It’s like a chimp in your head, yakking and gabbing on and on.
Have you ever had those days when your mind is being pulled in so many directions that you can’t seem to do anything right? You’ve got deadlines, appointments, projects, worries, and an email inbox that just keeps growing. The email to your boss had three typos, you forgot to follow up with that important client, and you left your lunch at home.
The Buddhists have a name for this type of stress: monkey mind.
Monkey mind refers to a stress mode in which you feel taken over by a monkey that keeps chattering, yakking, and gabbing in your head. You can’t focus, so you miss little details and make silly mistakes. You tend to be less productive despite how hard you’re working, and your quality of work suffers.
Whether or not this is actually different than any other type of anxiety, “monkey mind” is an interesting way to think about how our brains act during stress. It’s easy to picture a monkey sitting on your head, yapping into your ear, and keeping you from focusing.
Buddhism teaches taming “monkey mind” with mindfulness, meaning you focus on the present moment and conquer one thing at a time. Here are ways to prevent or eliminate monkey mind with mindfulness—whether you’re at home or work.
1. Say goodbye to multitasking.
One of the worst triggers for monkey mind is taking on too much at once, which doesn’t always mean multiple projects. With today’s technology, it’s not uncommon to listen to music while working, or have the TV on as “background music” while you go through your bills.
Despite the fact that many people do this and find it enjoyable, your brain can get overstimulated easily, and this triggers that frantic monkey in your head to panic. Stick to one thing at a time, and cut the background noise.
When you notice the monkey starting to take over, take a break. Close your eyes, slow your breathing, and release the tension in your muscles.
If meditation is new or foreign to you, you might want to check out these resources:
3. Get up and move.
Endorphins are a great weapon against monkey mind. Even a brief walk can help reduce stress and clear the mind, according to the American Institute of Stress. (Find out how to do a walking meeting to build walks into your work day.)
Be proactive: Instead of waiting for monkey mind to set in, build breaks for movement into your workflow. That way, you can prevent a monkey mind moment altogether—and keep your brain from going bananas.
7 techniques to tame monkey mind. Weatherford, TX: American Institute of Stress, 2017. (Accessed on July 30, 2019 at https://www.stress.org/7-techniques-to-tame-monkey-mind.)
How to use physical exercise as a spiritual practice. Weatherford, TX: American Institute of Stress, 2017. (Accessed on July 30, 2019 at https://www.stress.org/how-to-use-physical-exercise-as-a-spiritual-practice.)
Metcalf F, Gallagher BJ. Being Buddha at work: 108 ancient truths on change, stress, money, and success. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012.