Former Preston actor battles anxiety to write bestselling children's mindfulness book that's hitting shelves of Waterstones

He was a multi-talented performer making a name for himself as an actor in both theatre and indie films.

Jason Rhodes has written Imagine Eating Lemons to teach children how to use mindfulness to tackle anxiety.
Jason Rhodes has written Imagine Eating Lemons to teach children how to use mindfulness to tackle anxiety.

But despite appearing to ooze confidence on stage and commanding multiple audiences, former Preston man Jason Rhodes felt his life was spinning out of control due to a private battle with extreme anxiety.

When the 34-year-old discovered the therapeutic powers of mindfulness, he found the technique so life-altering that he decided to write a children's picture book that could help them learn how to self-soothe.

Mindfulness is about connecting with the breath and the senses and being aware of our own thoughts, meaning absolutely every activity you do can be met with awareness, according to Jason.

He said: "I started feeling more and more anxious. My mental health affected every area of my life for at least seven years. It really does impact everything. Your relationship, your job, your family."

Jason began developing anxiety at age 25 while carving out a career as an actor after playing guitar in bands for several years. But he said he began to crack under the pressure he put on himself to excel and impress people and the pain forced him to question what he honestly wanted from life.

"Acting was bringing out the worst in me and making me so self-absorbed. I used to be quite argumentative and provoking because I was feeling on edge. It was all a reflection of how I was feeling about myself," he said.

"I didn't feel enough and I went into acting because of my insecurities. I hoped people would find me more interesting. My well-being was based on people's opinions of me."

Over the years, his mental health became so bad that he developed an eating phobia.

"It was just getting worse and I'd be physically sick and developed a weird thing about eating in public," he said.

"I knew I needed to figure out why so I started looking inwards instead of outwards and read books written by some incredible teachers."

He then took a mindfulness course for two months and completed daily meditations.

"I'd still be plunged into moments of extreme anxiety. But the more aware I became of my habits and thoughts, the less anxious I felt," he added.

"It's all about knowledge and changing habits. The more you know and understand, the better."

Mindfulness has transformed his life, according to Jason, who now lives in Brighton.

"Now eating out is one of my favourite things to do and I'm generally letting go of things. I always tried to control what might happen to me and was always worried. Now I don't beat myself up and allow the thoughts to come and go."

He was so inspired by the dramatic change he experienced in himself that he decided to pass on these very lessons to other people struggling with anxiety.

That's when he decided to write a children's book that could help protect them from years of future suffering as adults.

"Seeing the impact mindfulness had on me made me think it would be great for kids. If they can learn it while young then it could make a huge difference to their lives," Jason added.

"The more focus you put on something, the more fuel you give it. But ultimately, you're not your thoughts and if children can know that when they're young then it will help them as adults."

The book, Imagine Eating Lemons, is split into three sections and is written all in rhyme. It follows a young boy who is worrying about his upcoming performance in a school talent show.

"Repeating the chorus allows children to practice being mindful. The technique re-grounds you in the present moment. And once the little boy is settled he can think of all the good things that might happen in the talent show and then he feels excited," the author said.

The tale is designed for ages six to nine when Jason says they start to develop a sense of self.

He added: "Before that, they pretty much live in the present moment."

The greatest gift according to the mindfulness teacher are the stories from parents whose child's well-being has been transformed by the book.

"I'm hearing so many stories of how the book has helped children. Some as young as six are experiencing worry and anxiety. I was told about a boy aged about nine who was worrying so much about something bad happening to his mum that he had to keep a bucket next to him to throw up in," he said.

"But he read my book over and over until he could calm himself down. That's really lovely.

"It means so much because if I'd had the exact same thing when I was younger, it could have saved me years and years of feeling broken and like something was wrong with me.

"Whereas, if you know how to keep yourself present, you can find so much enjoyment in life. There are so many things we miss out on when we're anxious. People still have a child-like spirit of innocence within them and mindfulness can help you tap into that wonder."

Jason has now left the world of acting and is dedicating his life to helping others as a writer.

"I don't feel like I need acting anymore. I think maybe I was meant to get into it in order to have this experience and pass it on. I'm really enjoying writing at the moment and I have this huge drive to help people understand their own mind and enjoy their life and that happens to come out through writing," he said.

"It's coming from a deeper place. It's about giving, whereas acting for me was about receiving. It came with a fear of not receiving the validation I craved. I really want to connect with others and giving doesn't come with any fear. It's a really nice place to be."

And his revived peace of mind reached new heights when Imagine Eating Lemons hit the shelves of Waterstones in Brighton and Preston.

"That's a huge accomplishment as not many self-published books get into it. The more kids that read the book, the better, and I'm excited about them learning this technique."

He's now working on a second book, which is aimed at adults and explores anxiety, mental health and how the mind works.

It's an issue that's finally gaining the recognition it deserves, according to Jason, who added: "It's great people are opening up about mental illness. I'm happy that it's becoming more normal and acceptable to talk about."