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

I’ll be the first to admit that every now and again, when the scrolling of my *enter any social media platform here* feed becomes aimless and automatic, rather than actually interesting, I’ll have a clear-out.

Much like the annual clear-out of my underwear drawer, sometimes an online clear-out is just necessary. As the years go on you realise that you’re not actually bothered about what the girl-who-you-sat-next-to-in-Maths-in-Year-7-then-never-spoke-to-you-again is getting up to now, and you can’t actually deal with any more tweets about football from the boy-you-met-at-a-friend’s-party-once-and-followed-because-he-was-a-bit-fit anymore. So you unfriend/unfollow them. Done. Sorted. Easy.

But, what happens when you want to unfriend someone in real life? Like, an actual friend you speak to and hang out with? There’s no button for that. No easy way out. But it can be done…

Is it ok to unfriend someone, or am I instantly a bad person?

No, you’re not instantly a bad person. Sometimes friendships just fizzle out, and people change or want different things. Suddenly they’re into house music and you’re still pining for a Girls Aloud reunion, or they deleted their Pokémon Go app and you are 100% not ready to stop catching ‘em all. And that’s ok. In that case, you’ll probably both drift away from each other naturally with no hard feelings.

But sometimes the feeling isn’t mutual. I spoke to Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and writer on friendships, and she said to remember that, “Friendships are voluntary relationships and should be mutually satisfying.” Irene is so right. You shouldn’t have to force yourself through a friendship if you’re not feeling it. That’s not fair on either of you.

How do I unfriend someone who’s horrible to me, and I’m a bit scared of them?

If someone is intentionally nasty to you, either publicly or privately, then you are totally justified to unfriend them. 

Irene suggests that taking control and being direct with this person about your feelings and wishes may be best, but if you’re worried about being physically or verbally threatened then speak to a trusted adult about the situation first. If you definitely don’t want to be direct with this friend, then you can try to quietly distance yourself from them by hanging out with others. Irene emphasises that “you don’t owe that person a lengthy explanation” – and you really don’t. It’s ok to put your safety and feelings first.

How do I unfriend someone if there’s nothing wrong with them, but I just don’t really want to hang around with them anymore?

Have you started putting your bag next to you on the bench when you see them walking over? Or hear yourself wince when their name appears on your phone? Yeah, it might be a sign that this friendship isn’t all rainbows and smiles, and it’s best to nip it in the bud before you start being out-and-out horrible to them or act like you’re swatting away a fly.

Irene says, “Sometimes it’s best to gradually spend less time with the other person or see them for briefer periods or see them as part of a group. It’s also perfectly fine to tell a friend that you want to expand your circle of friends.”

You could get all hippy and ‘I want to find myself’ on them before running off to Thailand*, or continue to politely decline their invitations of hanging out until they get bored of asking (or you run out of excuses). Whether you’re direct or not, there isn’t really a nice way around it. Just remember that it’s healthy in the long run.

You might even find that by spending a little less time with them, you’re happy and don’t need to cut ties. Sometimes we all need a break from people. We have those friends we could be with 24/7, and other friends who are maybe a bit full on and your head can only deal with a few hours. And that’s fine!

*ok, the other side of the school

Are you sure I won’t hurt their feelings?

There’s no guarantee it’ll be plain sailing, but hopefully they’ll understand that friendships change and you’re not to blame. Then they’ll use a photo of your face as a dartboard.

JOKING.

Hopefully…

If they do take it really badly, then maybe it’s a sign that this was the right thing to do. But it’ll likely be fine and any awkwardness will settle. You’ll both hang out with other friends and, who knows, you might even be on the same path in a few years and be best buddies again.

Hold on, I’VE been unfriended. Why?! What did I do?!

“If you know you said or did something wrong, apologise as soon as possible,” Irene says. “Or, perhaps, it was something you didn’t do or say that you should have!” Basically, the best thing is to just ask. It might be easier said than done, but if you’re hurt and confused then you have a right to ask what’s going on. Hopefully you can have a good conversation about it, but if not then it may be best to just let it lie, at least for the time being.

And remember, people change. Try not to not jump to the easy conclusion of: OMG WHAT DID I DO, WHAT DID I SAY, AM I AWFUL?! Reflecting on Irene’s advice is great if you’re on either side of this often uncomfortable and awkward situation.

(I’m still holding out for that Girls Aloud reunion…)

You can find Irene on Twitter, @irenelevine, and at www.TheFriendshipBlog.com.

