Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
College 101 Life

I’m a night owl, but I’m not sure I want to be one

I’m a big fan of working late at night. This is based on my personal experience, but there is also an active discussion about the night owl vs morning lark phenomenon. On the one hand, because the world is better attuned to the habits of early risers, night owls are at higher risk of mental health issues and poor mental wellbeing. On the other hand, night owls supposedly come up with more creative solutions and have generally higher intelligence.

There are many factors that work synchronously to decide if you are a morning or a night person. Factors such as your genetics, your environment, the season, latitude, and where you live all play a part. So, is it up to you at all?

How it works is that your genetics play a role in your circadian rhythm or internal body clock. Research published in Nature Communications reveals that the number of a specific gene you carry places you somewhere along a ‘scale of morningness’. These genes are concentrated in the relationship between how your retina converts light and sends signals to your brain. The body clock of a night owl was found to be more delayed than that of the morning lark. Suggesting that the retina of a night owl detected and communicated light less effectively, resulting in poor body clock entrainment. 

Having said all of that, we also all gradually turn into larks the older we get. Or I suppose, the night owls turn into larks, and the larks just stay themselves. 

Once again, I’m a big fan of the night owl cycle. Getting productive past midnight, working through the dark until the first early rays of light start filtering through the window and the birds wake up. There are no distractions, the entire world is quiet, and it feels like you’re the only living thing in existence. Like right now, all I have to think about is my writing.

But then, there’s the aftermath. Sure the early morning rays are pretty and birdsong is nice while it lasts, but then you feel your energy take a plunge, and the need for sleep rolls in. Your eyes start to droop, your mind feels strangely detached from your body, and you fall asleep while the rest of the world powers up. You wake up and gone is the soft light of the morning, and in its place is its much harsher counterpart, beating down on the world.

The days when you have to wake up early are entirely unproductive, you miss out on breakfast which is arguably the best meal (or at least in the top two meals) of the day, you feel fuzzy before you go to sleep, and never feel entirely satisfied when you do wake up. Before you know it, it’s sunset and you’re back to the night.

If you’re a morning person you get to wake up and see the world all fresh and dewy. You can start your day at a regular meal time instead of waking up groggy and trying to figure out which meal to actually commit to. You can make appointments with more ease and won’t need to prep yourself in advance to make sure you don’t miss out on important events. The only thing you lose out on is the productivity magic that 3 a.m. brings. 

Many advocate for leaning into the times when you’re at your most alert, while others warn of the many dangers to the owl-impersonations.  

It’s close to 2 a.m. now and I feel further away from any real conclusions to the owl-lark dilemma. I guess I’ll just stay up till 3 a.m. reading about it. I’ll get back to you if I find anything.

Health Care Mind Advice Life

I failed my A levels and got the wake up call I needed

I admit, I used to be a slacker. My A level years were the worst of it. I had a bad attitude and a messed up set of priorities as a teenager could have – I still cringe when I think about it. The last thing on my mind was my education and I wasted all my time obsessing over meaningless appearances and daydreaming about pointless scenarios. And like most high school students, I had an internet addiction.

I allowed missing an update on Facebook or being left out of an online chat session between friends consume me. And when I wasn’t obsessing over the online world, I was deeply and unhealthily involving myself in the drama of my friends’ lives. We would talk on the phone for hours, over our teenage preoccupations that seemed so life and death at the time, and I genuinely thought it was a testament to our strong, healthy and undying friendship.

All of this took a serious toll on my relationship with my family. My parents could see that I was destroying myself and wasting my potential and yet, they didn’t know how to stop it. It led to a lot of loud confrontations and declarations of disappointment. And my stubborn teenage head painted them as the bad guys.

Needless to say, all of this also affected my grades. Looking back, I don’t think I did any honest studying during my A levels. It required the kind of dedication my mind with its vapid interests, didn’t have the focus for. Unsurprisingly, it led to me eventually failing my A level exams.

I can’t say I was all that shocked, but I was hit with the hard realization of how badly I had messed up. I had somehow convinced myself that I would somehow sail by, even if it would be by a hair. But how could I? I hadn’t even tried.

After that initial failure, I fell into a depression so deep that it was kind of hard to find myself out of it. I stopped talking to all of my friends, and I have to say, none of them were all that resilient about keeping in touch with me anyway.

