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Calm in your palm – three free Mindfulness apps tried and tested

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WE’VE all heard how practicing mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress – but how to go about it? Even with books and web tutorials showing you the ropes, finding the time and inclination to fit in regular meditation sessions is tricky. This is where Mindfulness apps come in handy – I tested three apps free to download from the App Store (in-app purchases are optional for some).

CALM – Meditate, Sleep, Relax (calm.com)

The Calm app has a choice of soothing views and soundscapes like Mountain Lake, Sunset Beach – I enjoyed Rain on Leaves (although you could nearly open the window for the same effect most days). The app notifies you with a meditation reminder daily, and you can choose the length of individual sessions.

Calm has a calendar which logs completed sessions – either a nice motivator or mildly anxiety-inducing when I can’t/won’t stick to it! There are additional specific meditations that can be subscribed to for a fee such as Deep Sleep or Creativity boosting exercises. I begin the free 7 Days of Calm programme: a soft American female voice talks me through the benefits of mindfulness and how it can be achieved through meditation – thankfully keeping new-age jargon to a minimum – with a 10-minute breathing session, which deals with awareness of posture, body relaxation and deep, slow inhalations.

I’m watching the clock to begin with, until the voiceover reassures me how “the mind loves to keep busy” and this tendency to mentally wander can be tamed in time. Although I’m fretting about how much other stuff I have to do during the exercise, when it’s over I feel less frantic and more able to tackle that to-do list with renewed energy and focus. So taking that ten minutes out to ‘do nothing’ was definitely worth it and really not ‘nothing’ – rather a solid step to getting my mind into a more productive place.

YOU-APP (Fifth Corner Inc)

This app deals in ‘micro-actions’ – small daily steps to a healthier more mindful life, with motivation via daily prompts and an Instagram-style picture-sharing community. Celebrity chef-turned-health crusader Jamie Oliver curates the food-related content – he’s admittedly not everyone’s cup of chai, but he keeps his contributions low-key. Daily actions include: Find Interesting Architecture, Who Makes You Happy, Go Barefoot, Slow It Down, with your pictures and words to be posted to illustrate actions achieved. You can follow others, and they you (or not if you prefer). The snaps of smoothies and salads can get a little monotonous but it certainly does put you in the mood for eating cleaner while the little endorphin-hit of on-screen ‘likes’ from others will reinforce healthy habits.

You-app press shot

 

The app has a series of alerts – which can add to the troublesome hyper-vigilance mode social media induces but these can be disabled, in fact ‘Turn off digital alerts’ is one of the suggested daily actions. You-app’s ‘7 Commandments’ include no spamming, no competing and opting to take time off rather than stressing about keeping up with actions – so taken in the right spirit, it can be a fun way to put your focus back on the better things in life. Not for everyone, sure, You-app is most suited to anyone happy to embrace sharing their daily triumphs through social media.

 

STOP, BREATHE & THINK (Tools For Peace, stopbreathethink.org)

Breathe is similar to the Calm app, in that it takes you through various meditations geared toward your lifestyle (with that same soothing Californian lady robot voice). Meditations are conducted in silence, with some dedicated to increasing gratitude and compassion (which can feel slightly preachy). It employs a choice of simple emoticons to input how you’re feeling (limited to five emotions as the app insists it ‘gets confused’ with any more) which leads to three suggestions for tailored meditations, and offers ‘stickers’ with little cartoons to congratulate you on your progress. A little simplistic, perhaps, but concrete rewards are one way to stay on track and the app has been geared toward use in schools and youth retreats, so is designed with young people in mind. With this one, I enjoyed releasing the previously unacknowledged tension in various body parts (face, legs) and focusing on minute feelings such as air through the nose – it reconnects mind with body in a very grounding way.

Conclusion:

To sum up, I’d say Breathe is best for teens and younger people, You for social media addicts, but Calm is my pick for busy adults who find it hard to relax, as you can make it work to your schedule and it will convincingly talk you through the benefits of mindfulness while being encouraging in a sensible (and not-too-irritating) way.

