It feels like every couple of months there’s a new bit of research announced proving that reading makes you smarter, or richer, or less likely to have voted for Trump. And while they’re seized and tweeted by earnest readers, teachers and librarians, it’s hard to argue with the core fact that reading really does seem to make you happier.

While reading a good book is not going to magically fix all your problems, the evidence suggests it might help you be able to cope with them. A key part of the power of books boils down to the way books make you more empathetic and therefore your relationships stronger – and a study really did find that Harry Potter readers are more inclined to dislike Trump. So.

The science of it is all to do with “mirror neurons”; when we read about something, our brain reacts as though we’re experiencing it ourselves. It shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise that reading about a wealth of different people and places makes us think more broadly about what it must be like to experience the world differently but the science is now backing up what readers have known for a long time. It also shows how important it is to read broadly and diversely. As Samuel Johnson said, although a little bit melodramatically: the only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.

At the School of Life in London you can enrol in a ‘bibliotherapy’ session, and GPs are now prescribing books for panic attacks, depression and anxiety alongside medication and more traditional therapy. There are studies showing reading reduces your chances of developing dementia, that it slows memory decline, helps you sleep better, reduces the symptoms of depression. You can find stats to prove a link between reading and almost every mental health issue. For some suggestions of where to start, Reading Well has book lists arranged by subject including self-harm, body image and anxiety.

In 2009 researchers from the University of Sussex showed that even six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by two thirds, because it forces concentration on one thing and eases tension in your muscles and heart. Mindfulness may be a new phase, but reading is the original meditation and has been around a long time. An actual sentence in a report by The Reading Agency is: prolific and regular readers are the happiest groups… more regular readers are least anxious.

And that’s science, guys.

Aside from science, I’ve seen the real life impact of the power of reading. I used to work as a librarian in a big secondary school in Coventry with 11-18 year olds and I saw first-hand the impact that books could have on teen readers (and teachers); whether it’s for advice, catharsis or escape. Although famously a solo activity, I’ve also seen the way reading builds communities and breaks down barriers between students from wildly different backgrounds. And that’s not even getting onto the online communities and fandoms that the internet has gifted us.

The latest campaigner for the health benefits of reading is DJ and writer Gemma Cairney, who gave this year’s Reading Agency Lecture on mental health and the books that have had an impact on her, three of which she’s shared with us below, as well as why they mean so much to her.

She says, “Mental health comes in a lot of different flavours but it’s written about so clinically, and it doesn’t have to be – more people than we realise are experiencing one of those flavours and we just need to open up lines of communication around our mental wellbeing and start being more honest A good book is all about imagination, sparkle, something accessible and not too self-indulgent. When I started to think about the things that have inspired my life and writing, I found these were the books that gave me the licence to be me from a young age”.

Here are Gemma’s top picks for those who want to get reading…

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

“I’ve got a rampant imagination and this captured that from an early start because it’s a totally bananas book. I’m a kooky person and you’re often lambasted for that, but his book taught me that it’s okay to be wacky and different, and I liked that a lot”. Buy a copy here.

faraway-tree

Forever by Judy Blume

“Everyone got their hands on Forever because It was the first time we could actually delve into a serious issue. At that age you start to become inquisitive about sex and when that happens it’s quite hard to regulate your idea of it. I feel lucky that I could get information from a book which is nuanced and rounded and about love, because sex should be about love.” Buy your copy here.

forever

Lorali by Laura Dockrill

“I love this book because it’s so brilliantly weird. The use of slang, the poetic nature, the need for imagination and fantasy, it gives you confidence that there is something out there for everyone, you just need to explore and find the right book for you.” Buy your copy here.

lorali

@acaseforbooks

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Anxiety. We’ve all had it at some point. It could be pre-exam nerves, those jitters you get when your phone lights up with a text from your crush, or building the nerve to ask your parents if you can go to a party at that girl’s house you know they don’t approve of. It’s totally normal, and often harmless—even helpful, when it comes to pushing you to do that exam prep. But for some of us, those bouts of worry aren’t so occasional.

It’s a strange beast. It can creep up on you without you even realising it, or when you least expect it. And all personality types can experience it. As someone who’s spent half their life simultaneously being a self-confessed party girl, and occasionally feeling like I want to hide in my room for the rest of time, I am a living example of how you can be the most extrovert person in the world, and still suffer from social anxiety and poor mental health. And I’m not the only one.

The more I’ve opened up and talked about it, the more I hear a similar story. That seriously funny girl in my class? Yep, she cried the whole way in because she feels like she can’t cope with school at the moment. The girl that seems so cool and confident, who’s everybody’s friend? She has depression, and sometimes spends the whole weekend in her room because she can’t face the crowds. It made me realise: I’m not alone. And while I’d never wish it on anybody, when you’re going through a hard time, having someone you can relate to can be a huge comfort. Which is why I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to people when you’re struggling and be open about what you’re feeling. With that in mind, here are five things I want to share about being an extrovert living with anxiety.

