• Author and journalist Flic Everett has had anxiety all her life

  • She explains how she deals with it now she is in mid-life, with the menopause

  • We have therapists who specialise in working with both the menopause and with anxiety – find them here

We talk a lot about anxiety and what can be done about it. Millennials are known for their focus on anxiety, but in fact, research shows that women in midlife are those most affected. 

A UK study conducted last month by University College London and King’s College London found the impact of the pandemic has triggered a “second midlife crisis” for the over-50s struggling with higher levels of psychological distress “than ever before” in their lives.

“Midlife in the UK is the peak of suicide for men and women, which speaks to a heavy burden of mental health problems including anxiety,” says Oliver Robinson, associate professor of psychology at the University of Greenwich. “There is typically a conjunction of high pressure from family and work, as well as fears around mortality, that can draw out buried personal issues.”

These quotes are from a Times feature written by writer and journalist Flic Everett. At 52, she is right in the zone of this finding. However, she has life-long experience of anxiety, which she has kept largely hidden from those who know her.

“My mum recalls that when I was a baby my nanna plugged in the vacuum cleaner. It roared into life, and I screamed so hard I turned blue and couldn’t breathe. Aged five, I woke my parents up in the night to ask, quivering with fright, “How do I know I’m me?” At nine I had to put on the same little bead necklace each morning or terrible things would happen. I concluded that if I crossed my fingers all day, nothing awful would befall my family. I still have two misshapen fingers on my left hand as a result.”

By 15 she was having regular panic attacks: “The physical fear seemed to come from nowhere in a wave of pure, icy adrenaline, and overwhelmed me so completely that every time I thought I was going to die.”

At university in Glasgow she became terrified she was going to have her drink spiked, and when she had a baby at 22 she ramped up the worrying even higher as she switched to worrying about her son. “He’s now 30 and the fretting has never stopped, to a degree that we both now concur is wildly disproportionate.”

Now 52, Everett describes her anxiety “humming like a generator beneath everything. Often I’m not worried about anything in particular — but that’s irrelevant. Anxiety is a parasite willing to attach itself to any host. When one issue dies away, it just leaps to another.” It can however be managed, and she is no longer ashamed to talk about it.

Now that she is in menopause she is on HRT, and has changed her working life to be less stressful, and give her more time for walks, yoga classes, spending time with her husband and pets. Therapy has helped at times, but it is the low dose of the SSRI citalopram which she has taken for the past four years, that she credits with a vast improvement in tackling incidents of “physical dread and wild mental spiralling.”

Professor Robinson advises “for those who are anxiety-prone, a combination of therapy — but not too much — diet, meditation and mindfulness, exercise and ensuring a good work/life balance can be enough to have a good, broadly anxiety-free life.”

For Flic Everett, who in September is publishing her first crime novel Murder in the Blitz (Bookouture), anxiety is “not an occasional unwelcome visitor to be chased away. It lives with and alongside and inside me. Sometimes I can ignore it, and other times it takes over and trashes the place. Perhaps as I age, it will take a different form — but I doubt it will vanish.”

Further reading

6 tips for a strong mind and body post-menopause

Why do we get triggered and what can be done about it?

Feeling stuck in midlife? Here's how to move forward

Why do I get anxious about going on holiday?

As a counsellor, here are my four anxiety tips that have helped me