Life

TV presenter Cherry Healey: Perimenopause anxiety made me ‘slightly think I was going mad’

The telly regular and women’s health advocate tells Abi Jackson about the lifestyle changes that have transformed her sleep and mental wellbeing.

Cherry Healey was hit by sleepless nights and anxiety
Cherry Healey at the Women in Film and Television Awards - London Cherry Healey was hit by sleepless nights and anxiety (Ian West/PA)

Cherry Healey says the anxiety she experienced with perimenopause left her worrying she was having “a bit of a breakdown”.

The TV presenter and women’s health advocate – known for fronting series such as Inside The Factory, alongside former co-host Gregg Wallace – started noticing perimenopause symptoms a couple of years ago after entering her 40s. But like a lot of women, she didn’t realise what was going on at first.

“I think I sometimes underplay how awful I was feeling at the time. I slightly thought I was going mad,” says Healey, now 43. “Because I didn’t understand why I was waking up at 4 in the morning, and it really affects your confidence in every way – it affects your mental agility, your joy, it affects everything when you’re not sleeping well.

“And I just thought, what the hell is going on, am I having a bit of a breakdown? Not major one, but where’s this going to go?”

Cherry Healey

While there’s now much more awareness around menopause and perimenopause (the years leading up to when periods fully stop) and the wide-ranging ways it can impact people due to the hormone changes associated with it, one of the big difficulties is that symptoms can be vague and creep up slowly.

Healey considered herself quite well informed when it came to women’s health, but it still took her unawares at first. She recalls not realising she was experiencing perimenopausal symptoms in 2022 – “even though I was making a Channel 5 show called Women’s Health: Breaking The Taboos. And I was very, very lucky to be speaking to lots of experts, learning about women’s health, learning about things like endometriosis and menopause.

“I thought menopause was when your period stopped, and then the fun would start,” admits the mum-of-two (Healey has a daughter, Coco, 14, and son, Bear, ten, with ex-husband Roly Allen). “But actually there’s perimenopause for [up to] 10 years before that happens.

“And it’s like you have a piece of music with an orchestra, and some of the main instruments stop playing in tune. It can be very subtle, so you don’t always notice it, a lot of women go through symptoms without realising it’s perimenopause, and I was one of them.

“Mine started with sleeplessness, and I’m a very good sleeper normally, and anxiety – and I do not suffer from anxiety as a general rule. I get nervous about things, but I wouldn’t say I’m anxious without context. But I was anxious for no apparent reason. It would start with an hour, then it was two hours, then it was half a day, and then it was whole days.

“And I just didn’t understand it, it wasn’t me. Waking up at 4am, bolt upright, having what I think is a panic attack and thinking my life was a mess. It’s very insipid, it doesn’t happen in one big go.”

Things are much better now, which Healey – who hosted E4 spin-off The Jump: On The Piste and has fronted various documentary-style shows exploring everything from body image, dating and childbirth – puts down to a few key things, including lifestyle adjustments and taking care of her gut.

Healey started taking probiotic supplement The Better Gut, by women’s wellness brand The Better Menopause, which she says has been “a bit of a life-changer” for her.

“I would take HRT in a flash if things got worse, I’m very pro getting as much help as you can in whatever form, but at the moment, everything seems to be working really well, I feel so much better. It’s really been a bit of a life-changer,” says Healey, who is now working with the brand.

“The Better Gut came into my life at such a fortuitous time, because I didn’t really know how to fix [what I was experiencing]. And I’ve just found that has massively, massively helped.”

This is alongside lifestyle adjustments, which have been really important for Healey.

“I spoke to a few people and they suggested lots of lifestyle changes, which I put into place – like having an absolutely elite sleep routine. Getting up at the same time every morning, making sure I go to bed at the same time, being really conscious about alcohol, really conscious about making sure I exercise every day if it wasn’t impossible. And also really looking at what I’m putting in my body, how much fibre I’m getting, how much protein I’m getting,” she explains.

“Every so often I get anxious, but nothing like I used to. My digestive system feels healthier, I feel like I’ve got my mental capacity back, because I’m sleeping better. So, the whole gang of lifestyle changes has been absolutely amazing.”

Knowing what’s good for us, and actually making those habits stick can be two very different things though. So, how has Healey managed to make these lifestyle changes happen?

“One of my big things is this funny word – discipline,” she says – quickly pointing out that this isn’t about going to extremes.

“I hate on Instagram, I feel like we’ve got a ‘4am gang’, which is awful, I don’t want to be part of that club. You know, you see guys on there going: ‘I’ve smashed my day before you got out of bed’ – I don’t want to do that. I’m happy to get up at six, make a coffee, take my supplements, watch a bit of the news, then I wake my son up.

“But I do think creating a great routine is one of the best things you can do to look after yourself, and your future self. And I know people are busy, they’ve got kids and jobs and all sorts, but schedule in things that you know [make you feel good] – getting up to go to the gym, going out for that walk, seeing friends. Just put it in your calendar and make it a regular thing.

“Because when you have down times, when you have heartbreak, when work isn’t going well, when all the s*** hits the fan, which it inevitably does – those things hold you together.”

Cherry Healey is working with The Better Menopause, which recently launched The Better Gut, a probiotic supplement specially designed to help alleviate perimenopause and menopause symptoms. Visit thebettermenopause.com