It’s totally possible to really want to do something, but feel sick with anxiety when it comes to actually doing it

Yep, this one’s a real bastard. You booked the tickets because you want to go. All your friends are going and you know it’s going to be so much fun. So why are you struggling to eat your dinner, because your stomach’s full of butterflies? Anxiety, my friend. Take some deep breaths, call your mate and tell them how you’re feeling—or better, plan to get ready together next time. You’ll be calm and collected again in no time.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done something, or how ordinary it is, you still get worried about doing it every. single. time

It could be doing the high jump at school (wtf is a fisby flop, anyway, and why do I need to know how to do it?! I can launch myself onto the sofa just fine, thank you very much), calling the dentist to make an appointment, or just knocking on your neighbour’s door because you forgot your key. It’ll be fine, you’re sure—besides if it’s not, what’s the worst that could happen? But sometimes it doesn’t matter what your brain says, your emotions don’t seem to get the message.

That feeling of wanting to do absolutely nothing and hide from the world, but actually feeling far worse when you do

I am SO BAD FOR THIS. When you get that ‘I-can’t-face-the-world-today’ feeling, while it can seem like locking yourself in your room and re-watching Gossip Girl for the 76th time is the balm to heal all wounds, if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel 10 times worse for it. Use that iron willpower and get yourself up and out the house, or even just have a cup of tea and chat with your mum in the garden to put things in perspective.

Getting overly upset when you’ve planned to do something and it goes ‘wrong’, even if you’re enjoying yourself

For my 18th birthday, I planned a huge night out. After all—it is THE biggest birthday ever. All my friends came—I was over the moon. My then boyfriend spent the night rounding everyone up and making sure we all stayed together, so that I was sure to have fun with all my mates. Naturally, I bawled my eyes out. Why? Because it’s not how the night was supposed to go! They should just know where we’re going. It should all just naturally run smoothly. The irony being, it was actually a good night till then. Learning to let go of expectations and go with the flow is easier said than done, when your mind’s constantly working over time.

Being really loud and dominating a conversation on a night out, then getting embarrassed about it the next day

I’ll be honest, sometimes this is legit—well, if I don’t laugh at me who will?! But in all seriousness, there are times where I feel like I’m having the best time, everyone’s laughing with me, joining in. But then when I get home, I start to think: were they laughing with me, or at me? I need to wind my neck in, I talk about myself far too much! Well, keeping your ego in check is one thing, but it’s important to remember, no one’s judging you. And if they are, well then you really shouldn’t be mates with them, anyway.

@EllieCostigan

When Zoella recently revealed that she turned down the chance to have afternoon tea with Prince Harry due to her struggle with anxiety, everyone was surprised.

Everyone, that is, except anxiety sufferers. We all got it. Many of us would have done the same thing. Because anxiety makes no distinction between a bog-standard Tuesday and a date with royalty. You can’t postpone it, or save it up for a better day, or talk your system out of it because OMG a PRINCE is offering you a cucumber sandwich.  

The other fun thing about anxiety is that it affects everybody differently. For some people, panic attacks feel like a heart attack, or drowning. They can make you giddy and breathless, or sweaty and shaky. Some people’s face and fingers go tingly and numb, others feel like they’re choking on thin air.

Me, I feel sick. I get dizzy and breathless too, but nausea is my anxiety’s special signature move. Its personal brand. And despite the fact that not once in my whole life have I actually thrown up during a panic attack, anxiety is such a wiley trickster that I still end up convinced I will – and so, the only logical thing to do is lock myself in a toilet until it is over. Any toilet. 

I’ve spent quality time locked in toilets all over the country. In cafes and restaurants, service stations and tourist attractions. Sometimes I’ve spent so long locked in there, waiting for the panic to pass, that I’ve started thinking about how I might decorate the cubicle (IKEA would deliver to a toilet, right?).

Over time I’ve almost begun to feel affection for my tiny offices of turmoil. And while they vary in size, location, smell (ick) and luxury amenities, they all have at least one thing in common: I’ve left them, eventually, and got on with the rest of my life. Because that’s the other thing about panic attacks – they might throw a spanner in the works, but they never win in the end.

Here are some of my most memorable loos of doom.

Toilet at a restaurant, Derby

I was seven, and out with my family at a restaurant that my dad was reviewing for free for a newspaper. Most people’s natural response to a free slap-up dinner would be something along the lines of “Hoorah! I WILL HAVE THE LOBSTER AND ALL OF THE PUDDINGS!” – but instead, my brain and physiological system got together and decided a more appropriate response was to freak out before the starters even arrived. So I ended up trapped in the loo with my mum for the whole meal while my brother demolished a hot fudge sundae. At least we had plenty of notes on the toilet decor for Dad’s review, though.

Toilets at the Hawth Theatre, Crawley

I don’t know what it is about theatres that sends my anxiety into overdrive – maybe the tiny seats or the knowledge that if I need to suddenly rush out of the auditorium, I’ll have to climb awkwardly over a row of 15 people to do it – but some of my most prolific panic attacks have happened in the middle of shows. This one, the regional final of Global Rock Challenge school dance competition, seemed especially illogical as I’d actually danced on stage in the competition itself for two years beforehand with absolutely no bother. But hey, nobody likes to be predictable!