I’d lost any sense of self worth I’d had and wasn’t sure what to do with myself anymore. I took the exams again, but by then I had fully convinced myself that there was no way I could do well, and that the material was beyond my comprehension. There was a deep set belief in me by then that A levels were beyond me. And so I failed once again. I think I was almost waiting for it – I had a defeatist attitude that had already convinced me that I couldn’t do it, and that this was the end of the line. But the point is, that things did eventually change. That defeatist attitude melted away and I realized that I was a fighter.

It should come as no surprise that during this time, I got into an abusive relationship that was centered around my lack of self esteem and relied on me not thinking too much of myself. It took me a long time to get out of that one, much longer than it should have. I now know that a relationship is not what you need to get you through a time like this.

But in a moment of guileless honesty, not passing my A levels was probably the only thing that could have jarred me into getting my act together. It was the wake-up call that I needed – the eye opener that showed me what losing it all could mean. And to be frank, if anyone deserved to fail, I did.

I was the worst example of a student and without that incident in my life, I shudder to think of where I would be now. That one setback led me to re-evaluate my life and get a much needed attitude overhaul.

As it happened, I eventually did make my way into university. But not as the person I used to be, not even close. By the time the first year of university ended, I had a GPA high enough to get myself a place on the Dean’s list.

I now understood the value of my education. I knew how harmful falling into an internet rabbit hole and unhealthy friendships could be.

Failing final exams can seem like the end of the world. And you might not even know what to do next. Looking back, there are moments when I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of all the bad decisions I made back then.

The way things have turned out have made me believe that everything happens for a reason. Everyone has low points in their life, but it’s up to you to decide how to push through them. It’s either sink or swim, and I chose to swim through it all. It was the push I needed to lead me to better life decisions and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Science Now + Beyond

How to form opinions on scientific issues without making an ass of yourself

Scientific information on the internet is in abundance.

Some days the internet tell us coffee is good for us. Other days, it tells us that coffee will be the next cause of the apocalypse (kidding). Someone will post an article on Facebook, and then very few will actually fact check it. It is an endless cycle that may make some throw up their hands and say, “I give up. Science is too difficult, and it is changing all of the time.” Well, major reality check: yes, science is changing all of the time, like many other things in life.

However, to help us out when navigating this daunting area, here are some tips to help you hone your analytical skills and critical thinking when it comes to any scientific topic!

1. Use those clicking powers and find the original study

computer clicking GIF by stinasketch
[Image Description: A gif of a woman clicking on a computer] via Giphy
Did you see that new article about why sisters can make men better human beings? It is extremely interesting, but let’s not forget the hours, days, and maybe even years of painstaking research that went behind it. Believe it or not, someone spent time thinking and re-thinking a lot about this. Do yourself a favor and read the original work they published (or maybe it is still in draft form).

2.  Read the whole study if you can

John Oliver Hbo Now GIF by HBO
[Image Description: A gif of John Oliver on his show talking about the Time article that mistakenly reported that smelling farts can prevent cancer.] via Giphy
Note the phrase: if you can.

Unfortunately, one of the ugly things about good scientific information is that it is not always easily accessible. However, more and more scientists and academics are realizing the injustice of this, and journals are moving towards becoming less obscenely expensive and more open access.  If the whole study is not available, at least read the abstract.

Check out the sample size, for example. Is it obscenely small or unrepresentative? Psychological studies especially have this issue as they usually only use students. Here’s a great guide to help you decode a scientific paper.

3. Ask if the results have been replicated elsewhere

post years GIF
[Image Description: A gif of an anchor walking into a hospital room and talking about the support of many studies for immunizing chilren] via Giphy
This one is extremely important.

Science is changing every day and new ideas pop up constantly. While new ideas are awesome, it is important to not jump a bandwagon. Read the news, and then wait to see how other scientists have attempted to achieve the same results down the line.  Scientific rigor depends on replication or at least attempts at it. We would not be safely taking medicines we barely think twice about without multiple trials. Replication may not always be possible, but in situations where it is, do keep this in mind.

Here’s a prime example of solid scientific evidence based on a great body of studies: smoked meat is cancer-causing (also known as carcinogenic).

4. Bias, bias bias!

eric cartman leave GIF by South Park
[Image Description: A gif of Cartman being shooed away by his teacher because the scientific study did not go as planned.] via Giphy
Unfortunately, studies can never be perfect.

