Life just seems to keep getting faster; faster phones, faster computers, faster service, faster communication. Western culture, in particular, is preoccupied with speed and stimulation. For proof, you need only look to popular movies of now compared to 50 years ago. If you’ve seen any of the Marvel superhero movies, you will know what I mean when I say that filmmakers are worried about boring their viewers and keep the action moving at a fast pace. There have to be constant explosions, sudden appearances by villains, or unexpected deaths to keep people entertained. Yet, if we look back to one of the greatest films in cinema history, Citizen Kane, we will find no such pandering. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight takes a similar approach by focusing on characters and theme and the art of cinematography, and it suffered for it with modern audiences who saw the opening as too long, and the first three acts as wholly disconnected from the fast-paced climax and finale.
No breaks in a fast world
As a high school teacher, I see the same trend in my classrooms as students are literally addicted to their technology. This is to the point that any downtime is immediately filled by going on their phones to scroll through Instagram, watch YouTube videos, or play the latest games. So, what is the result of this hyperstimulation coming as a result of the conveniences and trends of the Information Age? Well, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, social media abuse, at the very least, is connected to increased risk for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Even seemingly harmless multi-tasking, like watching Netflix while playing a game on your smartphone, can contribute to increased stress because of how it taxes the brain’s processing centers.
What can we do, then, to combat this harmful trend? According to the founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, we all just need to slow down and get a little more headspace. And the research says he’s right. Headspace funds research into its own efficacy, and while that is usually a dubious enterprise, I found a series of independent studies that support their findings (which I will link to at the end of the article if you’re interested). Studies have shown that just 10 days of meditation with Headspace reduced stress by up to 14% and irritability by 27%. Consistent and committed mediation increases self-compassion decreases aggression and improves focus and productivity. Who wouldn’t want those benefits?
How does the Headspace app work?
Here’s how Headspace works; there is a collection of meditations to choose from on a variety of topics which you are encouraged to explore at least once a day. Andy calls this the “Headspace journey.” Ideally, you start by going through the first “Basics” pack, which is a series of 10 meditations that introduce you to the idea of sitting still for between 3 and 20 minutes a day and letting go of invasive thoughts. There is a misconception that to do this you need to fight having any thoughts at all during meditation and the way to calm your mind is to control it and ignore everything. This, as Andy reminds you during all of the sessions, is not the way to go. Instead, the goal is to acknowledge distractions and invasive thoughts and then just bring the attention back to the body or breath. It’s not about ignoring thoughts so much as focusing them somewhere else.
Sometimes you don’t have time to sit down for that long, so there are also “mini” sessions you can do like 1 minute of guided breathing or a 2-minute focus exercise. Maybe you don’t want to sit at all and would prefer to do some focusing while you walk from work to the bus stop. In that case, there is a session for that as well.! There are singles for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or about to lose your temper, and there are entire packs on themes like dealing with change, depression and anxiety, acceptance, and managing things like stress and restlessness. Headspace tracks your journey so you can see how long you meditated every day, which sessions you followed, and it also counts your streaks and congratulates you when you reach milestones like 10 or 15 days in a row. There aren’t any points or unlockable prizes, though, because that’s not the point; the point is to be proud of your commitment to taking care of yourself!
About 2 weeks into my Headspace journey, I had a terrible day at work as a teacher. I won’t go into details, but it was one bad thing after another from kids being disrespectful to getting some bad news to general stress. I went for a walk at lunch and used the “Walking through Nature” single to try and ground myself to get through the rest of my day. As a depressed perfectionist, days like that would typically reduce me to panic attacks and tears, but that didn’t happen. As I was walking to my car, I had a sudden realization that even though I was stressed and anxious, I didn’t feel like my world was caving in on me. I actually felt like I could get through it like I was strong enough to make it home, cook dinner, and come in the next day without having to convince myself to get out of bed. This was a new feeling for me, and a powerful one, and I knew that Headspace helped get me there.
So, to answer the question, “Is it worth it?” I say, yes, absolutely. At the very least do the free trial and decide for yourself. Technology is taking over our lives more and more and what Headspace does is help you combat this trend by turning your phone into a positive refuge and not just something you pull out to pass the time with mindless scrolling. Technology should help improve our lives, not take them over, and Headspace is helping fight the good fight for this shift.
YouTube: Headspace | Meditation | Brilliant things happen in calm minds
Photo credit: The feature image “woman sitting by the pond” was taken by Tú Anh. The screenshots were done in the Headspace app and the photo of Andy Puddicombe was part of the Headspace press kit.
Source: Headspace research material / Canadian Mental Health Association in Ontario (CMHA) article / Josette Palumbo (Pathways to Counseling) / Wikipedia / National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, US, article 1, 2, 3, 4