I spent a peaceful 45 minutes in the toilets nibbling a ginger biscuit and trying not to vom, while guessing who had won what by listening to the applause through the wall. Love a bit of culture, me.

Toilets on a P&O Ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea

To be fair, locked in the loos on a ferry while crossing the famously rough Irish sea is a pretty natural place to be. It certainly makes more sense than being in the cafe eating a tuna baguette, or in the duty free perfume shop dousing yourself in Britney Spears Fantasy – both things I did on this fateful journey, just before the floor started lurching, my little brother turned green and my brain/stomach double act banished me to spend the rest of the journey in my safe space. The loos; breathing deeply, re-reading the ad for incontinence pads on the back of the cubicle door until Dublin appeared on the horizon. Not so smooth sailing. 

Toilets at fashion magazine offices, London

When you’re a 17-year-old living out your Devil Wears Prada fantasy as an intern at a terrifyingly chic fashion magazine, the panic potential is high. When you spend the whole of your first morning collecting newspaper clippings, inadvertently cover your whole face in grey newsprint smudges and don’t find out until you look in the toilet mirror at 5pm, it’s basically inevitable.

On the downside, they didn’t hire me as the youngest ever junior editor but instead sent me back to Sussex after two weeks. On the plus side, they were pretty fancy toilets.

Toilet on a plane, somewhere over the Atlantic

You know when you’re on a plane and you start thinking about how gravity works and then immediately start thinking about the plane falling out of the sky, and end up locked in the teeny tiny plane toilet for so long that you miss the free biscuits being handed round? No? Well, it’s even less fun than it sounds.

Toilets at a Mexican restaurant, Christmas party

‘Tis the season to be anxious, fa la la la la la la la la! All that eating, drinking and merriment means that I spend more time in toilets at Christmas than Santa does in chimneys. This was a particularly memorable session, partly because it involved me hiding in the loos for so long that everyone assumed I’d snuck out and gone home before the karaoke started. But also, because I bravely rode through the panic and ended up totally fine again, belting out Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. A festive happy ending!  

Toilets at Caffe Nero, Covent Garden

The good thing about having a panic attack in central London – rather than, say, in an empty field in Somerset – is that there are loads of loos to choose from. The bad thing is that there are loads of people, also trying to use those loos. Potentially about 4.3 million. Or at least, I’m pretty sure that’s how many paraded through the toilets at Caffe Nero, Covent Garden, the day I had a colossal meltdown and spent a full hour sat in the world’s smallest cubicle, breathing slowly and trying not to gag on the combined smell of wee and hazelnut lattes.

Every couple of minutes someone would come in and bang on the door and I would stay silent, hoping they wouldn’t assume I had died and try to kick the door down. Eventually my boyfriend came to rescue me, at which point I immediately felt better and went for a huge pasta dinner.

Part of me feels there should be a blue plaque in that cubicle, for historical significance. ‘Lauren Bravo panicked here, 2016’ it would read. ‘But she was totally fine in the end’.   

Image: Hailey Hamilton

“OMG he’s so OCD,” is a phrase we’ve all heard, and probably used at one point or another to describe someone very clean, tidy, or scrupulous about a certain thing. Like writing their headings in a certain colour pen, for example, or being on time.

We say it without thinking, just as we say someone sad is ‘depressed’ — but like depression, OCD has this whole, big, messy OTHER meaning to it… which, if we knew more about it, might make us think twice before bandying it about the place like any old word.

What does OCD look like?

OCD is a disorder: specifically, an obsessive compulsive disorder, in which a particular pattern of thoughts and/or behaviours occur to you again and again. Imagine the repeat button on your iPod getting jammed on, say, Rebecca Black’s Friday, and you’ve pretty much got it – except of course, that is happening in your head, and there’s no way of pulling the plug.

So what are the symptoms?

‘Obsessions’ are distressing – even disgusting – thoughts or images which keep appearing in your mind, no matter how many times you try to think of something else. Sure, that can seem pretty common  (who doesn’t feel like they think of their crush every waking second of every day?) but this is next level repetition: it’s not obsessed as in ‘I am ob-SESSED with Grace and Frankie’, but upsetting, occasionally repulsive and often unlikely thoughts – your crush, friends and siblings all dying in a flood you’ve caused, for example – which arrive without invite, complete with a supersized dose of anxiety.

OCD UK has a really extensive (but by no means complete) description of the kind of thoughts an OCD sufferer might have.

‘Compulsions are the behavioural part of the deal – the actions someone takes to combat, control or relieve the unwelcome thoughts. They can be related to the thought (checking the taps constantly, for example, if it’s a flood scenario you’re obsessed with) but they can often appear irrational. They offer a relief from the anxiety, and that’s what results in an urge to perform them again and again – but like squeezing a spot, the relief they offer is usually pretty shortlived.

