So, before I start gushing about my new favorite web and mobile health app, let’s get something straight. One in five women will develop depression at some point in their life, and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country — with women twice as likely to be affected as men. Additionally, antidepressant use in the United States rose by 400% between 1998 and 2008.
Are doctors over-prescribing antidepressants? Maybe, maybe not. As my doctor told me when we discussed my relentless fatigue and its related anxiety, before medication became available, a lot of people simply went untreated. (Jane Eyre, anyone?) For many people, especially older adults and those with severe symptoms, medication reduces symptoms and prevents relapse. It allows people to live normal lives. It can save lives.
So I’m totally not anti-drugs. You have bronchitis? Drugs make you stop coughing up green goop. You have clinical depression or panic disorder? Drugs can get you back to your family and work again. No stigma, boss.
Is there a treatment for anxiety that’s more effective than placebo, but lacks the negative side effects of SSRI medications? How about a treatment with badges, achievements, cute animations, and buddy sharing?
Why yes! Yes, my friends, there is. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but for someone like me, the mindfulness meditation app Headspace is totally the bees knees.
(And I’m totally not saying that because the voice of Headspace, Andrew Puddicombe, kinda looks and sounds like Solas from Dragon Age: Inquisition. You know, if you squint. And don’t know a lot about different British accents.)
While I’ve been busy playing video games and kicking stuff at MMA, Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk with a degree in Circus Arts, has quickly become the face of mindfulness meditation. He’s juggled on-stage at TED and recorded many, many hours of audio meditations for the app he co-founded with Rich Pierson*.
*Incidentally, why doesn’t Pierson have his own Wikipedia page? Dafuq?
As Pierson explained in an interview with WIRED UK:
“Andy’s a massive part of it just because he’s a proper expert and you can’t fake that — it comes across in the teaching,” Puddicombe’s business partner and Headspace co-founder Rich Pierson tells Wired.co.uk. “So often when people are given guided audio of any description, it can feel quite rehearsed, but because he does it straight off the bat and does it from his experience, it’s really subtle, and that’s what keeps people coming back. That and the quality of the content and the fact that it works.”
“This is a guy who went and sat on his backside 18 hours a day for 10 years. If you’re using the 10,000-hour thing, he’s done that and more,” he added to Fast Company.
I’ve tried meditating once or twice in the past, but with no guidance and poor preconceptions about what meditation actually is, I simply couldn’t keep it up. It was boring and uncomfortable and frustrating. Every time I would listen to Chris Kresser describe the benefits of meditation on his website or podcast, I’d wish I knew where to start. I’ve had the meditation book Kresser recommends, Buddha in Blue Jeans, on my Kindle for months and still haven’t gotten past the second page.
Today I’m scheduled to complete my tenth and final session of Headspace’s free intro program, called Take 10, which consists of ten 10-minute guided meditations. Not only have I stuck with it — I really, really like it.
After I figured out that I have to do it in the morning so I don’t fall asleep mid-session, I immediately started to feel… better. A little less frazzled. More resilient. More relaxed. Now that a week has passed, unbelievably, 10 minutes a day is actually starting to feel too short. I guess that’s why, after you complete the intro program, you unlock the next foundation program (part of their pro subscription), which works you up to 15-minute sessions, and then eventually to 20-minute sessions in their final foundation program.
Even though clinical research tends to see drastic effects in the brain after many hours of meditation, you can definitely feel benefits from it after as short as one total hour (six 10-minute sessions over the course of a single week). And ten minutes isn’t that much of a time sink; I waste exponentially more time than that on Tumblr. I’m pretty intrigued to see what unfolds for me personally as I rack up even more meditation minutes.
Maybe I’ve really been able to commit to meditation because my doctor told me I have to address my anxiety in order to address my fatigue. Maybe the streak counter and badges and color scheme and videos appeal to my hipster side.
And maybe this is just one component of a lifestyle change (vitamin D, getting to bed earlier, cutting off screen time earlier in the evening, supplementing with magnesium) that’s having a positive compound effect on my well-being.
Either way, I’m definitely going to stick with Headspace. And a pro tip: If you decide to check it out yourself, after you complete your seventh Take 10 session, you should see a coupon in your inbox for a two-month discount off of the yearly subscription. (Although the Take 10 program is always free.) That puts Headspace in a similar cost ballpark as Amazon Prime or Pandora. I certainly didn’t know I couldn’t live without free two-day shipping before I tried it — and I’m starting to see that it’s the same with mindfulness training.
What do you do to unwind, cope with stress and be a better person? What’s your meditation?