Mindfulness apps can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but they can create a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. I know they’ve changed my life.
LONDON – There are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.
For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” – both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.
That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.
I came to mindfulness – and meditation – rather late in life. I am, by nature, someone who suffers from what New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik has characterized as “free-floating anxiety.” This basically means that I live my life in a more or less constant state of diffuse anxiety, such that no sooner does one worry leave – remembering to pay for my daughter’s flute lessons once the next pay check arrives…sorting out summer plans with my husband – the next one enters in – are the snails killing the small garden I just planted?…should I try for a promotion at work?…at what point in the English Spring do I store away the winter coats for good?.
I have a really hard time switching all of that off. Needless to say, I am also the “designated worrier” in my family, to employ Judith Shulevitz’s term of art to describe women who take it upon themselves to do the lion’s share of the worrying within and on behalf of the family.
And then a fellow “diffuse anxiety” friend popped into my email a couple of months ago with a potential solution to all this endless worry. Seemingly out of nowhere, she wrote to me and said, “I’ve got one word for you: Headspace. I spend 20 minutes on it every morning and it’s changed my life.” Headspace is one of the more popular mindfulness apps. When my friend shared her wisdom, it was as if I was Benjamin in the film The Graduate and she’d uttered the 21st century equivalent of “Plastics.”
I was skeptical at first. As long-time fan of talk therapy, I wasn’t sure that something which focused so much on breathing would really be a very good fit with my overly analytic mind. And let’s face it, the idea of sitting still for any period of time is anathema to someone who is on the go every day from about 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
But over the past year or so, I’d grown increasingly curious about mindfulness. I’d read all of the studies suggesting its putative benefits for the workplace, where mindfulness is used to reduce stress. I’d also heard that even elementary students can learn to self-regulate their emotions and improve their academic focus by building mindfulness into the curriculum from an early age. The growing evidence around the psychological benefits that stem from practicing mindfulness, including reducing depression more effectively than medication and enhancing empathy intrigued me.
I suppose I could have signed up for a course and learned to practice mindfulness with others, much like I do yoga. But I decided that doing it on an app would be infinitely better for me. For starters, I lead a highly peripatetic life right now. I live in South London, work in West London and have two kids who attend schools in North and East London. So I really need a version of self-help that doesn’t require me to be anywhere at a fixed time, but instead can mold to my schedule.
I also really like the DIY nature of mindfulness apps. Sure, there’s a guy or a lady on the other end of the app guiding you through each exercise, but there’s something about sitting down and choosing to turn on the app that feels like I’m making a conscious choice to improve my life on my own terms. And finally, I’ll be honest, I’m a naturally curious person and I like trying new things, whether it’s coloring books as therapy or meditation.
I’ve been at mindfulness for about a month now and so far, so good. I usually find my quiet space around 6:15 a.m. right after I empty the dishwasher and right before I do my stretches. (Have I mentioned that I’m getting old?) My husband has been very supportive. My 11-year-old daughter is also in favor of anything that makes me less “stressy,” as she calls it. Only my very adolescent 14-year-old son seems skeptical. He happened upon me one morning mid-app and did a massive eye roll.
But I’m not concerned. Someday he won’t be 14 anymore…he’ll be 44. And at that point, three decades from now, I’m fairly certain he’ll get it.
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.
Image via JohnHain at Pixabay