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‘I wasn’t there at the end’: your biggest regrets in life

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Readers reacted to Emma Freud’s article on regret with emotion, humour and a deep sense of introspection

Regrets: we’ve all had a few. When Guardian columnist Emma Freud explored themes of regret spoken about on social media – with “devastating honesty” – we received thousands of responses in the comments.

Related: What is your biggest regret? Here are people’s devastatingly honest answers

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What is your biggest regret? Here are people’s devastatingly honest answers

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

When I posed this question on Twitter, the stories poured out and patterns emerged. Real regrets are about bad choices in love, learning and loss, being held back by fear – and self-blame

My 20-year-old son just moved into a fraternity house at his college in the US. Last month, I spent three days there trying to turn his bedroom from a fluorescent-lit hellhole into a page from an Ikea catalogue, and while making up flat-packs, we discussed his hopes and plans for the next three years … what he wanted from life, from love, his strengths, his fears, and how to approach his college years so that he could set himself up for a life well lived. On the final evening, I found myself alone in a horrid Illinois hotel, still thinking about my boy’s apprehensions for his journey into adulthood and how I might help him make decisions he would never regret.

I went to Twitter and typed: “What is your biggest regret. Asking for a friend.” The response was huge. It wasn’t just big in volume – more than 300 replies – but the tweets were devastatingly honest. I had casually asked a question that, surprisingly, a lot of people really wanted to answer. These were sad, sobering, enlightening responses – big stories told in 140 words to a stranger on a Saturday night. I don’t know why so many people had such strong regrets living so close to the surface – but by the end of the evening, I felt I might have learned more about life through what people regretted not doing, than through 55 years of being given advice about what to do. I’m clearly no authority on this subject, but I’d love to tell you a bit of what I saw that night.

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How was your weekend running?

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Racing, training or no longer required for pacing duties? As always, share your weekend triumphs, woes and goody bag contents below the line. And if said contents are chocolate-based, send them in to Guardian HQ

The things I’ll do for a medal. Yesterday my legs felt like lead, and if anyone had offered me the merest hint of an excuse I’d have curled up in bed again and refused to come out of the duvet nest. But I’d entered a race – the River Thames autumn half marathon – so out of bed I got. I actually entered it months ago, promising to pace a friend. She couldn’t do it, but it seemed a shame to waste the place, so I slogged my way round 13.1 very weary miles. That’ll teach me, if nothing else, never to be complacent about the distance: 13.1 felt more like 33.1.

Still, my complaints are strictly limited to my legs, tired after a fairly heavy week (at least compared to recent efforts). The weather was good, the race itself very well organised, cheery marshals, some familiar faces, and I even had a nice chat or two with some fellow runners. Oh, and the goody bag contained not one, not two, but three chocolate-based treats. One of these went to my youngest, who, while I was trudging around the Thames, ran her second fastest ever junior parkrun. Hang on, now I think about it, that’s two people who didn’t need me to pace them this weekend …

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Does it matter which body lotion I use?

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

If you have sensitive skin, doctors recommend moisturisers without fragrance or allergic ingredients, but terms such as ‘hypoallergenic’ and ‘dermatologist-recommended’ are often just marketing tools

What do you look for in a body moisturiser? Is it the smell, how smooth it leaves your skin feeling, or how much it costs? If you are attracted by terms such as “dermatologist recommended” or “hypoallergenic”, you may be disappointed. A study of the top 100 best-selling whole body moisturisers found that not only did prices vary by 9,400% but that 95% of the products claiming to be dermatologist-recommended had at least one ingredient that could cause an allergy. Of the hypoallergenic moisturisers, 83% contained a substance on the allergen list of the North American Contact Dermatitis Group (NACDG). The most common potential allergy-causing ingredients were fragrance mix and paraben mix (a preservative).

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The science of Sad: understanding the causes of ‘winter depression’

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

The darker days and colder weather can bring with them a feeling of low spirits. So, what makes people susceptible to seasonal affective disorder, and what are the best ways to treat it?