TL;DR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which means a distressing pattern of thoughts and/or behaviours occur to you again and again. And again. This DOESN’T always mean hand washing or tidying up – and nor does a tidy person who washes their hands a lot necessarily have OCD. We don’t know what causes OCD, but it’s thought to be triggered by trauma, stress, and/or a genetic predisposition to the condition. Treatment is easily accessible and, with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), really effective. If obsessive thoughts or behaviours are taking over your life, you should definitely talk to someone and seek help.

Cleaning and handwashing ARE common compulsions, but they are not the only ones – and someone who washes their hands a lot doesn’t necessarily have OCD. Ditto tidying, hoarding, checking things, arranging and rearranging things and other everyday behaviours (you can find out more on that here) which tbh mostly sound like habits your parents could do with scaling back on. Only if they occur repetitively and as a result of obsessive, upsetting thoughts could they potentially indicate a more serious issue.

So how do I know it’s OCD?

When it is taking over your life, at the expense of anything else you might need or care about. Let’s go back to the crush example, shall we? Dreaming about their dimples is delightful, and probably doesn’t make you late for school every day. You can dismiss the thought if you have to. and focus on the task in hand. We’re talking about a level of obsessive thinking and behaviour that consumes and distresses you and your loved ones in much the same way as a serious addiction: impacting your work, home and social life and taking up an excessive amount of time.

When I had Compulsive Skin Picking – a form of OCD that takes picking your spots to a whole new level – I was known to spend almost over an hour in front of the bathroom mirror, picking and peeling away. That, my friends, is obsessive compulsive disorder; not a 60-second pus fest.

What causes OCD?

Annoyingly no one has managed yet to pin it down to any one cause in particular. It’s believed to be down to one or more factors which kickstart the disease – you can read about these in detail here, but they can be genetic (often conditions like OCD and anxiety or depression can run in families), psychological (sometimes a previous mental health problem can lead to OCD) and environmental (the result of external stress or emotional trauma in childhood or later on).

OCD has no age-limit, and it isn’t confined to one gender in particular. There are still many questions to be answered about what brings it on.

Is it treatable?

Absolutely! CBT — another acronym, but a nice one — stands for cognitive behavioural therapy, and is your best friend here. At its most basic it means rewiring your brain, to help it avoid negative trains of thought and choose more positive ones instead. Don’t panic: it doesn’t involve actual wires – just talking to a CBT-trained therapist who will help to understand, challenge and avoid the obsessive thought processes.

You know how there are some routes you really should know by now, but somehow you always go wrong on? These guys will point out the signpost you’ve missed, and the garden with the gnomes which reminds you it’s the next road on the left. Metaphorically speaking. The most common problem with OCD is that people suffer for ages before seeking help. You can, and should, read more about treatments here.

@clare_finney

Image: Getty

Everyone else seems to really enjoy socialising, don’t they? They talk about how they’re going to arrange HUGE parties. Get BIG groups of friends together. And play lots of LOUD music!

To many of you that must sound like a lot of fun. But to others, it sounds scary.

That’s because we’re all unique. Some of us (known as extroverts) feel energetic when we’re around others. Talking to new people, socialising with friends and dancing around fuels our personalities and makes us shine. But others (the introverts) are the opposite. Being around people can feel a bit overwhelming and you might find you feel more ‘yourself’ when you’re on your own.

And of course there’s a whole grey area in between. People who don’t like being around big groups, but feel really at home with a few close friends. And others who worry about parties and yet feel great about being around new people once they’re settled in. Hey, awkward people of all flavours – you’re not alone (even when you’re quite literally alone)!

Here are the stages everyone in the awkward gang has experienced…

Stage one: the invite

miss-piggy
You’ve received an invite to something! Amazing! You’re loved! People want to hang out with you! That’s awesome, right? RIGHT? Wait, why are you looking so scared?!

Getting invited to something can feel weird. You’re happy you have friends. But you’re also scared of what’s going to happen. Immediately your mind will be filled with all kinds of thoughts. Including, but not limited to, what will you wear? What if you fall over? What if no one wants to talk to you? And repeat.

The key to getting through this stage? You can’t predict the future. Honestly, you can’t. Maybe one day, but until then it’s best to label all your thinking as ‘worrying’ and therefore not real. It sounds simple, but over time you can say “hey, that’s a worry” instead of “I’m scared.”

Stage two: Getting ready

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This is when all of your worries from stage one kick in. You try on 354846 outfits. You analyse what people will think of everything. And you’ll consider not going. A lot.

Stage three: Definitely, absolutely not wanting to go

dr-who
Stage two often leads to stage three: not wanting to go out. Sometimes a totally legitimate plan of action is to follow that little voice and just not go – because you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, ok?

BUT, and this is a huge BUT, proving to yourself that you can go to something and feel ok about it and maybe, just a little bit, even, kinda have fun, will be really beneficial in the long run. Even if you don’t go out the next few times.

It’s all about weighing up the pros and cons. If you feel like you can see some positives, always take that leap. But never feel bad if you opt for a quiet night in instead.

Stage four: Getting there

mean-girls
You’ve worried about what to wear, you’ve convinced yourself you’re going and now it’s usually around the time you’ll worry about how to get there. The bus? Your dad who might say something embarrassing?

