Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax on ‘the contemporary illness of being stressed about stress’

Internationally renowned actress, mental-health campaigner and best-selling author Ruby Wax took to the stage on September 28 at London’s China Exchange to discuss mindfulness and the complexities of stress in the modern age.

Wax’s talk unpacked her most recent publication, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, at the conclusion of her critically acclaimed Frazzled UK tour. Charming the crowd with her contagious charisma, she delivered one of her infamous one-woman shows. She wittily interviewed herself, addressing touchingly personal and complex questions regarding the difficulty of managing mental health.

The array of personal anecdotes Wax drew upon ensured an approachable performance that, while light-hearted, tackled challenging subjects. Throughout the session, Wax took the audience on a journey that ranged from her fraught relationship with her mother to her own struggles as a parent. In doing so, she opened up an honest conversation about that ever-elusive ideal, happiness. She concluded, “Happiness is being able to focus on what we want to focus on and not on what you don’t.”

Most touching was Wax’s humility. “You know why I got so smart? Because I was such a great failure,” she claimed. Recalling the determination with which she obtained a master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University, she won the crowd over with her relatable account of meeting renowned physicist Brian Cox and being able to muster up the courage only to ask his favourite colour.

Although sceptical of the term itself, Wax emphasised the importance of mindfulness or “mental sit-ups”. By conducting a mindfulness taster session, she illustrated the power of winding down and strengthening our ability to focus our attention. She demonstrated how we can momentarily distance ourselves from our frazzled minds, re-establishing a sense of calm and self-awareness with which to then approach them again.

Whether in the office, on the tube or even in a lift, mindfulness exercises can become an everyday tool for a clearer mind. “Whatever we focus our attention on defines who we are in that moment,” Wax explained. In such a forward-looking society, she suggested, our survival hinges on our ability to live in that rare destination known as the present. She added, “If you ask someone when the best time of their life was and they say now, then they have arrived.”

For the entire duration of her talk, Wax engaged the spectators thanks to lively audience interaction and a remarkably sustained dynamic stage presence. In doing so, she created a communal, non-judgmental environment mirroring that of Frazzled Cafes, the walk-in sessions that accompany her latest publication. Concluding with a Q&A session, she ultimately reaffirmed the importance of decluttering our minds and the power of mindfulness to help us achieve a clearer and perhaps happier state of being.