Episode 2

Published on:

13th Jul 2023

How to Deal with Anxiety - Laura James shares her own Personal Story & Experience

This week on the podcast, Tazmin chats with Laura, about how to deal with anxiety, as she shares her own personal story and experiences.

About Laura:

Laura James is a seasoned SEO expert who currently holds the position of Senior SEO Consultant at Flow SEO. With a strong background in agency work, she possesses extensive knowledge across diverse sectors such as eCommerce, travel, education, and retail. Her commitment to delivering organic growth and strategic guidance shines through in her work with SaaS B2B and start-up clients. Laura's areas of expertise encompass international SEO, organic video optimization, and seamless site migrations, underscoring her wide-ranging proficiency and adaptable approach within the realm of SEO. She is also deeply passionate about mental health advocacy and is dedicated to promoting remote working as a means to foster a healthy work-life balance. When she's not immersed in her day to day work, Laura finds joy in her family, exploring different parts of the world (especially Greece), 90s music, sitcoms, Disney movies, and food.

Where to find Laura:

@LauraJamesVSEO on Twitter

Laura James on LinkedIn

Laura's Website

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Hello everyone, and thanks for joining us for another episode of the SEO Mindset podcast with your host Tazmin, which is me. This week I am talking to Laura James and it's a her very personal story about her journey with anxiety. Now, Laura is an SEO Senior SEO consultant at Flow SEO and also a huge advocate for mental health. And she's very, very passionate about building that into the culture of the business. Before we get into the episode, little reminder of how you can support the podcast. If you're enjoying it, here are a couple of ways that you could do it. So firstly, there is a buy me a coffee page. The link is in the show notes. If you're enjoying the episode and want to donate, then you can put a one off donation of five pounds in there. Another way you can help us is by spreading the word. Tell anyone and everyone who you think would be interested or gain value from this podcast. Send them a link to one of the episodes that you may have particularly enjoyed. They don't have to be from the SEO community because we talk about things that will help optimize careers and lives. So feel free to share the message far and wide. So, Laura, welcome. How are you?


Hi, yeah, great, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I'm doing good. The sun's shining, so, yeah, I'm great.


I'm really good. We've been talking a while about recording this podcast, haven't we?


Yeah. And I think it's kind of come at quite an important time as well. So, yeah, hopefully it'll be useful to somebody out there.


We're still in Mental Health Awareness Month well when we're recording this, so it's forefront of our mind still. So tell me, it's such an emotional topic. You're going to talk about your journey with anxiety. Why is it important for you to talk about this?


So I think from going through the journey that I have with anxiety, I've kind of come to realize that humanizing ourselves and other people is so important. Not kind of putting people on a pedestal, not kind of going through life thinking that people are better than you or that you're not worthy or whatever. So I think being able to do that and allowing people to maybe see themselves in me or through my situation to relate to some of the things that I've gone through and to my experience of anxiety, hopefully that can be really useful. And I want people who are going through a similar situation to know that it can get better and they're not alone and to keep trying. And they're definitely not the only person in the world, let alone SEO, to be experiencing things like this. I think it's important that people see themselves reflected in others because like, say, it humanizes everyone and it makes you realize that everyone's got their own baggage, everyone's got stuff going on in the background. We're not all perfect. We're not robots. So, yeah, hopefully if this helps just one person, then I think it'll be worth it.


That's really brave. And it is an issue in the SEO industry and wider as well, of course, but you hear lots of people talking about it, and I'm pretty sure we had another episode about anxiety on this podcast as well. It's a slightly different angle, and what I'll do is I'll put the link to that episode in the show notes as well. So if anybody feels that this is a topic they want to listen a bit more on, then there'll be another episode there for you. Can you tell me a little bit about your history with anxiety? Have you always been anxious or something that develops?