If you’re nervous about going somewhere, it always makes sense to have a solid plan about how you’ll arrive. Get a friend’s mum to give you a lift, or see if your parents are available to take you and your BFF so you don’t arrive on your own.

Stage five: Feeling awkward

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You get there and get all shy. Especially if you don’t recognise people, there are new people or people you don’t really get on with. You feel like the earth might swallow you up. That’s if you don’t feel like you might spill food everywhere first.

The best tip for getting through this stage. Stop. Breathe. Listen to people. Don’t feel pressured to be the bright, shining light of the party.

Stage six: Speaking and socialising

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You might worry about what you’re saying. Or feel like your arms are waving around really weirdly and maybe your top will fall down a bit. How could you possibly talk to people? How could this not be a disaster and the cause of your untimely death?

A really useful piece of advice is to play the part of someone who is confident. What would that person speak like? How would they stand? We’re not telling you to get all Shakespearean, just think about what it might be like if you were a confident person. You might just start to be that person without even acting.

Stage seven: Maybe feeling a bit more awkward again

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You were just starting to feel good and now you’re worrying again. You saw someone wearing the same top and someone else didn’t want to talk to you about homework.

But feeling shy isn’t all or nothing. You don’t get shy and then feel amazing. It comes in waves. So feel proud of getting there, but if you have a blip and feel a bit funny, that’s fine too.

Stage eight: Having fun? Maybe? Possibly?

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If you don’t feel like you can really have fun or chat to people, that’s fine. But often there’s a stage when you’ll feel like you’ve come out of your shell a bit, you’ve walked up to new people and scared yourself silly, you’ve found someone you know and feel a lot better… and maybe you’ve even plucked up the courage to have a dance. A DANCE.

Stage nine: Feeling exhausted and maybe a bit proud too 

naps

Whether you made 20 new friends or just spoke to two people you’re not that keen on, you went. You did it. Feel proud. And now it’s time to get home and get a good night’s sleep.

Or, ok, obsess for two hours over everything you did and said. Then sleep.

Bonus nugget of wisdom: It’s ok to feel funny around people (promise)

Remember: You’re not the only one that feels like this. It may seem like your school is full of party-loving extroverts, but there are plenty of shy types making a mark on the world too!

Sure it may seem like everyone else lives for socialising. But it’s ok to feel a bit awkward and shy around groups. It’s ok to prefer to hang out with just your BFF or even grab a good book and enjoy your own company. Because hey, sometimes a Me Party can be the best party of all.

Me Party

@BeccaCaddy

Do you ever watch your classmates glide across the room looking all cool, as if they’ve never worried about tripping up and falling flat on their face on the floor? Or walking up the corridor with their skirt tucked in their knickers? Or introducing themselves to new people with bits of ham stuck in their teeth? Or standing up in front of the class and going BRIGHT TOMATO RED before they’ve even said a word?

Yes?

In that case, it turns out you might be just like me: a little bit shy and socially awkward.

And the good news is, there’s loads of us.

Yes, really! It’s not just you!

I spent a huge part of my early teens worrying about everything from whether I had loo roll stuck to my shoe to whether I walked weirdly. I still do, TBH. And it’s bloody exhausting.

But don’t worry. Because betty is here to help.

We believe in embracing our quirks. It’s ok to admit you get nervous. And that goes for celebrities too.

Yes, there’s a socially awkward revolution going on and our fave celebs are leading the way. (Thank you, J-Law, we love you.) Here they are, embracing their inner weird.

Jennifer Lawrence

jlaw

The queen of awks, Jennifer Lawrence has taught us that it’s okay to fall over, to talk about food when you’re expected to be all glam and just be yourself at awards shows, events and even in interviews. In fact, ALL the time. Not only has she taught us it’s ok, but that people often like you more for it because you seem happy to be you and you’re not trying to be anyone else.

Kendall Jenner

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The little Kardashian sister certainly doesn’t come across as shy when she’s on camera. But she’s the first to admit that she really struggled with shyness growing up, especially in new situations. “I only get shy if I’m around people who make me nervous, which I guess is normal,” she told People magazine.

Emma Blackery

emma-black

Emma Blackery may have 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube, but like most of us, she’s got herself into an awkward conversation. Or twenty. She’s even made a video about some of her most awkward moments, and we’re not gonna lie, some of them are pretty damn cringeworthy.

Lady Gaga

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On stage Lady Gaga has the most powerful, confident and super sparkly presence. She couldn’t be shy in real life, right? Wrong! Gaga has admitted to feeling nervous in certain situations — especially around big groups of people. It seems like Gaga has increased her confidence as she’s become more famous and got more comfortable in her own skin. Tell us your secret, Gaga!

Mark Zuckerberg

mark-zukerburg

He’s one of the most successful and smart men on the planet. He created Facebook for goodness sake! But he often comes across as a little bit awkward and shy in certain situations. “He is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him, but he is warm,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the New York Times.

Lilly Singh

superwoman

Superwoman calls herself a “professional weirdo,” and we are totally in love with her. She has an awesome idea for ‘awkward situations we should all just accept’ and we’re totally with her. Say farewell to feeling awkward when you go in for a hug and someone else goes in for the handshake.

