Crisps, keyboards, pens​ – how do you treat an unusual phobia?

When you are plagued by unusual fears, people’s reactions can be the hardest thing to bear. One writer with a phobia of jewellery explores what can be done

If a friend confided in you they had a fear of door handles or toenail clippings, would you laugh or sympathise? The instinctive reaction might be the former, but we can all get phobias of absolutely anything, and some can be debilitating. I have lived with my own fear of jewellery for as long as I can remember. If you were to place a metallic necklace or earring into my hands, it would send a shiver through my body, I’d feel instantly sick, have to throw the object away and wash my hands. The response from family, friends and colleagues has only ever been amusement or bemusement. I can live a normal life, despite consternation from some for not wearing a wedding ring, and have never got to the root cause.

Phobias are described as an overwhelming and debilitating fear of something. They are more pronounced than just fears alone. A dislike of rats, for example, is pretty common. But if it extends to musophobia (a fear of mice or rats), then it can be life-changing. “One person called our helpline who was so scared of rats they couldn’t even say the word ‘rat’ itself,” explains Trilby Breckman, a development manager at the charity organisation Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK). “It was stopping her going out for fear of seeing one.”

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Can you write your way to happiness?

A growing number of diarists are using expressive writing or ‘bullet journalling’ to improve their health and productivity. But does keeping a daily log actually work?

”This groundbreaking tool will change your life,” claims MindJournal, a £9.99 collection of quizzes and writing exercises that it claims will “encourage you to be more honest with how you’re feeling”. Aimed at a male audience, it has a testosterone-fuelled tagline: “Become a stronger version of the man you already are.”

It’s not unique; in bookshops, it has quickly evident that the humble notebook is having an overhaul. Prescriptive travel diaries (“Enjoy the lightly guided prompts for agendas, lists and observations”) bump up against journals claiming to focus on inner truth (“Featuring over 70 thought-provoking quotes from fellow self-improvers, this journal is great for both perfectionists and failures!”), while the latest fad for bullet journalling – a convoluted to-do list system – has swept the internet, inundating Instagram with a pages of artfully annotated checklists.

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‘It was quasi-religious’: the great self-esteem con

In the 1980s, Californian politician John Vasconcellos set up a task force to promote high self-esteem as the answer to all social ills. But was his science based on a lie?

In 2014, a heartwarming letter sent to year 6 pupils at Barrowford primary school in Lancashire went viral. Handed out with their Key Stage 2 exam results, it reassured them: “These tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique… They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister.”

At Barrowford, people learned, teachers were discouraged from issuing punishments, defining a child as “naughty” and raising their voices. The school’s guiding philosophy, said headteacher Rachel Tomlinson, was that kids were to be treated with “unconditional positive regard”.

To get ahead in the 1980s, you had to be ruthless, relentless. You had to believe in yourself

Vasco’s credibility turned on a single fact: that the professors had confirmed his hunch. The only problem? They hadn’t

What had really happened at that meeting? I found the answer on an old audio cassette, hissy and faint

Related: The appeal of narcissists: why do we love people who’d rather love themselves?

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Am I normal? You asked Google. Here’s the answer | Eleanor Morgan

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

“The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look extremely disturbed,” writes Susan Sontag in an essay from 1973 called Freak Show. “The camera chooses oddity, chases it, names it, elects it, frames it, develops it, titles it.” Sontag was talking about photography, but this concept of naming-and-framing is a useful analogy for how we view one another in society at large.

We muscle through life constantly framing the “normality” of others against our own patchwork of knowledge, life experiences, values and opinions. We can’t help it. Yet normality is probably the most subjective concept human beings can ponder.

Related: Is mental illness real? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Jay Watts

Related: Why don’t people like me? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Anouchka Grose

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Teenagers’ sleep quality and mental health at risk over late-night mobile phone use

Researchers advise ‘physical boundaries’ over devices in bedrooms after study finds poor sleep associated with phone use linked to depressed moods

Teenagers’ late-night mobile phone use is harming their sleep and potentially their mental health, say researchers who advised that “physical boundaries” be set over use of such devices in the bedroom.

A longitudinal study of 1,101 Australian high school students aged between 13 and 16 found poor-quality sleep associated with late-night texting or calling was linked to a decline in mental health, such as depressed moods and declines in self-esteem and coping ability.

Related: Vaguebooking? Subtweeting? Supertweeting? Why can’t we just say what we mean online?

