Creating (Head)space

I have a tendency to reject the trendy. I keep eating gluten no matter what they tell me. I scoff at the prices of green juices and acai bowls. When I was asked to try meditating using the iPhone application Headspace, I clenched my jaw and hesitantly agreed. I’d tried just about everything to feel less anxious and overwhelmed- working out, drinking excess amounts of tea, and even going to yoga. They were all great in the moment, but nothing seemed to work long term. But if I’d tried everything else, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give meditating a shot as well.

Headspace helps people learn to meditate with a series of ten guided sessions. The goal is to develop an awareness and understanding of the mind and our relationship with the world around us. Studies show that meditation can be effective in reducing the routine stress of healthy populations, as well as clinical populations suffering from anxiety, depression, insomnia, cancer, and chronic pain. Headspace aims to use science to understand and increase the dose-response benefits of meditation- benefits that I didn’t believe, until I tried it myself.

Days one through four were difficult, but rewarding. My south-quad single, which shares one wall with a hand dryer and one with a rambunctious set of RAs, wasn’t the ideal place to clear my mind. Listening to toilets constantly flushing and the soothing voice of a British man can be quite difficult to do simultaneously. As I sat in my bed, panicked about when the noise in the hall was going to stop, if we were going to have a pop quiz in psych tomorrow, and a million other things, I tried to just listen to the British man- “breathe in, and breathe out.”

By day six I had gotten pretty good. I breathed deeply in and out, counting from one to ten again and again. I was instructed to listen to the sounds around me- the hand dryer, my social RAs, the girl down the hall who loves to open and close her door. The noises never went away, but gradually, my ability to tune them out improved. Being aware of what was going on around me helped me to accept my circumstances as such. Once I acknowledged the noise and recognized my ability to be calm in spite of it, I was able to do the same with my nightly worries. The British man then asked me to allow my thoughts to come into my head. They came rushing back the second I opened the floodgates- the stress, the nerves, the worries. But those too became background noise. In the face of all that was stressing me out, I breathed in, and I breathed out- and I felt better.

Every session, the British man kept saying the days. This made me feel like I was on a journey, and that in some way, I was being held accountable by the man in my phone. After day 6, I got an email with the subject line “we’re pretty impressed right now.” This sense of support and improvement kept me coming back day after day. Every night, I looked forward to lying in bed alone with my thoughts. My sleep was deeper, I would wake up feeling more refreshed, and I wasn’t as anxious day to day. I could go for a run without hyperventilating and look at my assignment book without paralyzing fear. Of course feelings of anxiety still existed, but they weren’t nearly as crippling.

The point of mindfulness isn’t to learn how to ignore your thoughts completely. Rather the goal is to accept the fact that you have so much going on inside your head, but to approach it in a calmer manner. The British guy used a great analogy- imagine yourself sitting on a park bench watching the traffic go by. There’s a lot of noise and movement, a lot of honking and aggression. You don’t need to get all the noise to stop, nor do you need to chase down each car one by one. Instead, learn to look at the traffic and not worry. Don’t let the cars stress you out. Headspace, in ten days, has already taught me to do so. I’m a stubborn, pessimistic teenage girl who often gives up without a fair trial. Nevertheless, Headspace kept me coming back, and even kept me happier. With a little bit of patience and a lot of guidance, I was able to do what I didn’t think was possible: relax.