Britney Spears

britney

Even though she’s been famous for years, and seems REALLY confident on stage, Britney has admitted she gets really shy sometimes. In a recent interview she explained: “It’s weird because I think people think because of what I do I’m like, ‘Da-na’, but at heart, I’m very shy… When I’m in front of the camera I know what to do, but I get in a room, stuck with four guys, and I’m like the shyest girl in there.”

Kirsten Stewart

kstew

The star of the Twilight movies is notoriously shy in interviews. She’s had a lot of stick on the internet for coming across a bit mean and cold when she talks about her roles. But it turns out she just gets really damn shy, just like us! She said in an interview: “In real life, I’m very shy. I feel uncomfortable during interviews because I need to talk about myself. But to talk about yourself, you have to know who you are.”

It’s perfectly natural to feel panicked in certain situations. Sometimes life can be a bit panicky. When you’re late to an appointment and there’s a red light; when you can’t remember where you put your mum’s favourite necklace; when you are watching literally any episode of Pretty Little Liars.

But a panic attack is something else, something next-level – a very real, physical reaction to what’s going on in your mind. Put simply, panic attacks are when that feeling of ‘Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,’ spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.

What do panic attacks look like?

During a panic attack, you may feel like you can’t breathe or you are going to be sick. Some people describe feeling like they’re having a heart attack, or the frantic need to escape whatever place or situation you’re in.

Physically, you might feel like your heart is beating weirdly or really fast. You may also feel hot and sweaty, or shaky and weak in your legs. Some people experience blurry vision, or a sensation that their surroundings feel strange and distant.

Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. Part of what makes panic attacks so frightening is how quickly they come on and how intense the symptoms can feel. However, it’s important to remember that panic attacks can’t cause any physical harm. We’ll say it again: they can’t cause you any physical harm. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Panic attacks are when that feeling of “Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,” spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.
  • Symptoms include: feeling sick or short of breath, feeling like you're having a heart attack, feeling hot and sweaty, shaky or weak in your legs, blurry vision, feeling the need to escape, or the sensation that your surroundings feel strange.
  • Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. The symptoms can feel intensely real and scary, although they can’t actually cause any physical harm.
  • Breathing exercises, listening to music, exercising or keeping a diary can all help, and so can talking to your doctor.

What causes panic attacks?

The exact cause isn’t understood. Sigh.

For some people, there are places or situations that can trigger a panic attack, whereas other people will experience them at random. They go hand-in-hand with anxiety, although not everyone who has a panic attack has anxiety disorder, and vice versa. But whatever the cause, they’re common. About one in 10 people experience panic attacks, and they effect twice as many women as men (cool thnx, patriarchy). 

Are they treatable?

Yes. The worst thing about panic attacks is that you can talk and think yourself into them – but that’s also kind of the best thing, because it means you can talk and think yourself out them too.

Obviously, this sort of mental gymnastics can be incredibly difficult, but it’s definitely possible. There are a lots small things you can do that can make a huge difference; talk to someone you trust, try some breathing exercises, listen to music, exercising or even keeping a diary. And beyond that, talking therapies with a mental health professional can give you coping strategies to keep panic at bay. 

When should I go to the doctor?

If your panic attacks are frequent, linked to general feelings of anxiety, or just making life difficult, it’s always a good idea to have a chat to your GP about what they recommend.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. Whether it’s because there’s a big exam coming up, a first date, or your parents are wondering who spilled coke on the sofa and you are trying to avoid eye contact.

These are all perfectly natural times to be anxious. It’s a normal biological response; the same one that keeps you safe and made sure that our ancestors ran away from lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).

But some people find that their anxiety stretches beyond these sorts of objectively stressful circumstances, bleeding into other aspects of their life and making it hard to ever chill.  

This is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

What does anxiety look like?

There are both mental and physical symptoms of GAD. Mentally, people may find that they’re constantly worried; often about things that are a regular part of everyday life, like talking to people, getting on the bus or answering a question in class. Or they find they’re disproportionately worried about things that are super unlikely to happen – like your parents being in a car accident, or that gravity will stop working and we will all be flung into space.

And sometimes, people with anxiety worry about worrying.

Physically, a person with anxiety may find themselves having difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Some people experience dizziness, a racing heart, nausea, excessive sweating and breathlessness. Basically, all the fun stuff. When these sort of sensations become overwhelming, that’s a panic attack – and as anyone who has had a panic attack will tell you, for something that is supposedly ‘all in the mind’, they can feel incredibly, terrifyingly real.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. But when anxiety stretches beyond objectively stressful circumstances and affects other aspects of life, this is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
  • People with anxiety may find that they’re constantly worried. They might find themselves having difficulty concentrating or sleeping, that their heart is racing or they feel dizzy, nauseous, sweaty or breathless.
  • There will always be times in your life when you feel anxious, but GAD is totally treatable. Many options involve talking therapies and anti-anxiety medications.
  • If you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it's a good idea to head to your GP for a chat.