Related: Scientists believe the secret of a good night’s sleep is all in our genes

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Why men should keep a journal | Ollie Aplin

Writing down how you are feeling has immense mental and physical health benefits – and men need it most, says Ollie Aplin

History is littered with men who kept journals, from Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Lee to Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson. They couldn’t be more different, yet these men had one thing in common – they found strength and comfort through writing down their thoughts.

Professor James Pennebaker, who specialises in social psychology at the University of Texas, has spent many years looking at how writing down our feelings may boost immune functioning. In Opening Up by Writing it Down, which he co-authored with Joshua Smyth, Pennebaker says expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. He includes findings from hundreds of studies showing the health benefits of expressing emotions, particularly after trauma.

Part of the problem is that when men are depressed, they tend to conceal their feelings

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It’s hard to talk about mental health at the best of times, which these are not

‘Nobody, even Trump, should be blamed for being mentally ill. But nor should we pretend mental illness affects only the nice’

Should we talk more openly about mental illness, or should we shut up? It depends which side of the Atlantic you’re on. In Britain, the future head of state has thrown his weight behind an admirable campaign for more conversation, but in America, where the current head of state seems profoundly psychologically disordered, the official position is to zip it. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is standing firm on the “Goldwater Rule”, which prohibits members from offering opinions, let alone formal diagnoses, on those they haven’t evaluated in person. (It was devised after a poll of psychiatrists deemed Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate, unfit for office.) Needless to say, the rule hasn’t stifled media speculation about celebrity mental health; instead, it precludes precisely those who might bring some credibility and sobriety to the discussion.

The best argument for the royal family’s Heads Together initiative is that it could reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, yet the APA’s best argument for not talking about Trump’s problems is also to avoid stigmatising other mentally ill people through association with the Orange Horror. There’s something amiss here: we claim we want to acknowledge that mental illness affects pretty much everyone, but at the same time, we don’t want to acknowledge that it affects some highly unsavoury people. And we certainly don’t want to acknowledge that their illness and bad actions might be intertwined.

Related: Want to live twice as long? Meditation might help | Oliver Burkeman

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A moment that changed me: realising, aged 16, that I couldn’t handle alcohol | Lou Sanders

I did drink quite a bit more after that. But that night in Alicante was the first inkling I had that my relationship with alcohol was a dangerous one

I was 16, on holiday in Alicante on my own – my Aunty Sue was due to join me the next day. So in preparation for her arrival, I drank almost a litre of vodka, hit the town and passed out. A Spanish stranger called an ambulance and the local hospital kindly pumped my stomach. “Olé! Olé!” as they say (translation: Oi! Oi!).

I was in a foreign place, didn’t speak the language, and had no idea where my hostel was. I thought I was streetwise but I was a street idiot. Like many people my age, I was a turbulent sea of emotions: a mix of hormones, some unprocessed family happenings, and a classic case of a broken heart. Because of this emotional maelstrom, the male nurse thought he could drop me back to my hostel via his place and have sex with me, since I was too low on self-esteem, and way too out of it, to put up any sort of counter-argument. Turns out he was right. Muchas gracias, maaate!

Related: Alcohol can ruin our mental health, but it’s rarely discussed. I know | Matthew Todd

There was no knowing when the beast would be unleashed. But, at some point, the beast was always unleashed

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Postpartum psychosis: ‘I’m a thing possessed, an animal. I am nearly sectioned twice’

It’s a condition that comes out of nowhere and affects one in 1,000 new mothers. Here, one woman recalls her experience of this terrifying illness and how writing about it saved her

My name is Jessica. I have postpartum psychosis. It is not my fault. Since my son was born, I have slept nine hours in 11 days. I have heard of the baby blues, but this is something else altogether; this feels like the baby black and blues. This feels like oblivion.

I can’t stop writing. Every thought, every idea, the name of every person I meet needs to be recorded. I mustn’t lose this thought. It must be noted; kept; remembered. The world needs to hear my words. If they are lost, all will be lost. Record it. Record what I’m saying. Make sure it’s recording. This will go viral. It will make me a millionaire. You will never have to work another day in your life.

Related: Postpartum psychosis: research reveals full recovery possible within weeks

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How ‘superagers’ stay sharp in their later years

A new study shows how strenuous mental and physical exercise keeps your brain firing on all cylinders

When it comes to retirement, experts recommend that everyone do some hard thinking. By this, they mean you should plan your finances responsibly, consider carefully where to live, and decide what colour beach chair to sit in all day as you sip strawberry daiquiris in the sun. But there’s another reason to think hard about these details: hard thinking by itself – a strenuous mental workout – is good for your ageing brain.