For many of us in the UK, the annual ritual of putting the clocks back for daylight saving time can be accompanied by a distinct feeling of winter blues as autumn well and truly beds in. This might be felt as a lack of energy, reduced enjoyment in activities and a need for more sleep than normal. But for around 6% of the UK population and between 2-8% of people in other higher latitude countries such as Canada, Denmark and Sweden, these symptoms are so severe that these people are unable to work or function normally. They suffer from a particular form of major depression, triggered by changes in the seasons, called seasonal affective disorder or Sad.

In addition to depressive episodes, Sad is characterised by various symptoms including chronic oversleeping and extreme carbohydrate cravings that lead to weight gain. As this is the opposite to major depressive disorder where patients suffer from disrupted sleep and loss of appetite, Sad has sometimes been mistakenly thought of as a “lighter” version of depression, but in reality it is simply a different version of the same illness. “People who truly have Sad are just as ill as people with major depressive disorder,” says Brenda McMahon, a psychiatry researcher at the University of Copenhagen. “They will have non-seasonal depressive episodes, but the seasonal trigger is the most common. However it’s important to remember that this condition is a spectrum and there are a lot more people who have what we call sub-syndromal Sad.”

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Awe inspiring: do moments of wonder make us nicer people? | Caspar Henderson

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Experiencing awe helps us to feel more human, says Caspar Henderson. We would do well to seek it out

My daughter recently had to make a rainstick for school, so she pulled a cardboard tube out of the recycling, found some dried beans to create the sound of rain when it’s shaken, and taped up the ends. The noises from her new creation were underwhelming compared to those from a model you can buy online for a few quid but they were enough to bring to my mind a simple and beautiful poem by Seamus Heaney. “Upend the rain stick,” he writes, “and what happens next/Is a music that you never would have known/To listen for…”

Towards the end of his life in 1970, the psychologist Abraham Maslow, best known today for his theory of the hierarchy of needs, considered putting self-transcendence at its top, above self-actualisation. Beyond the “merely healthy” individual, he suggested, were those who became better human beings for others as well as for themselves. And a key factor in this transition, he suggested, was what he called “peak experience”. By this he meant “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality”.

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Fit in my 40s: ‘These people are like an improved species’

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Millennials seem to train as if they are preparing for life post-apocalypse. It’s exhausting just listening to them

‘We don’t just go to the gym any more.” I’m trying to figure out how millennials exercise, because I’ve seen them on Instagram and they look really buff: all crop tops and abs, like 80s computer graphics. I don’t want that for myself. I just want to know how they do it.

Lucy Fry is a fitness journalist and author. She was once a personal trainer, briefly a boxing fanatic and can do a handstand in the air on a pair of bars. Born in 1981, she marks the very start of the demographic: millennial ground zero. It is not really a case of keeping up with Fry as she models power and endurance. She is very into rings and bars, jumping on the side of things, hanging off things. Fry can effectively fly. Even just listening to her makes me feel tired.

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Lonely? Short of friends? Try looking at it differently

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

You never see your friends at home alone in their pyjamas, eating pickled onion Monster Munch while watching The X Factor and feeling sorry for themselves

Psychologists are regularly berated for spending their workdays reaching blindingly obvious conclusions about the world – an accusation that isn’t entirely unwarranted. (My favourite recent finding comes from the journal Psychological Science: “Depressed individuals may fail to decrease sadness.”) At first glance, it’s tempting to respond that way to a new study from the University of British Columbia, explaining why people tend to assume that their friends have more friends, and lead less solitary lives, than they do. Can you guess? That’s right: because every single time we see our friends, they’re socialising. By definition. Assuming you don’t spy on your friends via telescope from treetops, you never see them at home alone in their pyjamas, eating pickled onion Monster Munch while watching The X Factor and feeling sorry for themselves. You’re never there when they wake in the dark at 3am, wondering where their lives are headed. Or, likewise, consider those happy throngs you glimpse through the windows of the bar you pass each day on your way home from work: doesn’t it seem like they’re always meeting friends at the bar?