Yeah, I'd say I probably have always been anxious. I think when I was a little kid, I was quite like, most toddlers are very confident. How my toddler is right now, she knows her own mind. Very confident, happy to say no to people. Then I think as you get older, you go through experiences in your life, you go through school, that kind of does get chipped away at not for everyone, but for a lot of people, especially people who are perhaps more introverted, I think that does happen for a lot of people. There were times when I was kind of picked on or I was made to feel like a bit of an outcast, and I guess it all builds up, doesn't it? It all amounts to your self esteem, how you perceive yourself, how you perceive yourself in comparison to others. So I think without realizing it, the type of anxiety that I developed was social anxiety. So it was very much centered around how I thought people perceived me and how I wanted to be perceived by others. So, yeah, I think I started to kind of realize that it was becoming a bit of a problem as I entered the workforce and kind of made my way into SEO. And I kind of thought, this is a career that I want to stay in. This is something that I enjoy, this is somewhere I want to develop, be promoted, get pay rises, et cetera. And then I think that's where it started to really kind of become an issue. I think before, I just sort of lived with it, and I just accepted that this was who I am and this is a part of how I'll always be. And maybe a couple of years into my SEO career, I think I started sort of turning down opportunities for speaking, opportunities for writing, for publications, opportunities for kind of speaking within the agency that I was at at the time. So I didn't want to address a room full of my own peers, even though I worked with them and spoke to them every day. It's something that I would just be like, no, I can't do that, that's not for me so yeah, I think that's kind of how it sort of developed and yeah, like I say, it did start affecting me professionally and that's kind of where I kind of had to confront it head on almost.


That's really interesting because I guess you said you'd got used to it, it become part of who you were but suddenly when you wanted something more from your career, it was having to deal with it.


Yeah, exactly. And I think maybe that happens for a lot of people as well. They don't necessarily realize how things are impacting them. Or maybe if it's just the personal life side of things, they think, oh, I can deal with that. It's fine. My friends understand, or my family know the way I am, and they accept it, and they might make allowances for me in whatever way to make me feel included or make me feel more comfortable. But the working world just isn't like that. Not everybody has anxiety. Not everybody understands anxiety. I feel like a lot of the way that agencies in particular are kind of geared up is towards a more extroverted personality. There's definitely, even today, quite an emphasis on socialization culture but that often includes like, drinking, going out, which is fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but there's kind of nothing that sort of caters to people who aren't necessarily that way inclined or may not always feel like that's what they want to do in a social setting. So yeah, I think it's very much sort of the way that officers, agencies, work, professionals and being part of a working society is kind of geared up towards you have to put on a brave face, you have to turn up, you have to engage. There's the whole thing about presenteeism as well being there, being visible, which I think is part of the reason why I've embraced remote working so much as well. I've got my own space, I decide who comes in this space, I decide who I speak to I can wear my pajama bottoms all day if I want to. It's kind of like sitting me in my comfort zone but if I want to at this stage in my life, I can go out of that comfort zone, I can go and speak, I can go and write for publications and things like that. So that's kind of the difference of how I was before to how I am now, I think.


So you've spoken a bit about how it impacted your family life and there was more consideration and how it impacted your career. What are the impacts were? Because sometimes anxiety manifests physically in people, doesn't it?