What causes anxiety?  

Unfortunately, the exact cause of GAD isn’t fully understood. However, there are lots of things that are thought to contribute to some people developing generalised anxiety disorder – such as traumatic childhood experiences, your habits and diet, genetics and your overall mental and physical health.

Is it treatable?

Well there will always be times in your life when you feel anxious, and that’s not a bad thing. Anxious feelings can keep you safe, help you recognise true love or alert you to the fact that you do really care about your school work.

But generalised anxiety disorder is totally treatable. Many treatment options involve talking therapies, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor to chat about your feelings. Talking therapies can be great as they can teach you practical tactics to help you cope in certain situations, and strategies to avoid triggers.

There are also anti-anxiety medications available, which can help people cope with their symptoms and balance out their mood. It’s common for people to try a combination of talking therapies and medication, depending on their GP’s advice.

When should I go to the doctor?

It’s always good to take your mental health as seriously as your physical health (after all, your brain is a pretty vital body part). So if you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it’s not a bad idea to head to your GP for a chat.

Remember, it’s totally ok to be anxious from time to time – but if your anxiety is impacting other areas of your life, there is always help available to calm things down. 

Image: Manjit Thapp

The start of the school year always brings new things. New shoes, maybe a school bag, and definitely loads of stationery. But it can also bring a new school – and if you’re joining at any point other than the very start, then you’re the ‘new girl.’

Once upon a time, I was the new girl. I joined my school late after returning from living in Australia. I had a funny accent, weird clothes, and no idea which classroom I was meant to be in. Everyone else, meanwhile, knew everything – each other, how to find the lunch hall, and a lot more French.

As my accent and I learned, it’s not easy being the new girl. I did a particularly bad job of it – especially when a game of ‘piggy in the middle’ with my notebook led to it flying out the window and landing in a puddle right by the headmistress’s window. I was promptly taken to see her and told that my lack of respect for the school was unacceptable, and if any of my belongings ended up in places they shouldn’t again then I’d be looking for another new school. Sure, because that’s fair.

Thankfully, the rest of my books stayed where they were meant to and I didn’t get into too much more trouble. Mostly. But it took me a while to find my place, and I sometimes found it tough.

I hear from other former new girls, though, that getting to know a whole new bunch of people can actually be fun. So, if you’re the new one this year, here are a few tips to help you on your way:

1. Don’t feel like you have to cling to the first person who shows interest.

When you first turn up there’s likely to be one person who’s really keen to befriend you – they might just be really lovely, they might be a bit lonely, or they might think you look like someone they’d like to be friends with. And that’s great. But don’t feel like you have to cling onto them and not get to know the rest of your new classmates. It’s worth taking the time to find the people who will be your new BFFs for reasons other than they got there first.

2. Sometimes first impressions can be wrong.

When you’re in a new class there are lots of people to get to know all at once, so it’s easy to stick with first impressions. But it’s not always wise – some people might be having a bad day, or aren’t sure what to ask you, or are a bit shy. Give them a chance, and get to know them a bit. And don’t worry too much about what impression you make. I’ve been told that the first thing most people thought about me was the I had a really weird fringe, but thankfully they moved past my odd hair and got to know me. And then told me my fringe looked stupid.

3. Be ready to answer the same questions a lot.

Where have you come from? Why have you moved? Is there some dark secret about why you’ve turned up late? It can’t be as simple as your family just moving house, or this seeming like a better school for you. Nope, you must have done something so appalling at your old school that you’ve had to change schools. And maybe your name.

Obviously it’s tempting to make a story up (both my parents are SPIES!), but keeping up with your own lies gets tiring. Just stick with the truth instead.

4. Got a talent? Use it.

One of the easiest ways to make friends is through clubs and teams. Or so I hear – I’ve always been so appallingly terrible at sport that the chances of my making it onto a team were slim-to-none. I did try to play tennis one lunch, but swiftly got banished from the courts when it became apparent that I couldn’t even hit the ball. My sister-in-law, meanwhile, has been blessed with the gift of coordination, and after changing schools at 14 found some of her best friends in the hockey and netball teams. So if the thought of someone hitting or throwing a ball at you doesn’t make you want to hide or cry, then go try out.

5. Be yourself.

It can be tempting to try and act like someone else if you think that’ll get people to like you, but it’s just not worth it. Keeping up that pretence is exhausting. I’m speaking from experience here – it was only when I stopped pretending to like boybands, dyed my hair black and wore of a lot of angry band t-shirts that I became friends with the girls I still love to this day (they invited me to join their band, because I had the right look. Never mind that I couldn’t really play guitar.)

There are bound to be people there who’ll like you for you. After all, if people liked me when I was a strange goth with a weird fringe, there really is a place for everyone.

@JackiBadger

Image: Hailey Hamilton

You probably know the story by now. A few weeks ago, Justin posted a stream of selfies of him and his new lady friend, Sofia Richie, on Instagram.

Lots of Beliebers were less than impressed and started throwing some serious shade at Sofia. Biebs came to her defence, saying:

“I’m gonna make my Instagram private if you guys don’t stop the hate this is getting out of hand. If you guys are really fans you wouldn’t be so mean to people that I like.”

