People we love: Ruby Wax

Caroline Hutton / 21 December 2016

The comedian, who’s received acclaim for talking openly about her battle with depression, has a new tour, Frazzled. It focuses on the power of mindfulness.

Your show explores using mindfulness for ‘saner living’. Isn’t it a bit hippie dippy?

Hippie dippy used to be my speciality – films on rebirthing and getting married to myself on a beach. But a decade ago I got depression and thought, ‘I want to understand what’s really going on in my brain’. So I did a Masters in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford. Mindfulness is not about being on a hillock with your legs in a knot. It’s about finding a way to quieten your mind and pay attention to the moment without judgment.

Learn more about mindfulness

How hard is it to master mindfulness?

It can be like training for an ironman. But let’s remember that learning anything new is difficult, whether it’s the piano or tennis. The great thing is that you can’t get mindfulness wrong! The very act of trying is a kindness to yourself. So there’s no need to beat yourself up if you find it hard to bring your thoughts to one place. I still find it agonising at times. And it may not be for you. One size doesn’t fit all and different things work for different people.

What little things make you happy?

Happy is a complicated word. I like the feeling when my writing is going well and I’m in the flow. If I travel and get an upgrade, I like that feeling too. When I’m comfortable with the people around me and they don’t need anything from me and I don’t want anything from them — that’s when I’m at my happiest.

12 happiness tips

Why are people so stressed these days?

There’s too much comparison with other people’s lives. Not just keeping up with the Joneses, but leaving them in the dust, seething with resentment.

How important is laughter in combating stress? In recent tours, you’ve talked about having depression but it sounds like you’re in a happier place now?

There’s a world of difference between stress and depression. Laughter can definitely help relieve stress but it can never help depression because that is a dysfunction of the brain. I’m more informed now and recognise the signs of depression and have the tools to help myself.

How to spot the signs of depression

Does performing keep you sane or is it a source of stress itself?

Performing is stressful — but it’s good stress, the sort that gets things done. When you’re surfing on it you can work all hours of the day. Bad stress is when you’re not true to yourself, like having to go to that Christmas party or trying to get more friends (who you don’t even like).

How can we avoid stress at Christmas?

Put up a big sign that says ‘People who find Christmas hard, meet here’, then talk to each other. Next year, I’m launching Frazzled Cafés, with M&S, where people will be able to meet and speak honestly.

Top 10 seasonal stress-busters

What do you want to find under your tree?

I don’t do a tree. But I’d like something that can help me remember stuff and be a bit of an expert on art, music or literature. I can’t seem to retain information any more. Is there such a present?

Five ways to supercharge your memory

What do you think of your former, frenetic TV persona?

I swear, I can’t recall a single thing. When I need to write about those days, I have to watch the old shows again. They were perfectly of their time, though.

Do you miss being on mainstream TV?

I think it was a blessing that TV gave me up – I’ve had time to do more interesting things.

You’ve been married for close to 30 years. What’s the secret?

I married Ed [Bye, a TV executive] because he was a nice guy and had long legs. I wanted to have children (we have three) with someone who had long legs. He’s funny, too, and we like to do our own stuff.

You teach business communication to big companies. How do you find the corporate world?

I don’t really understand it but I do know that there are a lot of people in it who aren’t coping all that well; and others who thrive. It’s not something I do much any more.

You’ve become a visiting professor in mental health nursing at the University of Surrey. What’s the appeal of academia?

Nothing is better than discussing something I’m passionate about with someone who knows more than me – it’s my ultimate high. Give me brains over comedy any day. Too much comedy is centred on dating and cats.

Has life panned out better or worse than you expected?

Much better. I never dreamed I’d go to Oxford for a start.

Frazzled starts nationwide in January -  Ruby’s book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, is out now.

A version of this article was first published in the December 2016 issue of Saga Magazine.

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