Yeah, definitely as I mentioned initially it was sort of like an avoidance thing so I just wouldn't put myself in certain situations but there was a time where I was working at my first agency and I was just having a casual chat with my manager, and suddenly I started to feel really sick. And I felt like when you get that feeling where you're about to be sick, you're about to throw up, and I felt that, and then suddenly it went away, and I was kind of, like, panicked all of a sudden. And I remember just looking at her and thinking, oh, my God, what does she think about me? I've just almost thrown up in front of her at work for no reason. I wasn't ill, I don't think, I wasn't hungover, obviously. And that was the trigger that resulted in me having a more severe form of anxiety that I've kind of always had. So from that point, I would get essentially the symptoms of IBS. I would frequently feel nauseous, have to run to the bathroom, stomach pain, stomach cramps. I would get kind of tingling sensations all over my body, like as if the blood was kind of draining from my head. When you're about to faint, it's almost that feeling of everything is going, because I think it was panic. It was part panic as well, and that would be brought on just by sitting in a meeting. So I remember one time I was in a meeting with my team, I think it was my direct manager, and two others, all of whom were absolutely lovely. I classed them as my friends, and I still do, and I couldn't hear what they were saying to me. I was that anxious. The blood in my ears, I could hear it pumping, and my hands were shaking, and all I could think was, I've got to get out of this room. I can't sit in this room. And it was almost coming round to my turn, to kind of chip into the conversation, and I just kind of went, Right, does anyone need a drink? And I just got up really quickly and just like, Anyone need a drink? I'll be right back. I'll be right back. And I just left the building, and I was out there and I was pale. I was, like, hyperventilating. I think eventually, after about 15 minutes or so, my manager came in and looked for me, and I was just like, I can't do this. I'm really sorry. And she was so nice about it. And that's the thing, you always think almost the worst of other people when you think that they think the worst of you. You think that they think, oh, she's stupid, she's weak, she's pathetic. But actually, nine times out of ten, people will just want to help, and they'll just want to make sure that you're okay. And that was kind of the most powerful thing for me when I went through CBT, which was what eventually got me through the really severe episode that I had. I can talk a bit more about the indepth of that, but the main part of it was that it made me realize how helpful people are and how much people actually care about you. And not to assume the worst in other people. Not to assume that everyone's going to laugh if you fall over, or that if you do throw up in someone, that everyone's going to be like, oh, that's disgusting. Get away from Laura, she's so stupid. I don't want to work with her, I don't trust her to have a promotion or anything like that. It's all catastrophizing in your head. What is the worst case scenario that could happen to me right now? And that was happening to me in meetings, speaking to colleagues. I couldn't have a one on one meeting with my manager. It just wasn't physically possible for me to do that. So, yeah, that's kind of the main sort of physical aspects of how my anxiety showed up at its worst point.


And all of that chatter just goes to compound the problem. It doesn't help in any shape or form. And you're right that the words that we say are very reminiscent of plague around speech that we may have faced during our childhood. And then we think that our manager is going to be the same or colleagues are going to be the same, and it's just not true anymore. By and large, people are good, people are kind, people want to do the best they can for you, but unless you display that vulnerability, they don't know what's going on.


Exactly. Yeah.


So would you say that that was your lowest point? What was it that then took you from just living with it to seeking professional help?


I would say professionally, that was my lowest point. And that was probably the point at which I was I was thinking to myself, I can't do my job anymore. I can't go into work and expect them to let me off going to meetings or let me off having one to ones with my manager, because that's part of my role. And I always said to my manager at the time, I never want you to make allowances for me. I want to do the job that you hired me for, that you're paying me for. I don't want to go off sick, I don't want to be pandered to or anything like that. So, yeah, I thought to myself, I've got to get to the doctors. That was my first thought. I'm going to go to my GP, I'm going to see if I can just get some medication just for the short term, just to try and calm me down, just so I can physically do my job. And I did that, and unfortunately, my experience with that wasn't great. The GP essentially laughed in my face, was very condescending, and said, pills aren't the answer. And I was like, I know that, I am well aware of that. I don't want to be on medication, but I can't physically do my job. And I almost broke down in front of him and I was like, please just give me something to let me go into work and function like a normal human being. And it took for that for him to actually prescribe me with something. I can't remember what it was, but it was that interaction that got me thinking, okay, he is kind of right. I don't want to be on medication, especially not in the long term. I want to do something that's going to be long lasting, that's going to try and fix the root of the problem, the underlying issue of my social anxiety. Not just IBS medication or anxiety medication, which is what I was taking at the time, that kind of tried to help with the physical symptoms, but not the reasons why I was getting those physical symptoms. And it was impacting my personal life as well. I lost over a stone in weight because I didn't want to eat too much because I thought I would throw up. I couldn't go on long car journeys because I thought, oh, I'm going to need the toilet. There's no toilets around there's. Me panicking. So, yeah, it did get to quite a bad point. And the CBT that I went through was an absolute game changer. It really was. It was through the NHS, I think I went through eight sessions. And the crux of it was kind of breaking the mental cycle that I developed between my physical sensations, the catastrophizing of, oh, my God, what are people going to think of me? And how that would then loop back round to giving me more physical sensations. And it was really interesting because it made me realize the things that I was doing that brought on those feelings in the first place. So this is thing called scanning, so where you would be constantly hyper aware of every physical sensation. Maybe you feel, I don't know, a bit bloated or something like that. You've just eaten and you think, oh, is that me about to be sick? Is that me feeling ill? Is that IBS? What is that? So that was all part of breaking that cycle. And the way of doing that was one of the main methods that she used, was she told me a story about another patient that she had who had a similar fear to me of I think hers was falling over in public and making a fool of herself or fainting in public, and everyone would laugh at her. And the therapist actually went to the supermarket with this woman and pretended to fall over just to see what would happen and just to show her what would happen. And everyone that was around her came up to, oh, how are you? Are you okay? Can I help you? Is everything all right? Couldn't have been nicer. And it made the woman think, God, that's shown me how I'm putting all of my negativity and all of my bias on other people, when actually, mostly people will be very kind and very understanding and want to help and want to support. And so she gave me a task, my therapist. She said, Why don't you create a survey and put it out to everyone that you know on Facebook? And it can be simpler saying if someone you knew was presenting in a meeting and had to run out because they felt sick or fell to the ground because they had fainted, what would you do? And get their honest opinions. Don't say that it's you. Say that you're sharing it for a friend. And that's what I did. And I had quite a few responses and they were all overwhelmingly positive and caring and it flicked a switch in my brain. That's the best way of describing it. It really stopped me thinking the worst and stopped me assuming that everybody is the same and that no one would understand and that no one would care and no one would help. And I wouldn't say it was an overnight thing because it definitely wasn't. But from that point, I felt so much better. It was like a weight had dropped off my shoulders, like I could almost not fully be myself because I'm still a bit of an anxious person. Like I was saying to you, I'm anxious about this podcast, so it's not gone away, but it's not as bad as it was even before my lowest, lowest point. And now I feel like I'm able to do so much more and it's so freeing. And like I said at the start, if me saying this convinces one person to go get help, to do CBT or whatever it is that helps them, that works for them, then it's 100% worth it.


