I have no doubt that you’ve heard of Headspace by now. You know the lovely, peaceful ads that sit in between your video-binge of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube? There you go.
The mindfulness movement
Meditation and mindfulness are by no means a new phenomenon, long-existing in religions such as Buddhism. However, whilst meditation existed in the realms of the spiritual and Godly, Headspace has grabbed hold of the core values involved and brought them to the attention of the mainstream. The brainchild of entrepreneur Richard Pierson and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, Headspace is a guided meditation app with the simple aim of helping you manage your own thoughts more effectively, using a range of simple but highly effective techniques. In a similar fashion to the way you might go about training for a marathon, Headspace’s guided meditation packs are designed to gradually help you gain extra control over your thoughts and make you more mindful and aware of the ‘you’ inside your brain.
Where it all began for me
I started using Headspace on their trial plan back in 2014 when I’d just started working and my friends had all gone to Uni. I was struggling with an intense jealously, watching Snapchat stories of drinking booze and dancing to pounding bass under bright strobe lights, whilst I was stuck pouring pints for alcoholics at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. That jealously slowly turned into a deep and lonely sadness, stuck in my home town whilst my friends lived it up large.
Finding the Headspace trial at the time was absolutely priceless. Investing a small amount of time a day where I thought about nothing worked like a magic charm to help control the darker thoughts running in my mind. I’m sure Andy would be able to delineate more effectively exactly what it is that changes in our heads when we learn to accept negative thoughts but, from my perspective, just finding out that I did have control over my mental states was a source of great comfort. I no longer had to be concerned about feeling sad or even angry at my situation because I knew that, if I did feel those sensations, a deep breath would remind me to find the present moment and rationalise those feelings. It isn’t about trying to block out those thoughts, as Andy goes to lengths to explain to you during the sessions, but more about accepting them for what they are. For me, that was an incredible sense of freedom, knowing that I could help myself if things felt like they were getting too rough.
Increasing the quantity
After a couple of years of casually using Headspace whilst at Uni myself, I began experiencing periods of anxiety, particularly relating to my assignments and workload. I decided to increase my Headspace usage, pushing myself to find 5 or 10 minutes a day to be alone with my thoughts. I ended up building to a run-streak on the app of nearly 300 days and, for the most part, it was great. If I used Headspace when I was feeling especially worried about an assignment, I was again able to control those thoughts and get back to work.
There was a downside, though: that run-streak record started to make me feel anxious about keeping it going. It was as if having a quantifiable record of my progress was putting me under pressure to meditate and, as Andy says in many of the sessions, it’s all about our intentions. Suddenly, my motivation was about making a ticker click over, rather than improving my mental health.
Finding a balance
Breaking that lengthy run streak was important for me. I’m not saying that Headspace encourages too much meditation; in fact, I think the more you do, the better. What I am saying is that it’s possible to treat it like exercise, going out of your way to do something good for your mind and body a few times a week without pushing too hard and ruining your love for it. For me, that’s been the best way to work on my mental wellbeing, avoiding unnecessary pressures that turn it into a chore and, instead, turning those 10 minutes into a relaxing paradise. When I’m meditating regularly, I feel more present during the day, I sleep better at night and I’m more able to prioritise and be creative when my workload becomes greater.