Next followed a public spat with his ex, Selena Gomez, who advised him to stop whinging and stop posting pics of his new love – then a few days later, Justin’s account vanished into Instagram heaven (presumably to live happily with the ghost of Ed Sheeran’s social media presence).

What can we learn from this?

Well, for starters, it’s probably not a great idea to feud with your ex in the comments section of Instagram.

But maybe Biebs is on to something. Maybe we should all be taking a bit of a break from social media.

Shockingly, it turns out that all the time we spend staring at screens isn’t amazing for our mental health. The University of Pittsburgh found that the more time people spent on social media, the greater risk they were at of developing depression.

Meanwhile, Anxiety UK conducted a study that suggested people who spent a significant amount of time on social media have increased levels of anxiety and low self-esteem.

Half of the people interviewed said social media had a negative impact on their lives, whether it was because they were negatively comparing themselves to other people or struggling to ever switch off.

The constant pressure of social media; to pick the ‘right’ filter and get the ‘right’ amount of likes, to be seen with the ‘right’ people in the ‘right’ places.

To be funny and smart and interesting and beautiful. And to do all of those things without spilling tea down your front and remembering all your friends birthdays.

It’s frickin’ exhausting.

So this weekend, let’s all be a little more Biebs (but without the face tattoo) and take some time out from social media.

And guys – stay away from your ex’s comments section.

Image: Getty

You know when you wait ages for a bus and then three come along all at once? Well, that’s how becoming a teen felt for me.

I had found primary school easy. I had lots of friends, exams were a breeze and I never really thought about how I looked. But then lots of things came along all at once.

My parents had never got on well, but suddenly they were fighting so much more. I had my first crush, but he didn’t like me back. I started my period, but had a lot of painful cramps. My friends were arguing and taking time off school to go to the park. And to top it all off, I was finding it really difficult that everyone else in my class — not to mention everyone else on the planet — seemed to have big boobs and mine felt tiny in comparison.

So much had happened in one go that I didn’t know how to deal with it. It’s easy to pick up one or two Maltesers when they’ve fallen out of the packet, isn’t it? But what about when the whole packet falls on the floor? Well, you either start picking them up… or you don’t pick them up at all.

That’s what I did. Instead of coping with one thing at a time, I felt really overwhelmed. It was like a big, sad cloud was following me around and raining on me all of the time. I tried to hide it and pretend my parents breaking up wasn’t a big deal really or I didn’t even want to have boobs and look like the girls in the magazines. But deep down I was overwhelmed. And the worst part was that I thought other people could tell. This meant I did less and less. I didn’t want to socialise with my friends or get dressed up because I thought I was just a quiet, sad girl to them.

I didn’t really know where these feelings were coming from, either. I thought everyone else was dealing with things a lot better than me — and that I should be happy. After all, I got good grades, I had friends, I had a mum who was just absolutely ace. All I really needed at the time was someone to tell me that it’s ok to feel sad and confused sometimes when you hit your teens. Worrying about your body when it’s going through puberty and changing so much is really natural. Getting sad about your parents arguing would probably even make Beyoncé want a good cry. And feeling unsettled when friends were falling out and crushes wouldn’t text back? Well, that was something everyone was going through too.

But it felt like just me.

One day I remember feeling so trapped and sad that I just ran outside to get away from everything. As simple as that. I ran and I kept running. And suddenly my heart was beating faster, I could feel the wind against my face, I was breathing normally, I was holding my head up high, I wasn’t caring about how my body looked. I felt free.

More importantly, I felt happy.

Happy that I could make a decision to get outside when it felt like life was too much, that I could make my body work for me, that I could feel a surge of happy exercise endorphins in my blood and that I could breathe free and easy rather than feeling panicky and nervous.

I’d always loved to exercise when I was growing up. But PE lessons had sucked all of the fun out of running and climbing and dancing around — all of the things I loved when I was young. Team sports felt so boring and fake to me. But discovering running for myself felt like I had opened up a brand new world.

From then on, anytime a sad or nervous or “I’m rubbish!” feeling came along, I’d decide not to let it take over. Instead, I put on my trainers and went outside. Taking some time out of each day to do something for me, how I wanted to do it, in the way I wanted to do it felt really good. It didn’t stop the sad feelings, it didn’t make my parents get back together or magically grow me a huge pair of boobs to make all of the other girls in my class jealous. But it made things feel easier, happier and somehow just a little bit lighter. Because I was proving to myself that I was stronger than my sad thoughts.

It doesn’t always work, though. Sometimes I don’t go running. Sometimes I still sit inside and forget how nice it feels. Sometimes lots of sad feelings still come along. But that’s a natural part of being me.

And years later, I still run and it’s still the best medicine for when I’m feeling sad and when things get too overwhelming. I’ve not trained for a marathon, I don’t spend a lot of my money on fancy running clothes or run a lot of races for charity. But I do feel like I have a secret weapon for whenever life gets a bit too much.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Manjit Thapp