@louisejonesetc

Image: Manjit Thapp

“You have major depression,” the doctor told me, her eyes kind and thoughtful, like a basset hound.

“There are loads of things we can do. We can get you into therapy and put you on some anti-depressants,” she continued. “You will get through this, Lily,” she said, taking hold of my hand and squeezing it tightly.

I closed my eyes and cried – not with sadness, but relief. Finally, an answer. There was something wrong with me, even the doctor said so. This wasn’t me being melodramatic, this wasn’t me being ridiculous, this wasn’t just how growing up felt. This was a real, medical problem. There were things that could be done.

But the best thought of all was: maybe I won’t always have to feel this way. And for the first time in a really long time, I felt the clouds in my brain shift, just a little, and I could see a glimpse of another life. A life where I was happy.

Strangely, I had never really noticed I was happy – until I wasn’t. It’s so easy to take happiness for granted because a lot of the time, happiness is nothing more than a gentle hum in your chest, or being able to fall asleep the moment your head hits your pillow. Happiness can be smiling to yourself on the train, or going a whole day without thinking a single negative thing about yourself. These were luxuries that I took for granted, because I had no idea how it would feel when they went away.

I didn’t know that the gentle hum in my chest could be replaced with a tightness that made it hard to breathe, that there would be nights where I lay awake, convinced I was utterly worthless as a person. That my smile would be buried somewhere at the back of my throat or that I would begin to hate the very essence of who I was.

* *  *  *  *  *  *

One of my mentors once told me: “You’ll never get anything if you don’t ask for it.” Over the years I’ve repeated this advice to myself in a million different situations, and each time, it has let me tap into a deep reserve of bravery that I didn’t know I had. It was this advice that I drew upon last time I had a depressive episode. I knew that help was mine for the taking and that all I had to do was ask.

But, of course, the asking is the most difficult part. Vocalising that you think something is going wrong with the inner workings of your brain is incredibly hard. Forcing the words, “I need help,” or “I think I’m depressed,” or “can you please take me to the doctor,” up your throat and out of your mouth can feel as impossible as breathing under water.

It was for that exact reason that I ignored my depression for a long time. I had my first depressive episode when I was fifteen, and at the time it was so tightly woven into my anorexia that it was almost impossible to work out where one ended and the other began. The side effects of anorexia were obvious in my baggy clothes and the sunken shadows under my eyes. But depression hides inside your brain, revealing itself only to you, like the invisible friend you had as a child.

I suppose the real reason I ignored it was simply because being a teenager is confusing. Your body has morphed into one you don’t recognise and spots are erupting like volcanoes on your face and your moods change with the wind. Hadn’t my teachers and parents and textbooks explained every change in my life with a one single word: hormones? Hadn’t every book I’d ever read, every song I’d ever listened to, every movie I’d ever watched, warned me that growing up was meant to be hard? That teenagers are meant to be full of angst and to feel like no one understands them? And so, I told myself, maybe that’s all this was.

And after all, what did I have to be depressed about? Me, with my loving family and my nice house and my top grades. Me, with my loyal friends and my supportive parents? There were people in the world who were starving. People who were homeless. People who had lost parents or siblings. People who had lives that I couldn’t comprehend in my privileged bubble.

But none of these things stopped the neurotransmitters in my brain screwing up. None of these things ever have or ever will be enough to stop mental illness. Anxiety has never looked at someone and gone, “Gee, you know what? They have a really sweet family, so I’ll just leave this one be.” Depression doesn’t give two hoots if you make Head Girl or the hockey team. OCD doesn’t decide to skip someone because their parents are rich. I know these things now – but at the time, the fact that I had every opportunity in the world and was still depressed only seemed to prove to me that I was a terrible person.

For a long time, I believed that my mental illness made me weaker than other people. I would watch my friends swing between happiness and sadness with ease. I would wonder why I couldn’t be more like them. Instead, sadness seemed to cling to me like an ex who just won’t take the hint.

But it turned out that my brain just needed a little more help that other people’s. The same way you need to throw a kite into the air a little, in order for it to take flight. With the right medication and the right therapist, I was able to claw back parts of my life that had withered with neglect. And you can too.

It’s like Dumbledore said (kind of):

“Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Once you ask for help. Once you confess your worries to a parent. Once you say the words aloud to a doctor. Once you confide in a teacher. Once you let the words out into the world, things can start getting better.