I’ve taken to sitting down to a quick meditation before embarking on writing work (which really helps my focus) or even before watching a film or eating a meal whenever possible as it gives me a centered relaxation that boosts my satisfaction with my activity, rather than my usual scrolling through social media sending thoughts and emotions skewed in all directions. As a result, I feel less overwhelmed by all the information I’m processing and definitely calmer – at least for a while – afterwards.

There are plenty of other mindfulness apps out there so test them out to see which suits you best – and we’ll review a few more at a later date.

FIONA SMITH

@fifilebon

‘Do It Every Day’ – Creativity in the Midst of Depression

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DJ, writer and composer GAVIN PAISLEY describes his struggles to finish a creative project in the midst of depression and what worked to get him through it.

“I wrote a piece of music that took two years to finish and during it I suffered a number of depressive episodes. It’s at the bottom of the article as well as the back story and other stuff, have a listen. I didn’t set out to spend two years at it, in fact I thought I’d have it finished in six months. Reason one is I wasn’t good enough at technology to make what I could hear in my head so that took ages. Reason two was depression.

Put simply, if you are feeling depressed, being creative is the last thing you’re going to want to do. If opening your curtains, throwing yourself in the shower or washing a few cups and dishes feel like major hassle then sitting in front of your piece of unfinished art, be it a song, an album, book, script, film or painting and looking it in the eye as it leers at you, is out of the question.

Except, it can’t be out of the question. You’ve probably got a deadline hanging over you (my only deadline was people saying ‘so, is it finished yet?’, which has its own separate impact). You want to get it finished. You have to get it finished. Beyond a concrete deadline you might be trying to capture a here-and-now mood, even a zeitgeist, both of which will be well gone if you don’t get it out soon or risk looking random or behind the curve. Pressure is a sure way of aggravating the symptoms of depression.

Most people have gotten the message now that ’being depressed’ is not the tragi-comic stereotype of sitting in your bedroom, putting on Radiohead and moping around. What it is to me, is high, uneven and irrational levels of anxiety, apathy and disconnection.

Apply that lot to your unfinished art. Serious demotivators.

So anxiety and apathy first. I view them as two sides of the one poxy coin. They feed off each other in a horrible way, leaving you paralysed. What can you do?

The answer is..anything. Just anything to do with your project, doesn’t matter how mindless. Don’t feel like tackling that jigsaw of lyrics or character motivations? Grand. But you can colour code your instruments or do some word counts or spell checks. Five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour. In fact I’ll guarantee you you’ll end up spending longer than you thought cos you’ve broke the seal. Anything that lets the air out of the balloon and sees you engaging with your piece of art.

Instead of it being the bogey man in the corner taunting you. The worst fallacy you can buy into is the ‘right, this weekend I’m just gonna knuckle down all Saturday afternoon’ blah. No, you won’t.

What you will do is beat yourself up for not spending the weekend ‘knuckling down’. That’s just too tall an order, even for non-depressed people. What genuinely works is popping the balloon with a tiny amount of work, but EVERY day.

‘Do it every day’ was the best piece of advice I got over the two years, from a lady who was, at that moment, enjoying the launch of her first book. I loosened the screws a bit to ‘do it most days’ during a bad depression, which I’d advise. But it was the most important rule that got my music project – I Am Love – finished. There’s not much more to say about it. Do It Every Day. If you can only stomach 10 minutes of re-naming things in caps, cool, and if you’re on a roll just keep going. The thing is, you’re inching your project forward all the time, which helps hugely with reducing or normalising your anxiety and apathy levels. What will have them rocketing skywards on the other hand, is avoiding your project for days, then weeks. Until it assumes monolithic status, incredibly intimidating. And into a danger zone where you might just say ‘fuck this’.

If you are wobbling in this danger zone, here’s something that really worked for me. Take yourself completely out of your own area and bury yourself in another art form for inspiration. In my case again, music was my area, my project, but regularly I would turn to film. More than this, I would watch the films with the commentaries on, which most films have now. Blokey favourites, I know, but I often went back to The Godfather Trilogy or Raging Bull with the directors’ (and others’) commentaries on. Listening to these lads’ creative solutions to the endless difficulties of producing an ambitious film, I found really inspiring. Also their passion, their appetite for and pure love for what they were making was clearly inspiring. Also, every now and again, you could empathise with them. In mini-micro ways, the odd time I had the SAME problems as Coppola or Scorsese.

