When I tell you that the app which (truly) changed my life is a “meditation” app… you may immediately envision your high school art teacher who wore paisley harem pants and smelled like something you now suspect wasn’t actually incense. Ha! Before you click off the page and conclude that this post isn’t for you… please, hear me out. Despite its hippie, New Age connotations, there is actually piles of scientific literature devoted to the very real health benefits of meditation. But before we even get into that, let’s talk about why I downloaded this app in the first place…
Back in November, I sought counselling after a decade of dealing with severe anxiety and more recently – panic attacks. My body’s “fight or flight” response has been out of whack ever since experiencing trauma as a child (if you didn’t read my post on this last week, you can find it by clicking here). Due to this, I’ve always felt overly anxious compared to the people around me – like a bit of an emotional boom box, where the volume is always turned up too loud. I *now* know that whatever thoughts you dwell on (good or bad), grow. So as I grew older and focused more and more on the anxious thoughts, the anxiety grew with me. Until eventually, last year it all became too much and I walked into my GP’s office in tears and said: “I think I need help”. (Side note: That was one of the scariest, yet best decisions I have ever made.)
So counselling began. After hashing over childhood issues, it was in my second session that my counsellor, Kirsty, recommended mindfulness – a type of meditation. Broadly speaking, meditation falls into two categories: mindfulness meditation and concentrative meditation. You’re likely most familiar with the latter – concentrative meditation, in which you concentrate (get it?) on a particular thing or phrase (eg. “OMMM”). Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is more passive: you allow thoughts and sensations to arise, and then let them gently drift away. At first not only was I sure I’d suck at mindfulness, I also thought it was some kind of hippie nonsense that wouldn’t help me at all. That being said, I was so desperate to overcome my anxiety, I didn’t really have a choice. I’d try anything once. And so I did.
Kirsty recommended I look up “Mindfulness Apps” on my phone, and voila – I found Headspace. I must be late to the party as I discovered it’s been out for a while, with 8.5 million active users and numerous celebs already on the bandwagon, such as Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Richard Branson. If like me, you’ve been living under a rock, you’re gonna want to get out from under it ASAP. Headspace is basically a gym membership for your mind AND you get your own personal trainer: Andy. Andy Puddicombe is the founder of the app – a middle-aged bloke from Bristol, UK. In his twenties, he ditched uni, travelled to the Himalayas and studied meditation instead. He then became a Buddhist monk and later did a degree in Circus Arts before developing the Headspace app (I can’t be the only one impressed and intrigued by this guy!). The Times has written that Puddicombe is “doing for meditation what someone like Jamie Oliver has done for food.” Amazing!
I downloaded the app and started with the free 10-day challenge. 10 minutes of meditation a day, for 10 consecutive days. Andy walks you through every session (with his soothing English-accented voice), explaining what you should be doing and helping you through any difficulties that may arise. The first few sessions I definitely found difficult – I struggled to stop my mind from wandering and found focusing on my breathing so boring. But I pushed through the ten days. It got easier. And by the final day, I was hooked. Before I started using the app, I was having horrific panic attacks – where I genuinely believed I was dying – 5+ times a week. But in just the first week of doing Headspace, I had only two. I was sold! So, I grabbed my credit card and willingly paid my new BFF, Andy, about $18 for a months subscription. Potentially the best money I’ve ever spent.
A month turned two, then three… and eventually I just paid for an annual membership. It’s now six months since I started using Headspace (almost daily) and my panic attacks are almost a thing of the past – occurring on average, once a month and being far less intense than they were before. If I go a few days without using the app, I can feel the anxiety rising in my body again, compared to the sensation of deep calm on the weeks when I manage to meditate more days than not. But in general, my mood has settled towards a comfortable baseline and my body feels lighter. I’m much more aware of my thoughts and emotions, and (with a few exceptions) I’ve been much calmer and more collected in times of stress. Don’t just take my word for it, though – a quick google search will show how science has proven many brain health benefits from practising mindfulness, and how people tending toward anxiety can find it especially beneficial. Mindfulness meditation actually helps to change your brain and reset your inflammation response.
Meditation allows you to come to terms with your past so that you can live in the present, be here and enjoy what is right here, right now. A daily ten-minute practice of mindfulness meditation can be an act of mental hygiene that dramatically down-regulates your stress response. – Donna Nakazawa, Award-winning Science Journalist
The proof is in the pudding! And if you hadn’t already guessed – this sceptic is now 100% a meditation convert. And I think you should be too! I promise you, making mindfulness a part of your daily routine… will bring you a happier, healthier, more enjoyable (and far less anxious) life! It truly has changed mine.
If you’d like to chat more about meditation or if have any questions for me, please feel free to leave me a comment down below, or send me a private message via the “Contact” page.
Until next week!