To all of you out there struggling silently with depression, I promise you one thing: it doesn’t have to be this hard.

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

jenners

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

gaga

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.”

Yes, it’s freezing outside and no, the day isn’t quite over but no matter how your day is going, spare a thought for the team of people who will have five hours to move the Obama family out of The White House and the Trumps in. It turns out no detail is too small for this team to care about – even the room temperatures and humidity levels in the house are changed to suit the new family’s preferences (who knew people had humidity preferences?)

Here are some of the other things we’ve been reading, watching and loving this week.

#WhyIMarch

On Saturday, an estimated 1.3 million women in 616 locations around the world will take to the street for the Women’s March. The aim of the march is basically to send the message to political leaders (*ahem* some newer than others) that women’s rights are human rights too. Or, as its Facebook page explains: “We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognising there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

If you want to attend a march, visit Women’s March to find the one closest to you – and get your walkin’ shoes on.

 

Bond, Jane Bond. 

Do you always hesitate when people ask what you be when you grow up? Well, we’ve got your back. GCHQ’s (that’s the Government Communications Head Quarters) new National Cyber Security Centre has invited teenage girls to enter a competition that could reveal the cyber spies of the future. And yes, it’s exactly as cool as it sounds.

Teams of four girls aged 13-15 can enter the CyberFirst Girls competition, where they’ll have to complete a series of online challenges. The top 10 teams will progress to a national final in London in March. Plus, the winning team will all take home individual prizes and their school will receive £1000 of IT equipment.

We imagine it will be exactly like Spy Kids, but, you know, set in 2017.

spy-kids

Can’t sleep? It might be Instagram’s fault. 

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a sinking feeling in your stomach that no one will like your latest Instagram? Well, you’re not alone. According the Science of Us, a new study was released that found a fifth (or 20%) of teens regularly wake up at night to check their social media. The study showed that those who woke up in the middle of the night for a sneaky Snapchat session were THREE times more likely to say that they constantly felt tired at school, and were less happy than their better-rested peers. So if you’re reading this after 11pm, go back to bed! Like, now.

snoopy

How to be flawless in one easy step

Anyone who’s ever taken a selfie knows it’s all about the angles… but fitness model Anna Victoria stepped it up a notch when she posted this image on her Instagram this week, to show how misleading social media can really be. While Anna looks ridiculously 🔥 in both pics, she wanted to send a message to her fans about body image: “I will not punish my body I will fuel it I will challenge it AND I will love it,” she says. Flawed? More like floored.

Me 1% of the time vs. 99% of the time. And I love both photos equally. Good or bad angles don't change your worth ❤️ I recently came across an article talking about how one woman stated she refuses to accept her flaws, because she doesn't see them as flaws at all. I LOVED that because it sends such a powerful message that our belly rolls, cellulite, stretch marks are nothing to apologize for, to be ashamed of, or to be obsessed with getting rid of! As I'm getting older, I have cellulite and stretch marks that aren't going away, and I welcome them. They represent a life fully lived (for 28 years so far :)) and a healthy life and body at that. How can I be mad at my body for perfectly normal "flaws"? This body is strong, can run miles, can lift and squat and push and pull weight around, and it's happy not just because of how it looks, but because of how it feels. So when you approach your journey, I want you to remember these things: I will not punish my body I will fuel it I will challenge it AND I will love it 💗💗💗 If you're following my page, you're a part of helping me spread this message and creating this movement – thank you. #fbggirls www.annavictoria.com/guides

A photo posted by Snapchat: AnnaVictoriaFit (@annavictoria) on

 

Royally good news! Prince William gets serious about mental health 

This week, Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry appeared at a Heads Together event to urge people to talk about their mental health. Prince William encouraged people to not ‘keep quiet and carry on’ but to open up to a friend or family member about any mental health challenges they may be facing. Good work, Will.

If you’re worried about your mental health, visit Childline for more information.

In need of some LOLs? 

If you haven’t already watched Raised by Wolves, you should really get on that asap. Written by hilairo author and all-round Shero Caitlin Moran and her sister Caz, the show is based loosely on their own childhood growing up home-schooled in Wolverhampton. Despite the show finishing mid last year, Buzzfeed reminded us of its awesomeness with this week’s round-up of their fave moments – and the main character, Germaine, is just as fist-bitingly hysterical we remembered.

raised-by-wloves raised-by-wolves

 

One of the biggest mysteries of all time has finally been solved

No, not how they built Stonehenge. The other big mystery: are all the Pixar films related somehow? Well, there’s some good news for all the animation-lovers out there – Disney has finally given us an answer. Get ready to have your mind blown.