But it had to be a different art form or you get all tangled up with what they were doing v what you’re doing etc and it gets too personal and close to home, there’s none of the inspiration that comes from separation.

Warning: Don’t let this spill over into ‘Look what they did, amazing. Now look at me, sitting on my hole.’

Some quicker ones. A powerful demotivator for a fragile person in depression is not actually knowing how to do what you want to, technically. Which feeds into the trap of ‘I…just…can’t’. Fast forward ten seconds, you’re watching the kettle boil, utterly defeated. I say, online tutorials. YouTube. Whatever it is you’re stuck on is out there guaranteed, once you ask the right questions. There’s no WAY I Am Love would have been finished and sounding the way I wanted, without tutorials, no chance. Once you’re armed with the new technology, you’ve confidence and that extra layer of ‘I..just..can’t’ that people suffering from depression are plagued with, is shored up.

Break big intimidating sub-projects down into ‘snag lists’. Because that’s all the big job is anyway, a load of small jobs. It takes the wind out of them and keeps you, the depressed person who is extra burdened with feelings of doubt, insecurity, pessimism, moving. Keeps you inching forward despite your condition. This was incredibly powerful for me. In a bad phase, I had a tendency to really get put off by lists that said things like ‘Main Arrangement’. When it was broken down to a 20-item list of small things, it wasn’t so ‘Main’ after a while.

As regards other people and responsibilities, you probably will have occasions to block book time off work to finish your project or during intensive periods. I couldn’t have finished without doing that, at least three or four times during the two years. But don’t flagellate yourself if you end up doing a lot less than you were promising yourself in work once you got the time off. Everyone spends the first few days decompressing from work, and throughout your block-book, there’ll be family and social responsibilities. Do by all means lock yourself away with no distractions for a couple of days, but be mindful that it might be worrying to someone to hear that their best friend or son who is suffering a bout of depression doesn’t want to be contacted for days and is locking themselves away. Three days was enough, I found.

All bets are off for Sunday afternoon Fear. I’ve yet to hear of anyone, depressed or not, make anything useful out of a excruciatingly long Sunday afternoon with a two-day hangover. Try as you might (and you shouldn’t), nothing is going to come of it. Accept this, and order a Chinese.

The thing I dread most about depressive episodes is disconnection. And, bad news, I have no solutions for it in the context of creativity. It’s just a bollox and that’s it. Why would be a whole other article. All I could do is be acutely aware when it’s happening, and that it’s NOT real. You haven’t completely lost interest in your project, along with everything else. I threw all the other solutions at it and hoped for the best. But sadly, most of the time it consumed me and was without doubt the cause of the most holdups and the most serious ones, in the whole period. And it wasn’t even finished with me after I Am Love came out, when I completely lost interest in promoting it. A bollox.

The therapied or self-helped among you will be saying ‘this is just a bunch of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy cliches. Next he’ll be telling us to feel the fear and do it anyway’. Yeh, probably right. But I’m not trying to shove The Secret or You Can Heal Your Life down your hatch. These suggestions are just stuff that worked for me, to get a long term music project finished despite numerous bouts of depression. As simple as that, these things worked for me and I hope they do for you too. Best of luck!”

 I Am Love (A Feverdream Symphony) by Gavin under his DJ alter-ego SpeakerTreatz is included in the link below:

 the50tunesthatshapediamlove.tumblr.com

“Depression is the great deceiver…”

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PADDY HANNA, the Grand Pocket Orchestra man turned solo artist, has put out an affecting video for Camaraderie, the plaintive B-side to recent single Austria.

The film, directed by Luke Byrne, depicts a man isolated by depression and recalls the singer’s own experience of being holed up in his Howth home last summer feeling at odds with the outside world.

Paddy said: “The song was written during a month-long bout of depression, when the cloud lifted long enough for me to write….My cottage is next to a popular beach for families and a drinking spot at night time.

“The sound of revellers is very audible, and through isolation they began to distort, the happy sounds grew almost sarcastic, like a stab at my character. Obviously this wasn’t the case, but depression is the great deceiver, and quite often it had me fooled.”

