Hobbies: How I went from cynic to convert

You may have heard that being 'being grounded and in the moment' can help you feel less stress and anxiety. Grace Campbell explores what this means, and whether your favourite hobby can help you achieve it.

Grace's dad, journalist Alastair Campbell, was press secretary and director of communications for prime minister Tony Blair. He's spoken openly about his own mental health difficulties and is an ambassador for several mental health charities.

A year before I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, if you’d told me that one day very soon I’d be one of those people who does yoga and meditates every day, I’d have laughed and insisted you had the wrong Grace.

Grace's dad is partial to a bit of football.

Me? Doing yoga? Meditating? You’d more likely see me win the Eurovision song contest with my totally tone deaf voice. This was me, pre-anxiety.

I was free-spirited, spontaneous Grace who thought her mental health was invincible. I didn’t think of my mind as a part of my body I had to look after, it was just there, consistently stable, scar-free. I was reckless with it. I drank too much , and only exercised in an obsessive, ‘I need to be skinny no matter how’ way.

Then, when I moved away from home for the first time to go to university, my life totally changed. Unfortunately, this was not in the way I’d hoped. I’d moved to Paris to study a French degree.

When I moved, I’d been fantasising about my new amazing Parisian life. I pictured falling in love with a gorgeous French man, eating loads of cheese, and never coming back home again.

A family photograph of Grace Campbell when she was younger.
Grace Campbell: "When I moved away from home for the first time, my life totally changed."

Instead, what I got was panic attacks. Nowhere near as glamorous. Before my first panic attack I’d never really understood what people meant when they talked about anxiety.

My anxiety made me constantly feel like I wasn’t in my body. My mind felt like a distant friend of my body, looking down on me from the ceiling. I thought this unsettling feeling would never go away.

I’d never imagined I’d be someone who would experience it. But anxiety hit me suddenly, when I was going on the metro to meet a friend of mine.

I’d grown up with family members who lived their entire lives with poor mental health and I was worried that now I was going to become one of them.

However, in this period of great darkness, I found the thing that has now become the biggest and most important security in my life: yoga.

Having never done yoga before, I was skeptical. I thought yoga was for older people, and I feared that my friends would mock me for it.

But a friend in Paris who also had anxiety invited me to come to a yoga class with her. When I went to my first yoga class my anxiety was at its worst but, for the first time in weeks, my mind reconnected with my body.

In yoga, the main focus is connecting your breath with your body. Each move links up with your inhalation and exhalation. This focus on the breath helps you really connect with your body.

Yoga is also an incredible form of exercise. So as my mind was progressively getting stronger, so was my physical body, and this, in turn, increased my confidence.

Now, five years later, I am still doing yoga for both of these reasons. If I don’t practise yoga even for a couple of days, I can feel my anxiety creeping back up on me, reminding me to check in with myself.

Yoga won’t be for everyone. For some people in my life it isn’t the thing that helps them - for my dad it’s watching football and playing the bagpipes. But I believe that everyone has something that can make them as grounded as yoga makes me.

In our daily lives, we are constantly stimulating ourselves. We’re swiping, texting, uploading, binge-watching. And that’s all fine, as long as we balance it out with activities that help us switch off, and relax.

Swimming, running, watching football. Talk to the people in your life about what help them connect with themselves. Research it on the internet. You can find that thing.

Alistair Campbell: Depression and Me aired on Tues 21st May 2019 at 9pm on BBC 2. You can watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Grace Campbell
Grace Campbell: "We need to balance our daily lives with activities that help us switch off and relax."
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