To infinity and beyond… or, you know, Monday.

Ugh, Mondays. And specifically ugggggh this Monday, AKA Blue Monday, which has earned a rep as officially the most depressing day of the year.

Now the first thing to say before we go any further is that Blue Monday isn’t actually true. Got that? Not. A real. Thing. The title was invented in 2005 by an advertising agency for a travel company campaign, and it’s based not on science but on a ‘maths equation’ of vague, gloomy factors, like how long it’s been since Christmas, how broke everyone is before payday, and, obvs, the weather. In fact it bears so little relation to fact that even the guy who originally dreamed up the formula is now campaigning to #StopBlueMonday. Don’t use it in an exam, is all we’re saying.

But… the thing is, Mondays do suck. Sometimes. Cold, dark January Mondays can suck especially hard. And even if Blue Monday is all just a cynical PR stunt, there’s nothing wrong with using it as a reminder to spend a little more time focusing on our happiness.

So here are some small, easy ways to make Mondays just a little bit less horrendous. Blue, who?

Get plenty of sleep

falling asleep

Yawn. It’s the oldest advice in the book, but that’s because it works. And teenagers need even more sleep than adults (seriously, that one is a scientific fact) so sacrifice more of your Sunday to getting an early night, and you’ll feel a bit less like death when the alarm goes on Monday morning. Or alternatively, skip your hairwash and hit the snooze button. That works too.

Plan a lovely breakfast

dancing puppet and cereal

Everyone knows it’s 100% easier to get out of bed if there is great food waiting for you, so make a bit more effort for Monday breakfasts than your usual bowl of whatever. Go to town on fancy porridge toppings. Make scrambled eggs with avo and chilli. Or try our fave overnight oats recipe – all the work is done the night before, so on Monday you can just grab it and go. Look how jealous Wednesday is now.

Same goes for lunch

sushi breakfast club

Our instinct is normally to have the favourite sandwich/the sausage roll/the best Muller Crunch Corner or whatever on Friday, the day of celebration. But Fridays are already great whereas Mondays need all the help they can get, so think about saving your best lunch treats for the start of the week.

Have a seriously great Sunday

Mr

“It’s not Sunday unless you totally waste it and then feel really sad around 8pm for no reason” goes the meme, and oh how it speaks the truth. But what did Sundays ever do to hurt you? Instead of frittering the day away and then getting furious when you remember Monday is just around the corner, try filling your Sunday ram-jam full of fun things. Go on a big walk. Make a roast. See great people. Embark on a craft project. Read a whole book. Go on a day trip. Do some competitive sport, get covered in mud, then have the longest, bubbliest bath that Lush/your boiler will allow.

Basically, head into Monday with a load of news and a full camera roll, and watch how much easier it is to drag yourself out the door.

Which leads us onto… don’t leave everything till Sunday night

Daria

We know, we know – you’re human, and when faced with a long weekend stretching out before us, the most human response is to leave that massive essay till 7pm on Sunday evening and then bash your way through it in an angry rage until midnight, while crying. Which then means on Monday morning, you’re a sleepy, grumpy subhuman (with, let’s face it, a pretty terrible essay).

But instead, imagine if you did a little tiny bit of it on Friday evening, or Saturday morning – even just an hour, even just scribbling down a few notes or writing the title in BIG LETTERS so that when you sit down on Sunday to do the rest, it doesn’t feel like starting from scratch. Or imagine if you did quite a lot of it on Saturday morning. Imagine if you did it all. You’d be basically superhuman.

Give yourself a badass theme tune

Beyonce You Ready

Turning your Monday frown upside down could be as easy as finding the right soundtrack. So make a playlist of songs that make you feel happy and energised, and let them pump you up while you’re getting dressed or walking to the bus stop. Sing along. Even better – dance. A little endorphin kick never hurt anybody.

Get (at least slightly) organised

Leslie Knope organised

Monday-You is trying her best, but sometimes Sunday-You won’t give her a chance. So get off your arse and find your PE kit. Iron your shirt. Pack your school bag. Do that thing you’re meant to do for form time, and find a pair of tights without a hole in them now. Minimise the amount of hassle you face on Monday morning so you can focus on your lovely breakfast, your pumped-up playlist, and not end up running late, creased and laddered with one trainer in your bag. You know how that’s going to end.