While most scientists would love to achieve optimal conditions to collect their data, the mere fact of being human in a world with financial and even political constraints bring some bias. Although biases are not always intentional, the essence of them is a particular outcome that the researcher may desire, which can be problematic when selecting a representative sample, for instance.  And it is not surprising, given that scientists and academics have the pressure to publish “positive” results in order to gain a reputation. That does not mean that you should completely throw away every study you read, but it is important to be aware.

Here’s a great guide to types of biases that can come up in studies.

5.  Read what other scientists and researchers are saying about the topic and research

investigating basketball wives GIF by VH1
[Image Description: A gif of a woman with her phone saying she will look something up.] via Giphy
Surprise, surprise. Scientists agree and disagree with each other.

It may be very easy to get caught up with that great talk you found on Youtube or on Ted that is making you feel starry-eyed. However, always consider alternative approaches to those, along with the criticisms. There is again nothing wrong with being optimistic about a new scientific idea. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make with information, in general, is to only seek information that confirms something they would like to believe. Which leads to the next point.

6.  Ask yourself when you are only Googling information to verify preexisting beliefs

neil degrasse tyson GIF
[Image Description: A gif of Neil Degrasse Tyson with the word science coming across the screen.] via Giphy
This is extremely dangerous. I REPEAT. Extremely dangerous. It is intellectually lazy, and to never let your ideas be challenged is in itself unscientific.  Science is filled with new discoveries, and new discoveries can either confirm old ones, expand on them, or make them irrelevant. The spirit of science is questioning, and this is what keeps scientists continually excited and in awe of the world we live in.

So, off you go as you read scientific news with a new eye and a critical lens!

Science Now + Beyond

Here’s why you’re not supposed to wear a bra, according to science

Hipsters, Kardashians, your closest friends — people are hanging up their bras these days. There have always been societal phases and styles that do not require bras, but it seems to me that there’s been a lot in media recently about going out au naturel.

So, why? What’s the big deal about bras?

Before the bra, we had the corset, and that’s not a style I would personally like to bring back. Cue flashback to Keira Knightley passing out in Pirates of the Caribbean. Anyway, in 1914, Mary Phelps Jacobs created the first widely used “backless brassiere.” Bras are worn to offer breasts support and minimize motion during exercise. Sounds good, right? Why would you not wear a bra?

Through a 15 year study, the French scientist, Jean-Denis Ruillon found that while bras have traditionally been thought of as preventing back pain and sagging breasts, bras do nothing to reduce pain and actually weaken muscles, causing breasts to sag more. His results are self-admittedly not definitive because he would need a larger sample size to come to a more serious conclusion. Rouillon also observed that for those women who do not wear a bra, their nipples were 7 millimeters higher per year toward the shoulder.

Moreover, Dr. Joanna Scurr found that wearing the wrong bra can damage breasts.

Physicians and researchers claim that tight-fitting bras block lymph drainage, which prevents the body from releasing all the toxins it needs to. This issue may contribute to the development of breast cancer. These tight-fitting bras might also be a factor in the emergence of benign, but painful breast cysts and lumps. Research has shown that women who wear bras 24 hours a day have a higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not.

Underwire bras are supposedly the most dangerous, though. The underwire is almost always made of metal coated in plastic. Below your breasts are two neurolymphatic reflex points associated the the liver, gallbladder, and stomach. When metal is constantly applied to any energy channel, after a while the stimulation becomes sedation and the channel no longer performs the functions it should.

If you are an adult who has worn a bra for years, to stop wearing a bra probably will not allow the benefits younger women might receive if they are to stop wearing the bra. It’s also worth discussing that many people dedicated to the #freethenipple movement don’t wear a bra either.

For many, not wearing a bra just feels more comfortable, sexier even.

Others might feel they need the support a bra to be comfortable. The right choice for you might not be the right choice for me and not everyone has to agree.

Ultimately, though, the most important factor in choosing a bra is to make sure it is the correct fit.

Science Now + Beyond

Doctors still don’t take women’s pain seriously, for one dangerous reason

We all know the symptoms of a heart attack, right? You’re probably thinking, “duh, chest and left arm pain.”

Turns out, that’s only true for men.

So even though heart attacks are just as common or even more common for women, most of us don’t even know the symptoms to look out for. Women tend to get upper back pain, nausea, or fatigue as symptoms of heart attack.

