By Heather Haase
It was 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night. I had been sitting alone at the desk in my room for hours, hunched over my laptop with a curve in my spine that would compel any grandmother who saw me to stop in her tracks and scold me to sit up straight.
I had four classes scheduled for the following day, with hours of homework assigned for each. I was attempting to read one of the many PDFs tabbed on Adobe Acrobat, but the words kept waltzing across the page.
I could feel my heart trying harder and harder to double-bounce the rest of my body off a trampoline. The tiny blonde hairs on my arms were all standing at attention, with beads of cold sweat traveling circuitously around them as if it were an obstacle course.
My thoughts were meteors showering across my brain, bouncing off the interior surface of my skull, occasionally bumping into one another on their tangential path.
This was my second panic attack of the semester, and I still hadn’t made it through the first full week of classes.
I found myself questioning for the umpteenth time whether I was actually cut out for the real world post-graduation, when my phone buzzed. I flipped my phone over hoping it was one of my friends asking me to get coffee so I could have a “legitimate” excuse to leave my desk. However, the notification didn’t come from another person — it came from a robot. Next to an orange icon it wrote: “Get some Headspace.”
Headspace is a meditation app one of my coworkers told me to download a few months ago when I was struggling with my sleep schedule. It comes loaded with curated playlists designed to help with stress, focus, anxiety and, what was most relevant to me at the time, sleep.
The most appealing part about the program is that the user can choose how long they want to meditate, and the guided message will be adjusted accordingly. When I first downloaded the app I started with three minute increments, gradually building myself up to 10 to 20-minute sessions. I ended up using it every day during the summer, and found over time it helped me get better sleep.
But when I went moved back to the College without my 9 to 5 work schedule, my entire routine changed. Between figuring out how to balance my new class and work schedule, going on vacation over Labor Day weekend and meeting up with friends late at night, all of my healthy habits were pushed aside, including my evening meditation. Headspace sends me notifications every day, but over the past week I’ve ignored all of them.
In that moment of panic, I knew I had to do something to break the cycle of consternation. I took a deep breath, sat back in my chair, and opened the app. I scrolled to a three-minute session titled “Panicking” and let a friendly, familiar voice talk me down. After the session ended my mind started to become re-centered, but my heart rate was still elevated, so I repeated the same program.
By the end of the second meditation I felt at ease, ready to tackle each assignment. Looking back, those six minutes were infinitely more productive than the past four hours spent switching between tabs on my computer.
Meditation has an array of benefits, including decreased depression and anxiety, improved ability to focus and increased retention of information. Studies have shown that meditation may actually lower the risk of contracting an inflammatory disease, according to the Biological Psychiatry Journal.
If you want to try meditating with other people, the College also has free resources on campus through the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion, including weekly 30-minute drop-in meditation sessions and more structured nine-week non-credit mindfulness courses.
To those who are new to meditation, I must inform you it will likely take you some substantial practice before a six-minute session will calm you down from a full-fledged panic attack.
I can personally attest that if you put the work in now, meditation will save you a lot of time and stress in the future.
If you are struggling with anxious feelings, reach out to the College’s Counseling and Psychological Services at 609-771-2247.