That's quite a story. And you've covered so much going through the symptoms and how you got to your lowest and what you did. So thank you for sharing, for being vulnerable and for having that underlying intention of helping even one person. We're going to take a short break, give you a chance to both of us just to resettle and then when we come back, it'd be really good to hear about how life is now since you've learnt how to manage the anxiety. Welcome back, everyone having a really interesting conversation with Laura about anxiety and how she found a path to learn how to manage it with CBT. So, Laura, CBT is, from what you were saying, it's quite a long term process, not a quick fix. What could somebody do if they suddenly start panicking? Maybe they've not experienced it before or maybe they're still going through finding a professional. What advice would you give them?


There's quite a lot of techniques that I used to use, say, if I had a long journey or something that I would have to go on. I used to do a lot of grounding work, which is kind of almost like meditation, but you're kind of trying to take in different aspects of the world around you. So what can you smell, what can you see, what can you hear, what can you touch? Just to kind of bring your mind out of your head, if that makes sense, and kind of into the present and where you actually are. Breathing techniques were really important for me as well. I find that that helps a lot with palpitations and kind of feeling breathless and just kind of slowing any racing thoughts down, just kind of taking some deep breaths. There's lots of different techniques that you can try. Some might work for you, some might not. So definitely give them a Google and try a few different ways of doing things. But I think I would breathe in for say 3 seconds and then out for six or something like that. And just the process of focusing on that would kind of almost talk me down a little bit and help me feel a lot more rational in how I was thinking. And speaking of kind of talking myself down, something that I do even now is just that just kind of go, hey Laura, you're being a bit silly now, just stop it. If I start feeling that kind of initial pang of anxiety or that feeling in my stomach or the tingling sensation, I'd kind of think, you know what, I'm okay, I know where I am and if anything happens I can cope with it, so it's fine. And I think that so often we underestimate how well we can actually cope with things. And that's another kind of key thing that I realized through my CBT was that I can cope. And I have coped countless times before. It's just the thought that you can't cope, oh, what am I going to do? How am I going to cope if this happens? It really is catastrophizing. I keep saying that because that's the term that my therapist used and it is worst case scenario, how am I going to cope with this? Oh, I can't cope with that. Nobody's going to understand, I'm going to freak out, I'm going to do this. Whatever the situation is personal to you, whatever that worst case scenario is, CBT really helped me understand that I can actually cope with it and that the underestimating of myself was part of that anxiety and part of the self esteem side of things as well, I think. And not kind of seeing myself as others see me, but how I perceived myself, which was weaker than I was. So yeah, now I know that if something happens, I can deal with it. And it might not be great, it might be a bit embarrassing, whatever the situation is, but I can cope with it. And I think of that in conjunction with that. People are genuinely mostly nice and they will help me cope with it as well if I'm struggling. So yeah, they're kind of my main things to kind of bear in mind if you're having a bit of an.


