Andrea McLean on why she feels 'fortunate' to have had breakdown before Covid

The journalist and presenter, 51, on leaving Loose Women, living with lockdown and her secret tip for keeping calm.

How’s your lockdown been?

When we first went into lockdown last year I was finishing my book, so was eyeball-deep in deadlines, and I also had the day job. I’d always wanted to be brave enough to turn my This Girl Is On Fire blog, which I’d been running free for two years, into an actual business but never had the courage to take the plunge.

Then the pandemic made me realise we’re constantly waiting for the right moment to do things and you only get one shot at life. I thought, ‘I’ll plan for the worst and hope for the best,’ and so my husband Nick and I launched the business.

This lockdown we’ve been heads down getting it up and running, with occasional breaks and checking the kids are alive. In a way, lockdown means there’s no fomo so we’re not missing out by working so hard.

Have you been tempted to change your house?

I kept thinking I hated the colour of the hallway so one day I stuck my headphones on and repainted the lot. If I had time, I’d be attacking more walls.

You cried on live TV when you announced you were leaving Loose Women…

I haven’t watched it back! I don’t know why I got so choked – I think it was Brenda Edwards’ face. It wasn’t leaving the job so much, because I’d got my head around that, it was the thought of not seeing friendly faces any more.

I’d always loved going in and saying hi to them all, and now I was leaving at a time when I couldn’t even meet them for a drink after work.

But, of course, we’re still friends. Brenda and I were on the phone for two hours on Sunday and I’m in contact with all the ladies.

Did you tell Brenda Edwards before the show?

Yes, just before, and she was so funny because Brenda wears her heart on her sleeve, she reacts instantly.

So I said, ‘Today I’m going to be making an announcement and I need to tell you…’ and she went, ‘No! No! No! No!’ and ran out of my room.

She returned and said, ‘I’m all right now…’ and then she ran out again. That happened five times!

You’ve written two books, one about the menopause, another about mental health.

Both books were about my personal experiences and were full of advice. I don’t claim to be an expert but I wanted to share the things that helped me feel better, also the expert advice I received and the help I had through counselling.

It’s great to hear from women who have read the books and say the advice I received has helped them too.

Any advice for someone struggling during lockdown?

I feel really fortunate that I went through my breakdown a year before the pandemic because it meant I had all my processes in place to help me handle the extra stress well.

But on days now when I feel things are getting too much, the best bit of advice is to step back and only control what you can. When you have a breakdown, you have a feeling of being overwhelmed and a sense that you can’t cope any more. So step back and bring your world very close.

Think, ‘I can control my breath – I will take a deeper breath,’ or go for a walk or put music on. These tiny steps calm your brain. You’re concentrating on little things, not the terror of the big wide world.

Linda Robson says you helped her too.

Linda had her time out and stepped away from social media before my breakdown. I was ringing her daughter and sending her little messages whenever she popped into my mind.

When I was going through my own breakdown, I didn’t tell anybody. Women are so good at putting a work face on.

Afterwards, people were saying, ‘Oh, we didn’t realise what you were going through. You hid it so well.’

Has lockdown changed you?

I think it’s changed all of us. People can’t relate to influencers jetting off. They want to talk about real stuff.

I’m just as happy recycling electrical goods with my neighbours and keeping it real.

You’re backing the Recycle Your Electricals shout-out to donate old electrical goods.

This was a no-brainer for me. We’ve all got boxes in the loft and drawers full of old phone chargers and cables we’ve stopped using. Because I’ve got older teens, I’ve even got old Xboxes we’re not using.

So to be able to hand them over, knowing they’ll be reused, is great. I love recycling anyway – I recycle old furniture, which I find in charity shops, and I sand it down and paint it.

I’ve an American-style porchway across the back of my house that’s filled with furniture I’ve painted, and I even had dining tables that I’d found in a charity shop. I love a bargain.

What’s the oldest electrical item you have that still works?

The oldest thing I have that still works is me! I’m a bit clunkier than I used to be… but definitely still going!

McLean is supporting the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, encouraging people to recycle or donate old, unwanted electricals.

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