For some, this difference is deadly – for several reasons.

Not only is our pain not well-known as symptomatic of various sicknesses … but doctors ignore it or think we’re overreacting. And research suggests that this may be the case for other diseases, such as depression, as well.

Apart from differences in symptoms, the medical community doesn’t always do right by women in pain. Studies show that doctors are biased against women’s pain, and are likely to prescribe less pain medication. Because we’re women. But they are more likely to prescribe sedatives, because women are considered more anxious about procedures. While the intersection between physical and psychological pain is complex, and difficult to understand, prescribing sedatives in a situation where painkillers are required will leave a lot of women in pain. Even those who set out to study pain in men vs. women sometimes fail to reach conclusive results.

Then there’s the class of diseases and problems that apply only to women. Of course, many of these have to do with menstruation, like endometriosis or primary dysmenorrhea, or childbirth. Endometriosis is when tissue that lines the uterus starts to grow on other organs where it shouldn’t grow. The body doesn’t know how to react, so it scabs over this tissue, which can be incredibly painful. There is currently no known way to treat it permanently. Primary dysmenorrhea is the medical diagnosis for particularly painful periods.

But doctors can only speculate on what causes this disorder. And again, treatments usually focus on dulling the pain instead of ending it.

There is a general lack of knowledge about both of these conditions. Because when scientists do try to get funding to research diseases that affect women, they find it difficult to convince financiers that these issues deserve attention.

One thing that makes treating or curing women’s pain so difficult is the fact that women are underrepresented in studies. This happens, particularly in sports studies. In a controlled experiment, scientists should keep all the variables the same, but menstruation changes hormone levels in ways that are difficult to understand.

So many researchers will leave women out of sports trials, or test them at a point where their hormone levels are the same as a man. This starts a vicious cycle of not knowing how menstruation affects women, and then not studying them because of it, which leads to a lack of medical knowledge that doctors have on women.

So how do we fix this?

Women need to talk about it with each other and with medical professionals. We need to be the medical professionals who are listening to patients and doing the research. And we need to bring these issues to light and make it well-known. This may lead to more research, more funding, and a better understanding of the issues involved.

We deserve to live healthier, pain-free lives as women.  

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Tech Now + Beyond

Wait! Read this before you change your password again

Common computer wisdom recommends changing your passwords to various accounts frequently. Your office or college requires you to change your email password what seems like every 25 minutes, and every time it seems harder to figure out a new alternative.

But there’s a reason not to bother. Lorrie Cranor, the FTC’s chief technologist (how’s that for an awesome title?) says it’s probably not worth the trouble. In fact, she says, it may actually make it easier for hackers to break in.

And she’s not just saying it, either. Cranor’s got data from a few studies to back her up.

The logic behind changing your password frequently is based around a scenario where a hacker has somehow gotten into the system. In this case, changing passwords every three months or so would stop the hackers from having continued access to your account.

But there are a few problems with that logic before we even get to the changing passwords part. According to a study at UNC Chapel Hill, if a hacker gets access to your account, it’s entirely possible that they may do all of the damage they want to do right away by posting something incriminating or drastically changing your account. And as Cranor points out in a blog post, there’s also the scary possibility that the hacker might apply a key logger or other malware that allows them continued access to your account, even if you change the password.

But let’s assume for a minute that the hacker doesn’t do either of those two things, and just wants to hang on to their account access for as long as possible. There are still a lot of problems with how people tend to change their passwords when they are required to do so.

The real problem is that most people don’t bother to make their passwords unique. Instead, the study found that most people tend to change their passwords using something called transformations, which essentially means modifying an old password slightly, but not changing it completely. You know – turning MyfavoriteColor97! into MyfavoriteColor98!. We’ve all done it. The most common transformations include adding one to any numbers in the password, changing letters to special symbols, adding or removing special symbols that may already be in the password, or switching the order of numbers and special symbols if they appear together in a password. All of these changes either do not change the content of a password, or change it very logically.

Changes like this spare the users forgetting an entirely new password, or writing it down and risking someone else finding it. But the problem is that if a hacker knows your old password, and you change it only slightly, it’s very easy to figure out what your new password is. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that hackers often use electronic aids. Researchers found that in 17% of the (old, unused) university accounts that they studied, similar passwords allowed hackers to guess the current password based on knowledge of a past password.