Episode, that's quite a journey you've been on and lots of really great advice there. So thank you for that. What's life like now? So now that you've learned how to manage it, what can you do now, personally, professionally, that you would have struggled before?


I would say it was definitely life changing and that's not an understatement. It's allowed me to do things that previously I didn't think I'd be able to do or I was really nervous about. Two personal things was I got married before I had this. I thought, oh, my God, I don't want to walk down an altar. I don't want people looking at me. They're going to think I look stupid in a dress. And my wedding day was the best because I didn't worry at all about what anyone thought of me. I was completely myself and it was the way that I wanted it to be, not how I thought other people might want it to be. And then secondly, again, just a personal thing was having my daughter as well. Now, as you can probably imagine, I've always had a bit of a thing about being sick and morning sickness didn't sound that appealing to me. So when I did get pregnant, I was able to go through all of that fun stuff, go through medical checkups and things like that, even the whole birth process. I was so much calmer because in the back of my mind, again, I was like, I can cope with this, I can deal with this. There are people around me who can help me and I'm looking forward to it. And I did actually look forward to it. That's the weird thing. I wasn't scared and the therapy just took away so much fear that I'd had in my life for so long and it was so freeing. And even though it's not completely gone and maybe I will always be a bit of an anxious person, maybe I will always kind of care what people think of me and not want to upset people and stuff like that. Maybe that is just who I am now. But it's been so freeing. And on the professional side of things, I've written quite a lot for different publications. I got an article published in Search Engine Land today. I'm speaking to you on this podcast, which I wouldn't have been able to do previously. I just wouldn't. I wouldn't have even put myself forward for it. And I've got to a place in my career where I can see that I'm making progress. I can see that I'm getting better. I can see that things are really positive and I feel like I can go somewhere and I'm in control of where I go from here and what I do and my progression. And it's such a good feeling, honestly. And I just think about all those years that I was kind of trapped almost in this state of not pushing myself too hard, not going out of my comfort zone, worrying about what people thought of me too much and maybe the opportunities that I missed during those times, but now I'm hopefully making up for it.


It's interesting that you took the path of seeking help because you wanted to progress your career, but it actually paid dividends in your personal life as well and gave you some life changing moments, like the marriage and having your daughter, which you may not have had quite in. That such a wonderful experience on both of those. Amazing.




So what advice would you give to anybody listening who may be going through something similar?


I would say the most important thing is to not just live with it and accept that it's a part of who you are. There's always things that you can do to make things feel a little bit better in the short term. But I think really addressing the underlying reasons behind why you think a certain way and really breaking those patterns is going to be the most powerful thing and is what's really going to kind of give you that freedom to achieve what you want to achieve and go for what you want to go for. And not everyone's the same, not everyone wants to do public speaking. That's absolutely fine. Not everyone experiences anxiety in a similar way to what I did. But I think if you feel, whether it's in your professional life or your private life, if you feel like something's holding you back, then don't just accept it. Because every year that goes by could be another year that you're missing opportunities, maybe you're missing out on friendships, whatever it is. So definitely seek that help. And I absolutely recommend CBT. It's not for everyone, I understand that, but it was absolutely pivotal for me and breaking my own cycle. So if you're able to access that service, then I would definitely recommend it.


And an additional note, anybody listening to this who wants to take that first step. And although maybe your first experience, your initial party, first experience with the GP wasn't what you were looking for, it then took you down a path that was really helpful. So, first point of call, contact your GP. I think the NHS has lots of talking therapies online, if you search for that, that you can access that as well. So there's a raft of services, but start with your GP, because then at least with the NHS and it's all joined up, whatever it is that you whichever part you go down. So, time to wrap up today's episode. What's the key thing that you want to take people to take away? And you've given quite a lot of key bits of advice.