My collaborators and I at Massachusetts General hospital and Northeastern University in Boston study people over 65 who have incredible memories for their age, on a par with healthy 25-year-olds. Scientists call them “superagers” (a term coined by neurologist Marsel Mesulam at Northwestern University in Chicago). While nobody knows exactly why some people are superagers, we believe that one common factor is that they engage in demanding mental exercise. They continually challenge themselves to learn new things outside of their comfort zone.

Related: A neuroscientist explains: the need for ‘empathetic citizens’ – podcast

Grit is the ability to use your unpleasant feelings as fuel, rather than as a reason to apply the brakes

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Therapy ‘has long-term benefits for mothers with depression’

CBT has positive effects on mental health, financial empowerment and parenting skills, long-term study shows

Cognitive behavioural therapy has significant positive effects on a mother’s mental health, income, employment and parenting skills even seven years after the birth of the child, according to the first study of its kind.

The international research project into the impact of depression on pregnant mothers and their babies, led by Professor Sonia Bhalotra from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, could have major implications for public policy.

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Should link between dementia and artificial sweeteners be taken with a pinch of salt?

How people’s capacity for forgetfulness and lies may have impacted on research tying stroke and dementia to diet drinks

They were supposed to be the healthy alternative to their sugar-rich siblings. But now lovers of diet colas and other low-calorie drinks have been hit by news that will radically undermine those credentials: a counterintuitive study suggesting a link to stroke and dementia.

The study in the journal Stroke may cause a rethink among those worried about obesity, diabetes or a possible early heart attack from sugar-rich drinks who have been considering making a change. It comes to the alarming conclusion that people polishing off one can a day of artificially sweetened drink are nearly three times as likely to have a stroke or develop dementia.

Related: Stroke and dementia risk linked to artificial sweeteners, study suggests

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Princes William and Harry break mental health taboos for a new generation | Simon Wessely

There is no correct way to deal with trauma and grief. But the brothers are showing that it’s OK to dispense with the stiff upper lip and ask for help

Big boys don’t cry, so I was told as a child. But has that always been the case? Nelson’s captains as they made their slow way towards the French fleet at Cape Trafalgar certainly didn’t think that was the case. Many had wept when first shown the battle plan. Tears were not unmanly – far from it. Nelson’s captains were “men of feeling”, part of the culture of sensibility. And this wasn’t just an affectation of the gentry: jolly Jack Tar wasn’t always jolly, and wept buckets on numerous occasions captured in contemporary accounts.

Politicians such as Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox were also liable to burst into tears in moments of high parliamentary emotion, captured in many satirical drawings. As Thomas Dixon describes in his splendid Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears, it was not until the Victorian era that stoicism replaced sensibility, and the cult of the “stiff upper lip” was born. And it wasn’t even British – the phrase had been popular in the United States for several decades before it first made an appearance over here.

Related: Prince William: suicide callout shed light on men’s mental health

Related: The lesson of Prince Harry’s grief? We need mental health services for all | Suzanne Moore

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The stiff upper lip: why the royal health warning matters

It’s the trait that once helped the British build the empire but, as even Princes William and Harry have admitted, it has taken a devastating toll. Homa Khaleeli looks at the psychology of repression, while Tim Dowling offers an American perspective

It was Diana, of course, who opened the floodgates of tears that swept away the notion of the British “stiff upper lip”. The public mourning at her death was seen as a turning point for a nation where emotional repression had been a point of pride. So it seems fitting that this week it is her sons, William and Harry, who are warning us that our emotional journey is not yet over.

Last week, Prince Harry described how he went for counselling after repressing his own grief over the loss of his mother led to a two-year period of anxiety, anger and “total chaos”. This week, his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, has gone on to warn in an interview that keeping “a stiff upper lip” should not be at “the expense of your health”.

Related: Prince William: suicide callout shed light on men’s mental health

Related: Stiff Upper Lip: Secrets, Crimes and the Schooling of a Ruling Class – review

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Prince William: suicide callout shed light on men’s mental health

Duke of Cambridge says dealing with male suicides in his work as an air ambulance pilot helped him understand scale of issue


The Duke of Cambridge has spoken of his shock at being called out to his first suicide as an air ambulance pilot in a joint interview with his brother, Prince Harry, on tackling masculinity and mental health issues.

Related: ‘So low sometimes’: why Stormzy talking about his depression is so important | Kamran Ahmed

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