Daniella Moyles on how she beat anxiety

Daniella Moyles on how she beat anxiety
Daniella Moyles

THREE years ago, when radio presenter Daniella Moyles announced that she was quitting, few could have guessed from her upbeat Instagram post the inner turmoil she’d been enduring.

In 2015, Daniella, a successful model and influencer, anchored Spin 1038’s morning show. Aged just 26, she shared a penthouse apartment with two close friends, had a top-of-the-range car, and more money than she’d ever expected.

She wasn’t happy. Addicted to busyness and productivity, Daniella was “always rushing to leave one job early to arrive at the next one late, skimping on the most important relationships” of her life, including the one with herself, she says in her memoir, Jump.

Chronically exhausted and with an internal “hum of unease” that eventually became a roar, she was falling apart. Yet, Daniella says in Jump, “if you were to scroll through my very active Instagram feed over [those] months, you wouldn’t [assume] anything was amiss — everything looked rosy. I was all smiles, managing a heavy rotation of work, travelling on occasion, attending events.”

The truth, Daniella writes, is that she was “a model with no self-esteem, a radio presenter with a debilitating fear of public speaking, the most unlovable, unattainable girl, whose deepest need was to be loved and accepted as I am. I was an over-confident, over-competent, over-productive person, who was actually none of those things at all: I was pretending.”

CONSTANT ANXIETY

Daniella’s relationship — with a man she knew she was privileged to have in her life — was on its last legs. She was constantly anxious and suffering debilitating physical symptoms that brought her on countless trips to the GP. Until, one day, in the middle of a traffic jam on Dublin’s M50, the roar grew to a crescendo and “blurred vision morphs into a rapidly receding dark tunnel. My thoughts begin to detach from reality. My coherent picture of the world cuts loose from the roots that bind me to logic and reason. An eardrum-bursting scream is trapped in my heavy chest, but I’m frozen, petrified.”

Daniella’s panic attack delivered the inescapable truth: She couldn’t go on like this. She quit her job and began trying to locate the source of her unhappiness. She chronicles that journey in Jump. Speaking on the phone from her family home in Co Kildare, where she is in lockdown, she hopes her account will add “a layer to the conversation about mental health”.

Daniella doesn’t spare herself in a very honest, peel-back-the-layers memoir. About the ending of an important romantic relationship, she writes:

I had acted selfishly, as if the relationship existed solely to serve me.

About a friend she’d betrayed, she says “she was rightfully enraged by the betrayal and no doubt even more triggered by my adamant refusal to respond to her calls”. Sharing such generally “unshared imperfections” will make her book relatable, she says. “Otherwise, it’d just be a forgettable Instagram story transferred onto the pages.”

DIGGING DEEP

Back at college and studying psychology, Daniella recalls a counsellor explaining that “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical”, that she needed to “follow the breadcrumbs” back to the initial pain that was triggering her present crisis.

And so she did, going right back to difficult childhood experiences. These “uncomfortable truths that often make people cringe” are what’s missing in the Irish conversation about mental health, says Daniella. “Culturally, in Ireland, the family is fortified. We keep things private.”

As a child, Daniella saw her mum battle various health issues: Recurring gallstones, relentless allergic reactions, and, eventually, cancer. “Somewhere in my overwhelmed mind, I convinced myself if I acted like she wasn’t sick, maybe that would make it true. And I embodied this thought entirely,” she says in Jump.

Children, she now sees, will grasp at whatever survival tool is available. “And this set of tools, even if misguided, becomes entrenched in adulthood. You’re not conscious of it. It’s only when things fall apart that you begin to introspect and put the story together.”

Daniella Moyles on how she beat anxiety
Daniella Moyles

Once she had, she was able to heal the fraught relationship she’d had with her father, who she feels has a very similar personality to hers. “He’s a very admirable man,” Daniella says. But she doesn’t flinch from writing about the tough years: “For the guts of a decade, when he entered a room I’d leave and vice versa. We avoided each other, barely uttering a word between sporadic clashes.”

Later, she writes about a healing encounter with him, where she recounted to him the childhood experiences that had hurt her. He apologised, adding he loved her.

