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It’s time to talk about digital wellness

Feb 05, 2020
Statistically, mental health problems affect one in four of us – but far too many people still feel unable to discuss their challenges because of the attached stigma. Today is Time to Talk Day – an event that encourages us to make a mindful step towards positive change by simply talking and listening to one another. And just as taking the time to listen to each other can help with our mental health, listening in other ways can be the key to digital wellness.

At the January British Psychological Society conference, Dr. Antonia Dietmann made a presentation outlining the correlation between enhanced staff wellbeing and regular access to meditation apps, referring to a recent study showing users felt less stressed, more able to cope with challenges, and happier with their job performance. Enter Headspace – the mindfulness app that made meditation into a $250 million business and counts Wall Streeters, Olympic athletes, and celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Branson and Lebron James amongst its active users.
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Mediation for wellbeing isn’t a new concept – it’s a practice based on the teachings of spiritual leaders that stretches all the way back to approximately 5,000 BC. But while some may consider it to be an exercise reserved for those with their head in the clouds and a yoga mat under their arm, Headspace offers a secularised version that’s rooted in modern science: this is meditation for the digital age.
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Founded in 2010 by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk with 10 years of Tibetan monastic training, and Richard Pierson, a marketing executive who left a major agency for freelance work due to crippling anxiety, Headspace started with one aim – to make meditation accessible to everyone. Taking proven methods such as ‘scanning’ and ‘noting’ from traditional Buddhist methods, but removing the religious underpinning, the ubiquitous app leverages appealing design and distinctive animations alongside guided meditations – all of which is designed to encourage users to build their own practice, and find a moment in each day to gain some ‘headspace.’ All of this is anchored by the soothing Bristolian voice of Andy Puddicombe, who guides listeners on a journey of contemplation whilst simultaneously gently demystifying the process.
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Over the past few years in particular, Headspace’s content library has been growing rapidly – continually being padded with additional packs that encompass everything from creativity, generosity and patience, to handling stress, chronic pain and cancer, and an entire series designed for athletes which focuses on motivation, competition, recovery, and more. But the ultimate goal according to Pierson is to become an all-encompassing wellness platform, or in his own words “the most comprehensive guide to health and happiness in the world.” With offshoots like Sleepcasts and a kids’ suite already in place, this journey seems well underway – something that’s raised more than a few eyebrows.

Considering the conversations around content fatigue and tech addiction, Puddicombe acknowledges the irony of using an app as vessel for bringing meditation to the masses, and was sceptical himself in the beginning, but today says, “The phone is plastic, it’s metal, it’s not good or bad. With anything in life, you have to meet people where they are.” And meet them he has – converting a staggering 45 million users in just a few years.

In the corporate sector, Headspace has really taken flight – quite literally – in the early months of the new decade. As part of their mission to improve the health and happiness of the world, they’ve teamed up with 12 airlines around the world – including British Airways, Delta, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic – to offer meditation on in-flight entertainment systems. Hyatt Hotels have also hopped aboard the wellness express – pairing with Headspace to offer mindfulness exercises, guided meditations and sleep content to employees and guests using the in-room content or World of Hyatt app.

The latest records show that Headspace’s audience base covers an exceptionally wide spectrum – a near 50/50 split of male to female users, and an almost-even spread across ages 18 to 65. And as for the study group mentioned in Dr. Antonia Dietmann’s presentation at the British Psychological Society conference, out of a total 724 government agency employees split into two groups, the intervention group reported a reduction in stress levels from 20 out of 40 to 14.5 out of 40 after six weeks of using the app every day – with 80-percent saying they would recommend it.

This Time to Talk Day, we’re proud to be one of the many businesses getting the conversation started about mental health. And it’s not just talking that’s important – it’s listening too. Apps like Headspace are encouraging people all around the world to take time to relax, reflect and zone-out in an increasingly busy world.