In fact, it’s a mathematical oddity that your friends do have slightly more friends than you do, on average. (Essentially, this is because people with large circles of friends are more likely to have you as a member of theirs.) But the main culprit, this new study confirms, is an observability bias. The more instances of something we encounter, the more significant we naturally assume it to be – and though we encounter our own solitude frequently, we never encounter other people’s. The distorted judgments we reach as a consequence have real emotional effects, the researchers found, leaving people with lower wellbeing and less of a sense of belonging. So, yes, the fact that we only ever experience loneliness when it’s happening to us is blindingly obvious, I suppose. But blindingly obvious in an almost literal sense: it’s so self-evident, we barely ever see it.

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Unknown territory: why do we remember the first time?

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

First runs in a new location are memorable, even magical – an introduction to a new city, for example – and science has set out to explain the phenomenon

You remember your first time, right? Everyone does. That grand départ into the unknown, the bewildering, clean-sheeted novelty of it all. That initial feeling of hesitation. The lingering trepidation. Then, bang, that’s all behind you. You’re away. You’ve found your feet, you’ve hit your stride. Pulse quickening, limbs loosening, excitement mounting. But your senses are where the real action is taking place. They’re off the charts, flying high. Everything is pinging and buzzing, brimming and popping. You’re alert, you’re alive, you’re there, in the zone, on the mark, nearing your peak. Yes, everyone remembers their first time.

And that was how it was for me. Just the other day. A new arrival in Porto, hitting the Portuguese city’s cobbled streets for my first morning jog. Out of the door I headed, a Day 1 novice, a Portugal virgin, my runners fresh from the suitcase, an EasyJet crick still in my neck. I had a tourist map for guidance, full of colourful squiggles and mall-shaped blobs. Pretty, but useless. In no time, I was completely disorientated. Was it left at the bottom of Avenida do Aliados or straight on? Did I go over the Luís 1 bridge or below it? I ditched the map. I’d follow my nose instead, I resolved … and my eyes … and, who knows, maybe even my toes.

The hour that followed was intoxicating. Utterly so. For 60 whole minutes, the world around transformed into something palpitating and enlivened. Everything looked brighter, sharper-edged, more given to meaning, perhaps even to magic. Above, the blue of the sky looked bluer than I ever thought possible. Below, the waters of the Douro river glistened brilliantly as though flirting with the sun. As I jogged, the urban landscape seemed to be shouting out, clamouring for my attention. Every bit of it. Pavements declaring their narrowness; roads announcing their cobbliness; riverbanks proclaiming their steepness. Every section of the run had its song, every step its specific note.

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‘Reality shrivels. This is your life now’: 88 days trapped in bed to save a pregnancy

Nov 2nd, 2017 by

Months before she was due to give birth, disaster struck for Katherine Heiny. Doctors ordered her to lie on her side in bed and not move – and gave her a 1% chance of carrying her baby to term

When I was five years old, my parents decided they could no longer watch the nightly news. Or rather, they could no longer watch it if I was in earshot. The coverage of the attack at the Munich Olympics had caused me to have such an intense fear of being killed by gorillas that I couldn’t sleep. No matter how many times my parents explained the difference between terrorist guerrillas and primate gorillas –and that there were no gorillas in Michigan anyway – I remained sleepless with worry late into the night for weeks. My parents eventually gave up and subscribed to the afternoon paper as well as the morning one.

The problem is not just that I am a champion worrier. It’s that I court worry – I seek it out, I invite it into my home, never remembering how hard it is too dislodge it from its comfortable chair by the fire. I watch true-crime documentaries when I’m alone. I Google photos of black widow spider bites. I know the statistics about paracetamol overdoses. I have memorised the beaches with dangerous riptides. I have installed a carbon monoxide detector in every house I have ever lived in. And when I got pregnant with my first child, I bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting – and the chapter titled What Can Go Wrong was the one I read first.

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