Yeah, I guess the message is it can get better. And I know that sounds cheesy, but it really can. Don't put up with how things are just. Because it's easy and you don't want to bother anyone with your problems. There are people who are quite happy to listen to your problems and often get paid to do so. So take advantage of that. There are avenues of help. There's always ways to make things better and also to know that there are others out there as well who are very similar in similar situations or have similar feelings, similar fears even. And again, I bring it back to the kind of humanizing point. Don't assume that everybody's a nasty robot who's going to say horrible things to you. People are, nine times out of ten, very nice. So just bear that in mind.


Absolutely. Now, we've got some standard questions that we ask all of our guests. Question number one, best career advice you've been ever received.


Yeah, I had a little think about this. I haven't really had any kind of mentoring or coaching, but I'd say the best advice I've had when I started out my career in SEO would be to sort of try everything. Don't be afraid of failing, don't be afraid of working on different CMS, different website types, different client types, different verticals, that sort of thing. I think you definitely grow better and faster by opening yourself up to as many experiences as possible. So, yeah, if you are working agency side, don't kind of pigeonhole yourself into one type of thing.


That's good advice. And again, don't be scared of failure because the only way you're going to progress is if you take action. So it's really good advice.




Within the SEO community, we have some great people doing some great work. Is there anyone in particular that you'd like to shout out about?


I definitely want to give a shout out to my team at Flow or SEO. I joined in January of this year and they've been absolutely amazing. They've given me so many opportunities. They've given me the time and the space to grow into this personal branding thing, to do podcasts and stuff like that. So I'm really appreciative of that. And I also just want to give a shout to all of my managers and team leaders over the years who've had to put up with me and who've been just amazingly kind and understanding and considerate and really helped me on this journey of healing from anxiety. So I really appreciate that.


Thank you. And if anybody wanted to reach out to you for any podcast opportunities or anything else, what's the best place that they can do that?


So I'm mostly on LinkedIn. I used to do Twitter, but it's gone a bit weird now, so I kind of stay away from that. But yeah, definitely on LinkedIn.


Okay, Laura James and we'll put a link in the show notes. Great, thank you. Wonderful. Well, we've had a great time chatting. It's time to wind up. Just a quick reminder to all of our listeners on the ways that you can support us. There is the ability to buy us a coffee and the link is in the show notes and also spread the word. Definitely this episode, spread it to people. You don't know who it might help because everyone will be showing their best face and you don't know what's going on underneath the surface. So thank you again so much, Laura, for being on podcast today.

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About the Podcast

The SEO Mindset Podcast
Personal growth tips to help you to optimise your SEO career and not just the algorithms!
The SEO Mindset is a weekly podcast that gives you actionable, personal growth and development tips, guidance and advice, to help you to optimise your SEO career and not just the algorithms.

The podcast is dedicated to talking about important topics that aren't often spoken about in the industry such as imposter syndrome, burnout, anxiety, self awareness etc. Sarah and Tazmin, along with their special guests highlight important topics, share own experiences as well as giving actionable solutions. Basically we have open, honest and frank conversations to help others in the industry.

Each week we cover topics specific to careers in the SEO industry but also broader topics. We will help you to not only build your inner confidence but to also thrive in your career.

Your hosts are Mindset Coach Tazmin Suleman and SEO Manager Sarah McDowell, who between them have over 20 years experience working in the industry.
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About your hosts

Sarah McDowell

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I've been in Digital Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for around 10 years, currently working as the SEO Manager at Captivate (part of Global), the world's only growth-orientated podcast host. I am a self-confessed SEO nerd (I find the industry fascinated and love learning how search engines like Google work) and a bit of a podcast addict (with this being the fourth podcast I have hosted). I am also a speaker and trainer. I hope you enjoy this podcast!

Tazmin Suleman

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I am a Life Coach, helping people grow and thrive, however my background has included careers in Development, Data Integrity and SEO. Through coaching, mentoring and teaching I help people build happier more fulfilling professional and personal lives by changing their mindset and habits. I teach courses on these topics and have incorporated a lot of the teachings in this podcast. I hope you find it useful.