2019 alumna leads guided meditation with ‘Chaotic Calm’ podcast

February 21, 2021 — by Christina Chang and Marisa Kingsley

Class of 2019 alumna Annie Xu, a sophomore majoring in environmental and civil engineering at Rice University, sits on a blanket in her backyard in Saratoga, surrounded by the mild night air and the hum of crickets.  She speaks in a soft, guiding voice: 

“I want you to leave this podcast with an activity in mind that you can commit to doing every single morning, no matter what time you wake up, or how bad or good you feel,” Xu tells listeners. “Just as a way to remind yourself, no matter what day it is, I love me, I’m grateful for me and I want to be all of me.”

Xu intones her gentle instructions into her iPhone and later these words will be an episode for her podcast, “Chaotic Calm,” which mainly focuses on self-compassion, mental health and navigating student life. 

Xu started “Chaotic Calm” in August. She posts short weekly episodes, each covering a different topic, that include commentary as well as a meditative practice. 

Although she said the idea for a podcast “came in bits and pieces” for a few years, “Chaotic Calm” didn’t fully materialize until, as a college student, she was searching for meditation podcasts and realized the lack of content for student-age listeners.

“I thought this was strange since both high school and college students deal with very specific issues that I like to say the 40-year-old white ladies who typically host meditation podcasts don’t deal with,” Xu said. 

Considering this, Xu decided that she wanted to produce a podcast that would help students relax while also discussing issues they may be grappling with as they balance remote learning, relationships and self-worth by drawing on her own experiences. She said that a majority of her audience is composed of students from Rice University and Saratoga High.

Xu has coped with anxiety since middle school, when she began attending clinical therapy. She continued therapy into high school but began to struggle with depression during freshman year, and said that she fumbled between the two for the rest of high school. 

It was in her freshman English class where she was first exposed to meditation and mindfulness through daily activities led by Marina Barnes, the head of the wellness center. As a senior, she also attended a gratitude and mindfulness workshop hosted by Barnes, furthering her meditation practice. 

“I honestly owe everything to her,” Xu said. “Meditation gives me some reprieve during moments of extended anxiety or depression and tempers my mental health as a whole.”

By her senior year, Xu had developed a wide set of coping skills including mindfulness and recognizing her thought process through her experience with meditation and working with CASSY — all skills she believes influence how she approaches each topic in “Chaotic Calm.” 

Xu said her favorite part of having her own podcast is being able to meet and interview people, whether it’s people she already knows or those she finds through the Rice community. 

For example, she was able to interview Margret Dorsey, a psychology undergrad at Rice University, to discuss various de-stressing and study practices in her series on final exams. Xu also reached out to Houston Poet Laureate Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton during the time of the election and had the opportunity to publish one of Mouton’s poems in her “Pause for a Poem” episode.

Although Xu enjoys making podcasts, it comes with a few challenges. Similar to YouTubers and other fellow content creators, Xu said she often struggles with how much of her life she should share with listeners.

“I don’t know where the line of privacy is, but I know I’m walking it,” she admitted. “Every content creator deals with that.”

The aspect of sharing a part of herself is essential, as Xu said she thinks an important part of her podcast is the human aspect of it — being able to share her own experiences and empathize with what listeners may be going through. Xu said listener feedback is one of her primary motivators for continuing to create episodes. 

One of her listeners is senior Riya Jain, who learned about the podcast through Xu herself. Jain appreciates Xu’s emphasis on personal experience and the research she incorporates into each episode. 

“Unlike many podcasts, most of the episodes are less than 10 minutes long, which makes it perfect for a break in between doing homework assignments where I can relax and destress,” Jain said. 

For each episode, Xu typically records a draft beforehand. A week later, she goes back and listens to her recording, then chooses specific ideas to focus on. After finalizing the details, Xu records the final episode and edits it before publishing. In total, she said it takes about four hours over the course of two weeks to create finished episodes. 

Although Xu has been publishing episodes weekly, she now aims to publish episodes every two weeks due to her school schedule. She hopes to continue the podcast for the duration of her student life since high school and college students are her primary audience. 

Of her 26 episodes published, including five minute-long “on-the-go” meditations, she said one of her favorites is the “Imposter Syndrome” episode, for which she has received a lot of positive feedback. Building on the thought many people have of “I’m not good enough,” Xu emphasizes the theme of listeners realizing their self-worth and developing confidence. 

“I think the big themes I focus on are self-worth, self-compassion and also checking our own beliefs against reality,” Xu said. “I think honestly self-worth is probably the biggest thing that runs through all of my episodes, and it really came to the fore in the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ episode.”

 Xu has found that having the podcast is a good way of reflecting on her experiences, and it has taught her key takeaways like realizing her own progress.

“This is what progress looks like for your mental health,” she said. “It doesn’t mean reaching this plateau. It means gaining a set of tools that will keep you maintained and ready to take on new things.”

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