Health

Can a mindfulness app reduce your stress level? I gave it a try.

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How ironic: I’m supposed to be writing about stress, but it’s not going well because I’m just too stressed out. Someone helpfully suggests that I try a meditation app for myself and write about it.

Day 1. The timing’s perfect for a little mindfulness challenge because I’m really stressed out – it is Monday, after all. That usually means that I have to work and leave my husband in charge of our eight-month-old son, but he’s lying in hospital, pumped full of painkillers after an accident at work, so I’ve hastily organized a nanny. Our boy’s well acquainted with her, but it’s still not working out. His screaming’s drowning out the music playing through my headphones. I have a love/hate relationship with my home office, and today it feels more like hate.

Meditating on thankfulness

Somehow, we all get through the day. I shut down my computer at half past six. I’m not finished, but it doesn’t matter. Between my office chair and the sofa, eating and feeding, I download the MyLife meditation app to my phone. MyLife was rated best in the independent test by the ZHAW. Since I wouldn’t have had the time to assess dozens of meditation apps for myself, I was more than happy to let the ZHAW’s findings guide my choice. The app asks how I’m feeling right now (physically, mentally, emotionally). So, how am I feeling? After a hectic day, just stopping to think about that gives me a tiny moment of peace, and that in itself feels good. The app suggests a five-minute meditation centering on thankfulness, which I finally get around to at 11.26 in the evening. The lady speaking the instructions doesn’t leave long enough pauses for my liking, but she does help me to unwind and go to bed in a positive frame of mind. 

Day 2 gets off to a better start. I’m not working today, and my husband’s coming back home. I find time in the afternoon for a meditation session on the subject of sensory perception. Yesterday, I found it annoying that the app asked me how I was feeling both before and after the session. Now I don’t mind so much because I’ve realized that it genuinely relaxed me. In the evening, as I’m nursing my son to sleep, I think about what I’m thankful for. Life’s good! I don’t care how many times I get woken up tonight.

Breathing exercises

Day 3 is another workday. This time, Grandma and Daddy, who’s not exactly in great shape, are on hand to look after the little one. There’s even more screaming than usual today. It doesn’t get quite as bad as it was the day before yesterday, but it still gives me a headache. Once again, it’s almost seven o’clock by the time I finish work. Despite all the noise from the baby, I stay in my office for three minutes of mindful breathing exercises. I freely admit that I’ve always chosen the shortest meditation option so far for purely practical reasons. Now I find myself thinking that I’d really like to spend a little longer keeping still and just BREATHING. Tomorrow. I’ll allow myself five minutes tomorrow. Or maybe seven. I’m looking forward to it already.

Self-induced stress

Day 4. Oh well. My good intentions come to nothing because I’m busy all day long. It’s my own fault for deciding to rustle up a quick ten kilos of apple sauce in the middle of all my deadlines. During a feeding break, I remember yesterday’s exercise and try a few minutes of mindful breathing. It works for a while, then my mind starts drifting back to my long to-do list...

Day 5. A packed schedule again today. At some point, the MyLife app sends me a friendly reminder e-mail. I already know it’s going to be difficult to find the time today. We’re out of the house all day. When things finally calm down late in the evening, I reach for my phone and find a five-minute body scan among my personalized suggestions from MyLife. It’s a pretty good way to prepare yourself for going to sleep. At any rate, it’s the first time today I’ve felt totally at ease.

Multitasking and constant interruptions: parents with small children often feel that their head’s all over the place.

Stressed, trapped, not in control

Day 6. I love my child with all my heart, but the notion of never again having time to myself takes some getting used to. It’s Saturday, and I feel trapped, not in control of my life. In response to this, MyLife suggests a meditation called “Joy”. It says I should celebrate positive moments with others (whether I like them or not) and wish them well. That appeals to me, so I try to focus my thoughts and emotions as directed, but it feels like the eight-minute session’s over far too quickly. Steering your own feelings that precisely is a skill that has to be learned.

Day 7. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and I’ve already done some meditation! Only three minutes, but then I have time to browse in the app a little. There are whole blocks of meditation on specific themes like sleep, ADHD, and perfectionism and for specific target groups like sportspeople, kids, and expectant mothers. I’m surprised at the amount of content on offer. Some of it’s reserved for paying customers, but there are plenty of free meditations as well.

The big question: has it made me more mindful?

I have to say that I’ve enjoyed using MyLife this past week. It’s given me useful information, interesting food for thought, and precisely 29 minutes and 33 seconds of quiet time to myself that I definitely wouldn’t have taken otherwise. Of course, my stress hasn’t suddenly vanished into thin air, my experiment was much too short to expect that. However, I’ve become more aware of my own perception of stress day by day. That’s something! The app has helped me to make a small step toward mindfulness, and I hardly had to invest any time at all. I’m firmly committed to keeping it up.

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