Make nice Monday plans

dance moms

Having something to look forward to at the end of the day will make the long, slow plod towards the final bell just a little bit easier. So plan something fun. It doesn’t need to be a punishing extra-curricular activity – just getting your BFFs round to ‘study’ (read: laugh until you pee) for a couple of hours should do the trick.

And if all else fails…

Remember: Blue Monday doesn’t exist. And regular Monday? Well, it’s already half over.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Way back in 1967, hippies gathered in San Francisco for their Summer of Love. But why just have one season of love? In 2014, I decided I wanted a whole year dedicated to love, so I chose this word as my ‘theme’ for 12 months.  

Whenever I faced a decision, big or small, I tried to think about how I could create the most love. Rather than dismissing a date as unnecessary hassle, I agreed to go because I hoped that maybe love would follow – and it did! We’re still together three years later. I realised that I didn’t have many pictures of the people I love so I began taking more photos of them, and looking through those snaps still makes me so happy. I also started listening to the little voice in my head that whispers ‘I’d love to do that’ and found myself having more adventures, however silly – like going on the Emirates Skyline cable car in London for no reason other than I’d always thought ‘I’d love to ride on that’.

I’ve already picked my buzzword for 2017: ‘no limits’ (ok fine that’s two words, but it’s allowed).

‘No limits’ challenges me to dream big, and not to assume that I can’t do something. Too often I restrict myself, worrying that I’m not clever enough or brave enough before I’ve even tried. This year is going to be different because rather than turning down an opportunity that might be difficult for me, such as taking on a new job or signing up to the next course (I’m trying to learn Italian), I can say to myself ‘No limits!’ and then at least give the challenge a go.

If I get a bit scared and don’t manage to follow my phrase all the time, it doesn’t matter. Not succeeding all of the time doesn’t make you a loser. The best part about having a theme for the year is that you can keep coming back to it – that’s why having a word of the year is so much better than a typical new year’s resolution. Resolutions tend to be specific, like ‘lose weight’ or ‘stop biting your nails’. This means that once your efforts have failed (usually by mid-January) then you feel you have to wait until next year to begin again. Not so with a buzzword: it can just inspire and guide your behaviour throughout the year. 

The other great thing about a word of the year is that it doesn’t expect you to be a different person. Lots of new year’s resolutions require us to change who we are, but trying overnight to become someone who doesn’t love chocolate will just make us feel rubbish about ourselves (and probably eat a whole heap of chocolate, tbh).  Buzzwords, on the other hand, allow us to be exactly who we are already but encourage us to strive after a new feeling, whether that’s braver or happier or calmer.

Maybe you’re feeling a lot of pressure because of exams and it’s making you stressed? A theme for 2017 could help you in different ways. If you went for ‘chill’, this could cover everything from treating yourself to ice cream when you’ve finished your homework, to having Netflix downtime every Sunday, to repeating the word to yourself before you enter the exam hall.  Or you might go in the opposite direction and pick ‘fun’, looking for ways to make revision more enjoyable (such as doing quizzes with friends), going to the funfair to bring out your inner kid, or practising nail art so your hands make you smile while you’re studying.

You might find your chosen buzzword comes up in other ways than you had expected, which makes it even more special and inspiring. Wondering how to pick your buzzword for the year ahead?  Here are three tips on choosing the right theme for you:

1. Love a song lyric or line from a film? If you find yourself repeating a phrase a lot, then that could be a big clue. In 2015, for instance, one Swiftie picked ‘Shake it off’ as the buzz phrase for her year. Who wouldn’t feel better channelling Taylor?

2. Is something big happening in your life this year? You could think about related words that might be helpful, like my exams example.

3. How would you like to feel in 2017?  This is a great way to find the best word for yourself. Maybe you want to feel less stressed (how about ‘relax’?) or maybe you want to take something more seriously (how about ‘committed’?).

Once you’ve picked your word, go ahead and try to live it. Have a fun/love-filled/powerful/relaxing/limitless year.

@rae_ritchie_

Image: Getty

We’ve finally seen the end of what was, for loads of people, a long and hard year. It was all just A Bit Much. And while lots of us couldn’t wait to shut the door on 2016 and jump into 2017’s arms, the pressure of January is big and real. We’re talking about… *whispers* New Year’s Resolutions.

