After the Headspace Productivity Pack, I decided to follow it with the Headspace Anxiety Pack for the full 30 days to see how they approached anxiety and what insights could be learned.
I have a couple of years of experience with meditation and mindfulness-based therapies, so I wasn’t coming at this entirely from a beginner perspective.
But this experience helps me objectively see if Headspace has anything new to offer in the realm of anxiety, or if they are well-aligned with existing meditations for anxiety, which have indeed worked very well.
To ensure I gave the pack my full attention I generally chose the longest 20-minute meditations each morning, although a couple was cut short to 15-minutes when I was a little short of time but still wanted to practice that day.
What is the Headspace Anxiety Pack?
While most people new to meditation or dealing with anxiety will want to know does the Headspace Anxiety Pack teach you how to get rid of anxiety, it’s important to remember that no meditation has the goal of getting rid of anxiety, or any other emotions for that matter.
Instead, the anxiety pack aims to teach you how to have a different relationship with anxiety. After all, we all need anxiety and to get rid of it completely would mean to become a different species.
Anxiety has and always will be our threat system, and that in itself is by no means a curse or a problem. It’s actually something we should embrace for our own existence sake.
The problem, however, is how we react to anxiety. Whether it be reacting to an anxious thought or an anxious feeling, we want to respond in a gentle, non-judgemental manner with some distance.
There is no “I am anxious.”, it is simply “Thinking” or “Feeling”.
How does the Headspace Anxiety Pack Work?
The anxiety pack is a series of guided meditations for anxiety over the course of 30 days. Each of these 30 days is split up into three separate practices. So it is actually like 10 days at level 1. 10 days at level 2 and lastly, 10 days at level 3.
The first 10 days consist of a single “noting” skill. The goal is to simply observe the breath, and when you notice yourself losing focus of the breath, generally distracted by thinking or feelings (sensations), you note these as “Ah, thinking” and then bring your focus back to the breath.
If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. But that is not to say that you won’t get distracted because you will, just as I will, just as everybody will. That’s how the mind works and it’s completely normal.
The next 10 days add another layer of noting to the practice, keep in mind each layer is always optional. This layer expands on “thinking”, with assigning a “positive” or “negative” category to the thought.
Just as before, you then go back to simply focusing on the breath.
And finally, the last 10 days adds a third, optional layer of noting to the practice where you label the emotion such as “fear”, “sadness” or anything else that comes to mind.
Now while all of this sounds very simple, you might be wondering how does this possibly help me with a social anxiety disorder, or general anxiety disorder, or even panic disorder?
Well, each of these forms of anxiety is usually re-enforced by habits. They all generally start with a trigger, which in itself is not the problem. Instead, it is how we react or respond to the trigger that starts the anxiety loop.
So by changing how we respond, instead of reacting to triggers such as “thoughts” or “feelings”, we can change the outcome. Stop the loop before the loop starts and gains momentum.
This is, in effect how we are changing our relationship with anxiety. We are no longer running from it or fearing it, instead, we are simply acting as an impartial observer looking at the facts from a distance.
“Ah, thinking” or “Ah, feeling” are simply observations of what is happening at this very moment. The thoughts or sensations we are feeling have no deeper darker meaning, they are just things occurring in our human experience.
I actually had good first-hand experience at around day 24 of the pack, entering the hospital for jaw surgery which would be followed up with the first day in the ICU, and a second day in the ward.
I would wake up with bands holding my top and bottom teeth together unable to open my mouth more than a few millimetres. These would remain for approximately 6-weeks and are still on as I finish this review, with limited speech, some pain, and a liquid diet only.
Now anyone having experienced general anxiety disorder would know these are prime conditions for setting the mind off into a spiral of worry before the event, and possibly panic after the event.
However, being in the routine of using Headspace for anxiety 3-weeks prior to the event, I approached the surgery with minor worry and an overall calmness of attitude with the goal to simply be an observing passenger along for the ride.
Waking up in the ICU, albeit with IV medication I was completely awake and conscious and quite often during the first day found myself dropping back into my meditation practice, simply focusing on the breath while observing the happenings around me with curiosity.
If you are looking for life-long skills, I believe the Headspace for Anxiety pack offers great insight and practice well aligned with other mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy techniques.
I have first-hand experience with these techniques, and while they are not quick fixes, and they won’t “get rid of anxiety”, they will in time allow you to change your experience with anxiety to that which is more pleasant.
Furthermore, while the pack is aimed at anxiety, these same techniques work for all emotions be it fear, anger, frustration or anything else.
By making these practices part of your life, in time you will start to notice small and subtle changes in all aspects.
Emotional intelligence will grow, and relationships with family, friends, coworkers, your children and partner will start to shift.
It won’t happen overnight, and it takes time and dedication to practice but by incorporating the techniques from practice into your daily life I believe ones suffering can greatly be reduced.
If you haven’t done so yet, also check out the full Headspace app review.