It wasn’t an easy feeling to get across in a song.

“I am mostly unproductive when depressed,” he said. “It’s hard describing nothingness. The song is a look at the world through illogical glasses, born out of a desire to be creative in spite of a sense of internal nothingness.”

Paddy also went through a long period of isolation as a teenager until music helped him out of his shell. “I didn’t start going to gigs until I was 18 or so. Over time, I mustered the courage to record some songs of my own with the encouragement of friends. I had zero confidence but was tremendously fortunate to have known one or two people with shared interests to offer a leg up.”

These days, he credits a lot of turmeric in the diet and a new-found openness for keeping him on an emotional even keel. He said: “Not being afraid to let people know when you’re blue is number one.

“Of course, you don’t want to be an attention seeker but just acknowledging your condition is enough.”

Austria/Camaraderie (Trout Records) is available from iTunes.

By Fiona Smith

@fifilebon

First Fortnight table quiz returns to Dublin on June 4

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The First Fortnight table quiz is happening again! This epic table quiz is becoming an annual event and we have some amazing prizes up for grabs again this year! 

On June the 4th we’ll be taking over dTwo on Harcourt Street where comedian Eleanor Tiernan will be quizzing you on your knowledge of everything from pop culture, sports, music, film, theatre and anything else we might throw at you!
There will be some awesome prizes up for grabs as well as a raffle and finger food!

Tables of 4 are €40, and you can pre-book here on eventbrite.ie

Subject to availability tickets will be available on the door but pre-booking is advised. We don’t want to have to turn anyone away, so book early to avoid disappointment!

Doors: 7pm Quiz: 7.30pm

If you can’t make it down on the evening and would still like to help out, you can do so by donating here:

First Fortnight is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers.

Although we get amazing support from artists, venues and sponsors there are still a lot of costs to cover, any support is greatly appreciated.

We have been so lucky to have had so many great prizes donated so get your tickets now!

See you all there!

#ItsATableQuiz

Pharmacists, on yer bikes! – Dublin to Galway cycle launched in aid of First Fortnight

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Pharmacists across Ireland are set to do their part to challenge mental health stigma by taking part in a fundraising cycle in aid of First Fortnight.

The Frontline Cycle will see up to 50 pharmacists from all across Ireland get on their bikes and cycle more than 230km – from Dublin to Galway (via Athlone) – over July 17th and 18th.

Now in its third year, the Frontline Cycle is a fundraising event that encourages pharmacists to fundraise on behalf of a nominated charity each year. The Irish Pharmacy Union’s IPU Review journal is the official media partner for the Frontline Cycle.

Pharmacists play a key role in the mental wellbeing of the communities they work in. They are often at the frontline when a person is in a place of distress and vulnerability and work closely each day with patients experiencing mental ill health.

In 2011, the Frontline Cycle raised more than €9,000 for the Irish Cancer Society’s Action Prostate charity. More than €12,000 was raised for the same charity in 2013 as pharmacists again got on their bikes, this time to raise awareness of Ovarian Cancer.

The Frontline Cycle is organised by Mullingar-based pharmacists and brothers, John and Robert Keane. Launching the event, Robert Keane said: “We’re really excited about this year’s cycle, which is already shaping up to be our largest event to date.

“As pharmacists, mental health is an area where we work closely with our patients every day and we are delighted to support First Fortnight and their aim to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in Ireland. We’ve had huge support from sponsors over the years and this year is looking like our event will be even bigger with many sponsors on board already”.

First Fortnight co-founder/director David Keegan added: “As a provider of Art Psychotherapy to those experiencing homelessness and mental ill health, First Fortnight has huge respect for the role played by frontline health professionals in our communities. Pharmacists are on that frontline when a person is in a place of distress and vulnerability and thus the name of this fundraising cycle is very apt.

 “Pharmacists play a vital role in the mental wellbeing of local people, providing help and advice. We were delighted when John and Rob told us they would like to show support for our cause in challenging mental health stigma through the arts and providing creative therapy to those in greatest need, the money raised will help fund a therapist to work with homeless clients for a six month period.”

The Frontline Cycle begins in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Fri 17th July at 9am and will end in Galway on Saturday 18th July.

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