Why are we whispering? Well, we’re *looks around* hiding from having to make New Year’s Resolutions, of course. They’re scary, right? They mean commitment and looking 365 days ahead and expectations and pressure and… and… and… OH GOD LET’S JUST STAY IN 2016 INSTEAD.

And breathe. No. New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be scary at all. They’re just a chance to make you and your life that little teensy bit better. New years are about possibilities, excitement, and opportunities. So, instead of trying to think of grand, expensive, mind-bogglingly extravagant resolutions, how about you try some of these more simple, healthy, and achievable resolutions instead?

1. Drink more water

There are so many ‘rules’ dictating how much water you should drink, but let’s just all agree to drink MORE of the stuff in 2017. It’s healthy, prevents headaches, keeps you awake and lively, can do wonders for your skin, and helps keep your body and mind nice and regulated. And it’s literally on tap, so no excuses.

2. Explore more

Exploring doesn’t have to mean travelling the world. It can mean day trips to the seaside, exploring your own town, trying new foods, dabbling in new hobbies, and exploring yourself. Explore your own body, and your wants, loves, and needs. You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to ‘find yourself’.

3. Keep yourself at number one

You can’t be a good friend without looking after yourself. In 2017, remember to stay at the top of your own priority list (here’s how). You’ll be a better friend, student, worker, and overall awesome human being if you’ve got yourself in tip top shape.

4. Not worry what others think

The most important opinion in your life is YOURS, as you are (newsflash) the one living it. It can be so easy to get caught up in what others think about you and your life choices, but does it affect them? Probably not. Can they be a better you than you can be? Nope. Do they know your life better than you? No. You do you, and let them do them.

5. Banish unhealthy friendships and throw yourself into GREAT friendships

You may not be able to make toxic friends disappear, but you can certainly learn to accept an unhealthy friendship. That doesn’t mean just getting on with it, but it means not letting them get to you anymore. 

Then have a think about what makes a good friend to you, and LOVE THOSE FRIENDS WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT AND DON’T LET THEM GO.

6. Have goals but enjoy the experience

Having goals is so great. They keep you determined, motivated, and bettering yourself. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Draining yourself to achieve a goal won’t make it enjoyable. You’ll end up a tick list and you’re way more than that.

7. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself, ‘kay?

And if you don’t achieve a goal, that’s ok! You’re not a failure! If you tried, that’s more than enough. Putting too much pressure on yourself takes all the fun out of resolutions – and of life, tbh. 

Anyway, you shouldn’t need a new year to want to do exciting, achievable, healthy, and self-bettering stuff. You should want to do it anyway, because you deserve to have nice things and be the best version of you that you can be.

So create your healthy resolutions with you in mind, not everybody else. You’re going to have the best year, alright? We say so.

@louisejonesetc

Change can be a good thing. Changing your hair. Changing your bedsheets. Changing the world. The change in your pocket that helps you buy a doughnut.

But sometimes, and especially at new year, the pressure to change yourself can be a massive pain in the arse. “Make a resolution! Make another one! Join a gym! Run 10 miles! Eat more kale! Eat less everything else! Learn French! Learn to contour! Go out more! Stay in and do yoga! Get more sleep! Stop sleeping, you lazy slob!” After the lovely, cosy, sugar-topped fun of Christmas, January can feel like a big old pile of ‘you’re not good enough, loser’.

And to that, we say: nah. Shut up, nagging voices. Pipe down, people who believe that we need to overhaul our bodies, minds and lives just because the calendar flicked over a page. We’re fine as we are thanks – just as we were in December, and we will be the rest of the year too.

Instead, our January mantra on betty.me is ‘New year, same you!’. We’re going to be all about celebrating yourself – the actual you, not the perfect fairytale fantasy version – and spending time on stuff you really love, instead of the stuff you think you ought to be into. We’ll have ideas to celebrate staying in (mm, staying in), the most glorious geekery, exercise for people who really cba, and hacks to make the most of the wardrobe you already have – plus all our usual tips and funny tales from the coolest girls we know.

Shake things up, but don’t beat yourself up. Pick positive, realistic #goals, or just carry on doing exactly what you’re doing… because you’re doing it damned well.

Also nobody needs to eat any kale. Unless you actually want to.

Leslie Knope vegetable gif

Image: Katie Edmunds