If hackers are allowed to use an offline approach to cracking passwords (which allows them to take more guesses) they can guess the password of 41% of the accounts with related passwords within three seconds.

Yeah. Three seconds.


Another study at Carleton University showed statistically that changing passwords frequently just barely hinders attackers. But it causes much more inconvenience to the user, and to the database when users inevitably forget and request or change passwords. The study showed that changes by the system administrators to the hash — the pattern that the computer uses to scramble and then recognize passwords after they are entered — are actually more effective in preventing hackers, since one way that hackers can get in is stealing information about the hash.

So then when should you change your password, according to Cranor?

Change it when you believe that it has been hacked, or when you have to give it to someone, or even if you realize that it wasn’t very secure in the first place. Just be sure to change it to something unique.

Tech The World Now + Beyond

Could virtual reality change how we treat mental illness?

When many people think of virtual reality technology, the first thing that comes to mind may be the entertainment applications, or the ways that it will likely be used in advertising. But researchers studying many mental and physical disorders have also been investigating virtual reality treatment as a way to help treat conditions like paranoia, depression, fear of public speaking, and even burns.

In the case of burn victims, researchers have found a clever way of tricking the mind into believing that the body is not experiencing pain. Researchers from the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center say that burn victims experience near-constant pain, which is normally dulled with medications. But during routine treatment like bandage changing, morphine can’t even come close to control pain that’s often “severe to excruciating” — many patients report feeling as though they are reliving their burn experience.

Much of this perception of pain has to do with having the mental energy and conscious attention to devote to it, previous research has found. So they designed a virtual reality game called SnowWorld, filled with snowmen and snowball fights. This chilly VR world distracts patients from the routine care that can often be so excruciating, making it a mere annoyance as their focus shifts to exploring a whole new reality.

The idea of immersive VR for pain control has been around since at least the mid-1990s, according to UW. SnowWorld has been used since 2000 to treat young children, soldiers and other patients suffering burn wounds. The unexpectedly dramatic success rate — according to GQ, the time spent thinking about pain dropped from 76 percent to 22 percent when patients used it — led to the VR game spinning off into versions to treat patients suffering from both arachnophobia and PTSD related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And health care professionals around the country have integrated such games into their treatment as well.

To the uninitiated, that may sound cutting edge. But not for those in the know. “We’re still in the Stone Age of immersive virtual reality. The fact is, we don’t know all of the possibilities,” one of SnowWorld’s creators said back in 2007.

So what’s happened since then? A lot in the realm of treating mental illness, particularly.

Although less than 2% of the population suffers from paranoia, it be debilitating. The disorder can hinder people from leaving the house or interacting with others. A new trial done, published by the British Journal of Psychiatry, put patients through VR simulations — 30 minutes on a train or elevator — that they would normally find stressful. Some of the patients were asked to use their normal coping methods (such as avoiding eye contact), while others were instructed to examine the virtual avatars to see that they were not a threat.

At the end of the testing day, 50% of the patients who had approached others in the virtual world no longer had severe paranoia, and even 20% of those who were defensive in the virtual situation reported improvement. In some cases, this benefit even transferred over to real life interactions. More research needs to be done in this area, but early tests look promising.

At the University College London and ICREA-University of Barcelona, researchers have been treating depression with VR. One of the symptoms of depression is extreme self-criticism. Researchers were able to design a cool VR situation where patients comforted a crying child — only to have the situation flip around on them, so that they’re actually in the position of the child, and they were unknowingly comforting themselves.

Although the study only ran with 15 patients and only consisted of three eight-minute sessions, nine of those 15 patients reported fewer depressive symptoms a month later. And for four of those patients the treatment actually had a measurable impact on the clinical severity of their illness. Again, the study was too small to definitively prove anything, and other factors may have also contributed to the improvement. But the idea offers a glimmer of hope for those of us suffering from mental illness.

All of these VR treatments have been offered only in medical facilities. But there’s also the app VirtualSpeech, which works through Google Cardboard technology. VirtualSpeech aims to reduce another condition, the fear of public speaking, through virtual reality technology.

The app allows users to upload slide shows and choose between four different scenarios with audiences of varying sizes, from a small training room to a large conference room in order to practice speaking on virtual avatars. It also allows users to set various amounts of background noise to mimic real-life distractions.