“From that point on our relationship began to mend and rebuild in ways I could never have imagined.”

Confronting your deepest fears and relearning who you really are is a laboured, incremental process with many small moments of insight and a one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of momentum.

Daniella went for psychotherapy at her lowest point, in pure desperation. “It was the rope out of rock bottom. It gave me the tools to introspect,” she says.

TIME OUT

But it was travel — a two-year trip around the world — that really propelled her truth-finding and healing. It’s not for nothing that Jump has been compared to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, about Gilbert’s post-divorce journey of rediscovery by travelling across the world. It has also been compared to Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir, Wild (made famous by Reese Witherspoon’s movie adaptation). That book describes Strayed’s 1,770km hike on the Pacific Crest Trail as a journey of self-discovery.

The idea of finding yourself through travel isn’t a cliché, says Daniella. “It was the making of me. Since I was young, I had an insatiable, undeniable desire to travel.

And when things fell apart, it was the last burning ember. Something in my gut: I just knew I had to go. Living in Ireland had just been consolidating many parts of me that needed to change.

And so she “got uncomfortable” — navigating foreign border crossings and countries where she didn’t speak the language — and grew to trust that she could look after herself, make the right call, and manage the recurring tasks and little, daily hurdles on her own. In every country she visited, she sought out anxiety-inducing situations, forcing herself to step up to them and embrace whatever unfolded. “With every long, contemplative bus journey, I seemed to come closer to a less complicated, more authentic version of myself, and it felt good,” Daniella writes.

She was, she says, aware of a feeling of expansion during this period, an ever-growing sense of self-confidence.

Returning to Ireland from Bali, last June, to prepare for college, was a difficult transition, says the 31-year-old. “To come home and go into an Irish winter as a mature student was really tough.”

But now she feels re-established and has just started a small business, the STLL. “Essentially, I’m teaching yoga workshops with other practitioners who’re doing breath-work and many different, holistic self-care tools,” Daniella says.

Prior to lockdown, she’d been doing small workshops and half-day retreats that were growing in momentum, but the disruption is giving her time to build the business online. It’s not the most conventional trajectory, from model and radio presenter to healer, but she has “never felt so aligned and purposeful”.

LOCKDOWN LIVING

Living at home with her parents has been “surprisingly enjoyable, spending time in the garden talking with my dad and my mum showing me how to knit,” Daniella says.

She loves the lockdown-induced change of pace and that you can get so much done at home without fraying at the edges. “Always being so busy had become a marker of success — it’s an illness. I’ve been just as productive during this quarantine. I’ll try to maintain some of this pace when it’s all over,” Daniella says.

Her Covid-19 concerns are primarily for her parents and she feels lockdown has been effective in achieving virus-suppression.

“But it’s not sustainable. We need human connection — to leave the house. I think there’s quite a lot of fear and uncertainty, but isn’t that the nature of life, always? It’s just, now, we’re more explicitly aware of it.”

Daniella is, she says, far from having everything figured out. The last few years have only highlighted how little she knows. “The difference is, I’m softer, kinder when I speak to myself, more open, humbler, more willing and eager to learn than I ever was before.”

Jump, Daniella Moyles, Gill Books, €16.99.

Daniella Moyles’ Practical Tools for Anxiety:

  • In the beginning stages of physical symptoms (rapid heartbeat, sweaty extremities, brain fog, dry mouth, blurred vision), focus on exhalation. Elongating the exhalation to make it longer than the inhalation is the simplest and most effective way to calm the sympathetic nervous system. Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of six. Do this for 30 rounds.
  • To find sense of control during a panic attack, use cognitive behavioural therapy. Ground yourself by telling yourself your own story: ‘My name is X, I was born on X date, I live at X address, my family’s names are X, I go to school/work in X’. To further ground the mind, become aware of your surroundings: name the things you can see/hear/smell/feel.
  • Keep a panic diary – over time this will allow you to identify patterns and triggers, which can be helpful in gaining a broader understanding of what underlies your anxiety. It’s also a useful bank of information to bring to talk therapy.


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