How To Train Your Brain To Chill Out

Thursday 10 May 2018
by POPPY JAMIE

Stressed? Anxious? Can’t sleep and lacking in energy? You are not alone. 75 per cent of people are experiencing the same thing every day. It is an epidemic, and this is why Poppy Jamie has built a new mindfulness app, Happy Not Perfect. She describes the need for it here.

 Photographed by Theo Wenner, Vogue, July 2017

Photographed by Theo Wenner, Vogue, July 2017

Around 300 emails a day; on call 24/7, double tapping everyone else’s insta-highlights while subconsciously comparing myself, constantly deciphering and digesting an overload of information. We are told daily to be more, look more, sound more, do more… I’m exhausted. 

At the age of 25, I caved under the pressure. I had worried myself sick from the anxiety, stress and the sleepless nights were becoming unbearable. My “duck syndrome” life (whereby I tried to make out I was gliding along water but in reality my feet were frantically paddling beneath the surface, desperately trying to stay afloat) took a turn for the worse and reality hit. I burnt out. Despite what our social media accounts may portray, our mental wellbeing has never been so low. It comes as little surprise that research by Perkins cited in the Harvard Business Review showed that 60 to 90 per cent of doctor visits were stress related, particularly as it is so difficult to know when your mind is becoming unhealthy. Unlike other parts of the body, there are fewer physical warning signs. Our emotions are the real indicators, yet we’ve become so good at switching off and ignoring them.

So in the search for a solution I began reading every book I could find on mindfulness, neuroscience and quizzed my mother (fortunately she’s a psychotherapist). I tracked down a neuroscientist I was inspired by, Alex Korb at UCLA (author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience To Reverse The Course Of Depression, One Small Change At A Time) and began to train under one of the world’s leading breathing experts Dr Belisa Vranich. This is really where Happy Not Perfect began. Three things in particular struck me:

Science has proven your brain is like plastic. It can be rewired, reshaped and remoulded like playdough at ANY age. The discovery of “neuroplasticity” proves that you are not stuck with the brain you are born with. Training your mind to become flexible is just as possible as stretching your legs daily to touch your toes.

Feeling good takes work. Nobody said happy is easy. All emotions are temporary and many factors affect them, so it takes active decisions to influence how you feel. From the Stoics to Steve Jobs, many of our historic idols implemented mini daily rituals to better manage their minds. For me, my daily recipe for taking on the world starts with a morning walk and at least seven hours of sleep. When I’m sleep deprived, a meltdown is on the horizon. What do you need to do make you feel your best? 

Mental health is fully connected to our physical health. When our nervous system is in overdrive, the stress hormone cortisol is released with a huge detrimental impact. Our immune system gets hit, digestion slows, breathing goes awry and neck, shoulder back pain are all common symptoms. So by passively tolerating the amount of stress and anxiety we’re experiencing, we’re going to suffer physically.

The question

It’s one thing knowing what’s good for us, and another actually doing what’s good for us. So it soon dawned on me: how could I put a breathing expert, a neuroscientist and my mum into my pocket for when I needed them during my everyday life to help keep me balanced, calm and positive at all times?

The answer

I decided I needed to build an app, almost like a gym for the mind. Something that’s practical, fun and I can drop into daily. So two and a half years in development later, with a team of coders, designers, therapists, life coaches, meditation guides, scientists and captain tech expert Alex Tikhman, Happy Not Perfect was born.

The result

After months of testing, the Refresh was created. In under five minutes, you can complete a daily full mind workout. It’s a seven-step routine based on 40 years of positive neuroscience and mindfulness techniques. You can do it in the morning, on the way to work or school, during the day, or in the evening. As research shows, small exercises make a big difference, but it’s the repetition that’s the key to building healthy habits. 

Because feeling good takes work.

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