn’t help feeling frightened. Then, early in the afternoon, I was in my bedroom when the full-blown attack came on. Everything suddenly looked distorted. I felt sick, my heart began racing and I couldn’t breathe. Within ten minutes it was over, but afterwards I felt as if I had been in a war zone. The most unnerving thing was that there had been no trigger – nothing awful had happened. And I felt I couldn’t tell anyone – in my family, everyone was always so together and I thought no one would understand. So I kept it to myself.’
Within days, she was having a second attack, this time in the car. ‘That was petrifying. I pulled over, disorientated and sweating, gasping for breath and with my heart palpitating. Again it was over within a few minutes, but I had no idea what was happening to me.’
‘Suddenly I realised I was leading a normal life’
‘The attacks are so random and debilitating that you become fearful of the fear that they bring. You start to anticipate them and find yourself doing anything to avoid them. I stopped driving on my own; I manipulated my life so that when I had to go somewhere, I had someone with me. I couldn’t go into the supermarket or anywhere crowded. If I was going to stay at someone’s house for the weekend, I would be anxious for about ten days before and would insist on knowing how close they lived to a hospital. The symptoms were so real that I believed I could have a heart attack at any time.’
At their worst, Jemma was having a couple of attacks a week. A year or so after they began, she decided to pursue a career as a make-up artist. ‘I realised that having my make-up done made me feel better about myself, and I wanted to do that for others.’ She began a course at the Glauca Rossi School of Make-up in London and her anxiety levels subsided. ‘Keeping busy helped,’ she recalls, ‘but the attacks didn’t stop altogether.’
Jemma went on to work as an assistant to make-up guru Mary Greenwell. ‘My career took off, but I began to fear crashing on the job. I remember doing make-up for supermodels in Milan, and my heart was pumping and my head swirling. It was completely exhausting.’
Social occasions were also an ordeal. ‘There was one dinner at which the Queen was present. That was hugely stressful, because once Her Majesty has sat down, no one can leave the table. So I sat there, holding on to my chair, telling myself that I was not going to explode and that paramedics would not have to come and pick me up from the floor.’ Such nightmare scenarios are known as ‘catastrophising’, and are common among people who suffer panic attacks, because they possess vivid imaginations which they use to conjure visions of disaster, illness and death.
Jemma eventually told family and friends what she was going through. ‘Jodie understood because she has anxiety issues, although she does extreme sports as if to get rid of the adrenalin that way.’ Jemma remembers her mother and friends being sympathetic. ‘But if you don’t have panic attacks yourself, it is hard to grasp what they feel like.’ She consulted doctors who offered her tranquillisers, which she never took, and she attempted alternative treatments, such as meditation, acupuncture, reflexology and reiki healing. ‘They softened the edges, but didn’t stop the attacks completely.’ She is thankful that she had an inner strength. ‘I had to get on with my life. I learned to live with the attacks, and became brilliant at hiding them.’
At 27, Jemma met her future husband at an Ibiza nightclub. The two were immediately an item and the relationship helped Jemma feel grounded. ‘Arthur gave me confidence. He is a caring and loving man and from the start I felt secure and happy with him.’
A year or so on, they went on holiday – always a challenge because of unfamiliar surroundings. ‘We went to a beautiful hotel in Mexico – it was paradise. Just as we had settled in a deckchair with a cocktail, I went into an attack. I ran back to the room, and couldn’t come out for two days, which was terribly tough for him. He had seen me have attacks before, but that was the worst one he witnessed.’
It was a turning point. ‘I remember thinking, “I’ve had enough.”‘ Jemma went online and came across the website of Charles Linden, 42, a former TV producer from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, who suffered from chronic anxiety for more than seven years and subsequently developed his own method of treating anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. ‘I bought his book and CD and read his story, which was 50 times worse than mine, and it made me realise that I could do something to help myself. Within days, I was feeling better,’ says Jemma.
Linden says he has helped more than over 166,000 anxiety sufferers worldwide with his method, which teaches you how to undermine and eliminate anxiety by complying with a set of very simple rules. Anxious behaviour is a habit, he explains, and sufferers need to retrain their subconscious to react appropriately to anxious thoughts and situations. He outlines ‘nine pillars’ or guiding mantras, which include advice to stop talking, researching and holding on to memories of anxiety and to start getting busy.
‘I realised I had been feeding my anxiety, when what I needed to do was train my brain to steer away from it,’ says Jemma. Once in the right mindset, she found this easier than she thought.
‘I started riding again, but focused on training in the school, rather than going out on my own. And instead of swimming, I took up an exercise class. If I was ever really stuck – in a waiting room, for example – I’d play Tetris [a puzzle video game]. Suddenly, I realised I was leading a normal life – the life of an unanxious person. It was absolutely liberating.’
Jemma has met Charles and agreed to work with him at his residential anxiety recovery retreats in Worcestershire. ‘I have been on one myself and seen how transformational his work is.’
None of this, Jemma stresses, means that she now has a worry-free life. She had the same pre-wedding nerves of any bride when she married Arthur five years ago, and giving birth to twins a year ago was a time of oscillating emotions. But she no longer has panic attacks. ‘The difference now is that I have appropriate anxiety. I know how to keep my anxiety under control and I have the mental toolkit to help me cope,’ she says.
This toolkit also includes the two little people who are now the centre of her world. ‘All that anxiety stopped me from becoming a mother for a long time,’ she says. ‘But now I have Darcy and Mae, they are the most grounding, loving, stop-you-thinking-about-yourself presence in my life.’