Headspace Was My Saviour, Then My Crutch

I started using Headspace a few years ago. For those uninitiated in the growing frenzy of meditation and calming apps, Headspace is an app that helps both beginners and experts meditate, and aids in achieving a semblance of tranquillity for troubled minds. If you type in ‘Headspace app’ on Google, here’s what it throws up: “With all you’re adding to your Cart, Start with Adding Less Stress with Headspace.” 

From the very beginning, meditation had always been something I had heard of on the fringes of my schooling, my growing-up period. Initially, I had been enticed by all the benefits it extolled – better memory, agility of the mind, stronger problem-solving capabilities etc. But when I finally and seriously picked up meditation in my mid-twenties, I was looking for that most elusive benefit of all – peace, and relief from constant worry. Adulting is hard, and if mental health as a concept is something you’ve never even heard of, it can be terrifying.

By this point, I had been on the receiving end of a few fluctuating and never-quite-satisfying relationships, been confronted with the world of jobs, PF accounts, tax returns, and futile dermatologist visits to fix stubborn acne. All this combined to make my mind a nest of instant gratification, self-esteem that had the consistency of jelly and a barrage of anxiety. I had developed a concerning habit of getting severe headaches, not to mention nerve pain that kissed the inside of my cheekbones, trailing its way along my jawline. Sometimes, when it got bored of scoring my face, my upper arms – just for fun.

One frantic visit to the ER in the early hours of the morning netted me only an injection of a mild painkiller I could have easily taken at home, and a pat on my head by an on-call doctor who said, “Beta, what is causing you stress? This usually happens because of stress.

My dad, who had very kindly driven me there, looked at him and then at me, and asked me what was going on. I just shook my head and said, “I don’t know. 

But the fact of the matter was that I did know. I just didn’t know what to do about it.

Headspace, and other such apps of its ilk, offer a tonne for those who have trouble shaking off worry and stress. There are convenient three-minute meditations for your commute home, for Friday evenings before you start your weekend, for those coffee breaks in the middle of your workday, for dealing with pain, loss, and of course, for breakups. They have eerily comforting graphics that can help you deal with even the most stubborn form of anxiety. Oddly shaped clouds, cute little brain graphics, sunshine, ocean waves, and more. And I held on to all of these with the desperation of one drowning. 

It’s been nearly five years to that day now. Every year, I happily pay the not-insubstantial annual subscription fee. I see it as an investment in me, for the most essential part of my life – my mental health.

But something that has helped you so much can easily become a crutch. Had a bad day at work? Use the ‘Stressed’ pack. Woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night and can’t stop shaking? Press the ‘Go back to sleep’ button.  

I don’t use Headspace every minute of every day, but sometimes it feels like that. And it always catches up to you. I noticed that I would go into a flurry of worry every time it asked me to log in again, and the promptly refused to do so even after entering the right password. As with all technology, there were snags. Sometimes, it didn’t work. Sometimes, I couldn’t get my fix. And on those days, on top of my stress, I also had the stress of not having Headspace to fall back on.

In fact, studies have indicated that such meditation practices could be associated with adverse medical and mental health effects, including instances of anxiety and depression.

Bit by bit, I learned that my mental health is my burden to carry. That it’s important to note that these apps are merely tools in my arsenal to keep sane. Most significantly, such apps should never be considered or utilised as a substitute for competent therapy. They might help but could never take the place of a therapist. The trick might just be to identify several different healthy outlets that can act as support harnesses and to keep coming back to them. Journaling, music, reading and yoga – such methods can be just as effective as long as we remember that we ourselves are the best tool of them all.

Maybe what such apps are enabling us to do is to sit with ourselves for ten minutes. Just sit and listen to our minds. Take stock and feel how our body rests. Listen to ourselves, so our mind doesn’t need to scream to get our attention.

But maybe it’s good to not turn to an app all the time. Take those moments of slippery anxiety, that crushing blow when something you want slips away. It’s okay. You’re alive. You’re supposed to feel both pain and joy. As my favourite comfort author Matt Haig goes on to emphasise: “You have felt other things before, and you will feel other things again.

Mehar Luthra is a 28-year-old coffeeholic currently living in the always-rainy town of Galway, Ireland. Not nearly as anxious anymore. Survives on pancakes and will work for Nutella.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty