Wellbeing

Finding Head Space – by Stephen Kemsley

One year ago, I started a new daily routine that has become life-changing for me. 

In January 2021, I had an intention (not a resolution!) to explore meditation and mindfulness. I wanted to see if it would have the positive affect on me that it had for others.

Challenges 

Over the years I’ve had a few mental health challenges.  Periods of anxiety, poor self-esteem, imposter syndrome and moments of paranoia.  I’m an introvert who thinks a lot and over thinks all the time. 

Towards the end of 2020 I found myself thinking a lot about who am I and where am I in life. Perhaps it was a sort of midlife crisis, but I had a growing feeling of fear that time is running out.  I was caught in a constant thought-cycle about the past, where I was heading in the future and my own mortality. There was little appreciation of the present moment, of where I am now. 

It felt like I needed to do something to help myself feel happier.

Finding Headspace

I’m fortunate to work for an employer that cares for its staff health and wellbeing. And at work it was announced that there was an offer to a free yearly subscription to the online meditation resource Headspace. I signed up immediately. 

This made getting started easy. All I needed to do was to show up, and then keep showing up each day and let things unfold. And that’s what I’ve done (almost) every day for the past year. 

Morning routine

It’s pretty simple. For the last year I have started a morning routine where I wake up early and make it a priority to sit and meditate. Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe guides me through a 20 minute guided meditation each morning.

The content varies but the message is the same: it provides a structured way to just do nothing and to enjoy the moment of stillness and calm.  It’s a time to step back and watch the thoughts coming through and recognise them for what they are: just thoughts. I have found it gives me a relaxed focus on the present moment.

As Andy says:

“Meditation provides an opportunity to step back and get a different perspective to see that things aren’t always as they appear.  We can’t change the things that happen to us, but we can change the way that we experience them.”

Difference

So 12 months on, what kind of difference has my new morning routine made?  

I have much more awareness of myself and my surroundings. I feel more centered, and people close to me say I seem calmer, less reactive and more patient. 

I also feel more grounded and have a renewed sense of gratitude, appreciation and acceptance. 

I’m kinder and more forgiving to myself. It’s helped me find focus and become more productive. 

I feel more empathetic to others and what they may be feeling, more reflective and less self-focused. 

In a nutshell, meditation has not only been enjoyable, but I feel a lot better for it and its had a positive effect on the people around me. 

Focus, consistency and patience

Learning a new skill requires focus, a consistency and patience.  I have needed to commit myself to doing this regularly.

But the more I have done it, the more I find that I am looking forward to learning more, improving and growing over time in a gradual and subtle way.   All I need to do is keep practicing.

In terms of my mental health, for sure I still have up and down days, but my recognition of what’s going on in my head has dramatically improved.  I guess I’m more mindful of my own mind. 

My 4 key reminders

So, these are my top 4 takeaways from the year: the key reminders that I frequently come back to which help me re-centre myself:

1. Control: to focus on what I can control and let go on what I cannot

2. Fact: do I know that or do I just think that?

3. Reaction/Emotion: this issue doesn’t have to upset me

4. Gratitude/Now: enjoy the moment and be present

Daily meditation has helped me break negative thought-cycles before they spiral. I find myself smiling at my emotions, being able to step back and think in a more positive way about what I need to do to feel better. 

It’s a been a good step forward for me and one that has made a big difference over the last year.

Check out this 10 minute TED talk from Andy Puddicombe:

Stephen Kemsley lives in West Sussex with his wife and two children, works in information security & privacy, loves cycling and everything outdoorsy (and is a proud member of Beer Club)

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